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The future of luxury travel is all about you. You, you, you.  Luxury travellers are in for an unprecedented amount of very personalised pampering as brands try and get to know you as an individual better than you know yourself. All in an attempt to meet your needs better.

The good news comes in a fascinating new Trends Report produced by International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM)  in partnership with Skift. The newly released report, ‘Building Brand Love and Loyalty in Luxury Hospitality’, surveyed 1,350 luxury travellers to understand how their travel priorities have changed over the last 3-5 years. 

It is worth companies chasing your tourist dollar because the luxury consumer market reached an estimated US$1.06 trillion in 2016.  However we as luxury travellers are getting pickier and more demanding all the time Joe Pine, author of The Experience Economy says, “Luxury consumers don’t want choice - they want what they want.”  In an increasingly competitive travel world it  is now up to luxury brands to find out what that is, not just for you as part of a group but for you as an individual.
If you think you’ve heard all this before the report makes it clear that over-used ‘buzz-words  including ‘experiences’, ‘personalisation’ and ‘local’.  Aren’t enough. Brand marketers should re-consider ‘bespoke immersive experiences,” says Skift. 

And they don’t just want to know what you like, they want to know what you love. 
Luxury travellers are definitely after experiences which touch their heart and spirit.  With over 60 per cent of responders stating they are more interested in travel experiences that give them a new perspective on the world than previously. And 52.8% saying the value of transformative travel for them has increased in the last 3-5 years.

In an uncertain world what we are after is real human connections.   “High-end consumers are re-examining how they define value and purpose in an era where North America and Europe are growing more intolerant and divisive,” adds the report, “True and transparent meaning is equated with trust and believability – trust is the new currency in travel”. But I think that the core fundamental reality – which is this draw toward humanity and authentic human engagement – is really the key big issue”  says Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian. “The three big macro trends ahead are: meaningfulness, simplicity and transformation.   They all relate to travellers’ psychographic drivers and emotional triggers.” Says Alison Gilmore, Director, ILTM Portfolio.

Transformational travel is the biggest disruption to luxury since the dawn of boutique and lifestyle hotels in the 1980s. Just as boutique design made us question the future of ‘traditional luxury’, mounting demand for emotionally complex travel itineraries is causing a fair amount of reflection among travel companies catering for the higher-end of the market.

So just how do hotels and travel companies give us these bespoke authentic experiences?  With something called psychographics. Our immersion in social media means we expect very personal recommendations and can also tailor our reading and watching experiences in a very personal way. To gain our loyalty (and make no mistake brands are after a lifetime of loyalty from us), hotels and organisations must build up a very specific picture of who we are, in a way that has never been attempted in such depth before.  Especially since online networks are widening the definition of luxury travel with the “experience one-upmanship” of sharing personal experiences driving many travellers to seek ever-more innovative travel.

Because everything can be ranked online by customers, the global consumer industry is shifting from a product-centric approach to a service-centric approach - or customer-centric paradigm.  For the first time it is we who are in control of brand reputation, as demonstrated clearly by something like Tripadvisor.  We have an infinite amount of options available to us in the travel marketplace via search and sharing. So hotels and travel companies are very eager to please us. Or, as Peter Vidani, founding creative director of the micro-blogging Tumblr platform, posits: “We are what we share.”

The new generation of luxury travellers really don’t like to be pigeon -holed. We “defy the rules” says  “What we’re seeing is this sort of buying behaviour among our luxury consumers for Prada and Pucci one minute, and Ikea and Zara the next minute, and mixing all of that stuff together. So this idea, which is perpetuated by the old-school luxury industry, that the luxury consumer drives a Bentley, wears a Rolex, and orders a suit from Savile Row, and lives entirely within the luxury ecosystem — that really is absolutely not true for a W luxury consumer.”

“Personalization and customization based on your passions is really the holy grail,” Cahill explains. “So when you check-in, and we know you love Cuban food, we want to be able to say, ‘By the way, there’s a great Cuban restaurant up the street that just opened.’ It’s all about offering things in the destination that you want that you don’t know about yet”.

The report also defines how data and intelligence will shape the industry explaining that there is a growing sense that things haven’t even started to get interesting yet.  In the future powerful machine learning platforms will know everything about us and we may even see personal Artificial Intelligence agents that make decisions for us.  Everything will be scored and measured potentially devaluing the role of marketing to influence purchase decisions.

Yet at the same time the human element has never been more important in the luxury marketplace. Hospitality companies are continually refining their brand identity to achieve higher levels of brand affinity - or ‘brand love’ - to win the hearts of the high-end repeat traveller. According to the report our connection with our favourite brands shares more than a few similar characteristics with the connection we have with the people we love.

Giving a whole new meaning to the idea of being a passionate traveller. 

To download a copy of the report, please go to: www.iltm.com/brandlove 

Hilary Doling 3/5/17
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