Increasing inequality in wealth is one of the factors changing the nature of luxury travel. Social and political forces such as the Occupy Movement and government austerity cuts are driving some of the rich to spend their wealth more privately. The same forces have also encouraged the rise in socially responsible luxury travel activities.
The trend to private consumption away from public scrutiny can be seen in the increase in purchases of mega yachts and private islands. Technological change and its impact on workplace communications has also triggered a counter demand among the rich to de-tech completely while on holiday, said luxury travel expert Carolyn Childs.
Addressing the Luxperience Thought Leaders seminar in Sydney yesterday (6 September), Childs told the audience of 500 high-end travel buyers, sellers and advisors that the ‘occupy’ movement, like the French and Russian Revolutions before it, had changed the psyche, moral reference points and consumption patterns of well-off people.
“We now see the rise of responsible resorts such as El Nido in the Philippines where high end travellers are both pampered and give back to the community,” said Childs. “Luxury travel is now increasingly defined by a rising commitment to people, planet and self-improvement as much as indulgence, pampering and conspicuous consumption.”
Childs told the audience that wealth disparity has been on the rise since around 1980, with the richest 1 to 10% in North America, Europe and Australia now owning over 70% of society’s wealth.
However, the rise in the nouveau riche, not least in China, India as well as G7 economies, has seen luxury consumers around the world splinter into personality types such as “philanthropist”, “dynast”, “lotus eater”, “hedonist”, “pioneer”, “jet setter”, “enrichment seeker” and “replenisher.”
The luxury travel sector has also seen the rise of “aspirational” consumers who will splash the cash depending on three factors: the occasion (such as a honeymoon or anniversary), the experience (such as a trip to Antarctica), and the traveller’s ability to trade up or down – for example, enjoying a three-star holiday but taking a helicopter ride to a spectacular dinner on the last day.
Luxury travellers now rely on elite travel agents, or advisors, that Childs called “magicians”.
“These Gandalfs and Merlins are completely service-minded, very creative control freaks who try to anticipate the psychological and physical needs of their clients. They have to deliver magic. They dread saying ‘no’ to a customer who is only used to hearing ‘yes’.”
When it goes wrong the results can be high profile. Childs cited the case of Johnny Depp’s terriers Pistol and Boo who faced being put down when the actor brought them into Australia in defiance of quarantine regulations.
In December, Childs, the co-founder of MyTravelResearch.com, will publish an in-depth study of trends and changes in the luxury travel economy in partnership with Luxperience, a luxury business exchange which takes place in Sydney, this week, September 6-9.