What does this bode for the future of the industry? We spoke to luxe travel expert Tiffany Dowd to find out.
According to Dowd, the definition of luxury travel has become much more bespoke than it used to be. She pointed out that luxury means something different to everyone these days, so the qualifying criteria has become a lot more diverse than just prestige and a price tag.
“Everybody’s definition of luxury travel is different. For one person it might be an indulgent stay at the George V in Paris, and for another person it might be staying in a private luxury villa on an island in French Polynesia,” said Dowd.
Safety, security, and personalization are the new black
“I think the difference in post-covid is that trust, flexibility and safety is more important than ever when staying anywhere around the world, in any type of accommodations,” said Dowd.
Pre-virus forecasts were already pointing to a growing trend of experience-based travel across the board, but that personalization will be just as much about safety as it is having a tailored trip.
“We have had it where it’s all about personalized service, and now it’s all about personalized distancing,” said Dowd.
Social distancing is here to stay
While it may not be to the extent it is now, Dowd anticipates many of the safety measures taken during lockdown to continue on afterward. As an example, she highlighted the hundreds of thousands that hotels are spending to revamp their check-in processes to incorporate distancing and limit physical contact.
Tours and excursions will also take a turn toward the “personalized distancing” as Dowd calls it.
“I think we’re going to see a rise in more personalized tours… Think about a safari, for instance. You go on a Land Rover with people, and now they’re going to have to revamp that whole process. Will it be one family per Land Rover going out on a game drive when it used to be that you’d go out with different families and meet new people?”
The industry will bounce back — and fast
“I think it boils down to the fact that we’ve all been cooped up for a couple months, so it’s not just the luxury travel segment that’s ready to travel,” said Dowd.
However, Dowd was keen to point out that the return to travel will benefit a lot more people than just the travelers.
“When you think about the fact that the luxury travel industry supports 170 million jobs, that’s a lot, and luxury travelers obviously have the money to travel. If we start traveling, you are going to start boosting economies.”
Sustainability is still high priority
While customer demand was already driving more attention to sustainability in the travel industry, the economic incentive has become even clearer since the lockdown.
“Sustainability isn’t just about paper straws, it’s about supporting local communities that support luxury hotels, local fishermen, local farms, anything that’s produced in the hotel locally,” said Dowd.
Travel advisors are more important than ever
“They have been tirelessly working to repatriate people who’ve been abroad when borders were closing. Travel advisors have been re-booking trips and managing cancellations. It can be a thankless job sometimes, ” said Dowd.
“Now more than ever, travel advisors have never been more important,” said Dowd.
Dowd’s personal experience with travel advisors has shown her that time is a luxury, and that the relationships that advisors have with hotels, tour operators, and restaurants are essential to deliver that trust, flexibility, and safety that travelers will be looking for.
Dowd also highlighted the value of having someone on your side with the know-how to deal with anything that goes wrong.
“When it comes to safety, they are able to help you and be your best advocate,” said Dowd.
In his interview with Blacklane, travel expert Johnny Jet also said that travel advisors could come out on top once travel restrictions are lifted.
Alternate forms of transport will have their time to shine
On the ground, private car services will see a boost in inter-city travel, says Dowd.
“People are looking for the most reliable way to get anywhere. With regards to chauffeurs, the benefits of New York to Boston or DC is the reliability. No worries of flights getting cancelled,” said Dowd.
In the skies, privacy will be a growing concern.
“My friends who are travel advisors are getting more requests for private jets. There is increased demand for shorter flights. When it comes to first class and business, not everybody can afford a private jet, but the experience will be a good one. We’re just in different times, it will all be based on your personal needs.”
Beyond just A-to-B transport, Dowd also sees the increase in domestic travel giving rise to closer-to-home luxury trips of a different variety.
“There are people who are loyal to cruising, so when small luxury cruises sail again there will be more demand for that… Also, I saw an article the other day about luxury RVs. I never thought that that would be an option,” said Dowd.
Rates will temporarily lower
“The expectation is that hotels are desperate for people to come so they will reduce prices. The truth is that right now we are seeing special offers. People need to remember, however, that they will be on lower occupancy,” said Dowd.
“Travel advisors will be able to find added value, rather than free discounts. Things that can offer you and your trip something more. As we start to get closer to the festive season I think rates will go up.”
Skift journalist Matt Parsons foresaw a similar temporary downturn. For further reading, check out his interview about the future of business travel.