Despite the current volatility in our global economy, the number of luxury tour operators has been rising in the last few years; more and more people prefer to experience the type of personalised service that luxury hotels and bespoke tour companies have to offer. Hotels are no longer a comfortable place to sleep at a chosen destination, they are increasingly becoming an essential part of the travel experience. The standardisation and uniformity brought by hotel chains are losing their appeal, and whilst hotel chains are still the choice of most business travellers, holiday goers are looking for something extra – for character, for personality and for personalisation. It is human nature the need to be different, and luxury services offer anyone the opportunity to feel special.
The problem with high demand in the luxury industry is that what was once exclusive becomes average, which means that standardisation and uniformity return, and we enter a vicious circle. What was once bespoke becomes standard and what was once extra becomes expected.
The word ‘luxury’ is overused and has lost its meaning. It has become synonymous with quality, not affluence or indulgence. Nowadays, any chauffeur offers luxury tours, tour operators get bespoke and luxury mixed up and the customer is the one who doesn’t know the difference in the end.
New words have been used to try to classify different types of luxury; ‘ultra-luxury’ and ‘ultra-travel’ are now mainstream terms. What differentiates a luxury tour operator from an ultra-luxury operator is more than the money you will spend; it’s knowledge and exclusivity.
Take the UK-based company Loyd Townsend Rose (LTR) as an example. Customers can arrive by helicopter at their chosen private castle, and have their own private chef and staff. Activities are organised according to the customer’s wish and many of them would have been impossible without their local knowledge and contacts. International customers can hire private estates and exclusive houses for the London Olympics. There is luxury travel and there is ultra-luxury travel.
We are going through a fascinating period in the history of tourism, our buying behaviour is changing, more people are saving for special moments and looking for unique experiences. Consumers are expecting more quality and spending on what it’s worth. There is a whole side of luxury that we are yet to discover.
Renata Parolari Fernandes is Founder, Director and Editor of Five Star Magazine.