CANNES, Dec 14 – The luxury travel market is bouncing back after a couple of difficult seasons, but today\’s well-heeled travellers are spurning the excess of the boom years in favour of authentic experiences.
"2009 has been a challenging year for the luxury travel industry but we are seeing a recovery in 2010," Nick Perry, chairman of the magazine Ultratravel, told a forum at the International Luxury Travel Market last week in Cannes.
The super-rich travel sector, which caters for rock divas, tycoons and billionaires happy to shell out for unique experiences like short trips just beyond the earth\’s atmosphere, remains unscathed by the economic downturn.
But the high-end corporate travel sector has fallen as much as 25 percent and it\’s been the leisure market that has offset this drop, execs said at the two day conference in this French Riviera resort.
"We still have business from families, and seasons such as Christmas are booked out. Luxury travellers are not prepared to forgo their annual family trips," stressed Paul Jones, chairman of One and Only Resorts.
Wealthy but not uber-rich holidaymakers have started to hunt for attractive rates on the Internet and ask for discounts, executives told a conference of more than 3,000 of the world\’s leading luxury travel suppliers and buyers.
This quest for cost-conscious luxury trips that offer value and are environmentally sustainable looks set to continue and also puts pressure on the travel industry to respond to new expectations.
"The bling has gone. It\’s all about the quality of the experience and the feeling of space," underlined award-winning hotel and restaurant designer Glenn Pushelberg.
Given the high cost of real estate in the word\’s main cities, space is today\’s new luxury, according to Sonu Shivdasani, the founder and CEO of the Six Senses group, which has been a pioneer in sustainable tourism.
His group has also invented a new description for these "super" suites.
Forget the presidential suite, lovers of space willing to pay between 6,000 and 8,000 dollars (4,000 and 6,000 euros) a night, can now book the "reserve" at the new Soneva Kiri Six Senses on the tropical island of Kood in Thailand.
Its massive 1,001 square metre airy wooden villa with its own 209 square metre pool and a tree house for the kids is probably the largest in any residential resort, said Six Senses\’ chief commercial officer Vincent Gillet.
Guests there also don\’t have to feel guilty about all that luxury as the resort grows its own organic produce, uses solar power and also involves the local communities, who helped build it.
Experience-driven destinations in Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are hot tips, while Beirut, Madeira and Morocco are also places to watch.
Bahrain with its rich history, culture and cuisine is widely expected to be become a newly fashionable Middle Eastern holiday destination.
Increasing numbers of well-off travellers are looking for one-off experiences that go beyond luxury and even prove to be life-changing.
The Ritz-Carlton in Cancun, offers guests an opportunity to volunteer for community work in local villages.
Indagare Travel\’s Melissa Biggs Bradley told conference participants how one of her clients helped out at a local orphanage during an overseas holiday and returns on a regular basis to support it.
Space travel also looks poised to take off, with no shortage of people willing to pay astronomical sums to float weightless like an astronaut in specially-modified planes.
Tom Shelley, vice president of Space Adventures, the only company to date to have sent private citizens above the atmosphere, said 2008 and 2009 were their most successful years since the business started in 1998.
And news this week that British billionaire Sir Richard Branson is ready to test a rocket plane that will take fare-paying passengers into space could add a new dimension to the luxury travel world.