The Luxury Travel Buzz at SOTIC

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The Great House, Turtle Beach, Barbados.
The Great House, Turtle Beach, Barbados.

“Facing a new set of data, does it make sense to keep doing things the way we always have?” asked Sandals Resorts CEO Adam Stewart. He was addressing the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Travel Industry Conference in Barbados, so his audience included hundreds of government tourism officials, but his message also resonated with travel agents and tour operators in attendance. Here are a few post-conference takeaways:

  • Resonance Consultancy’s 2016 U.S. Luxury Travel Report reveals that the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans now take an average of 14.3 trips per year (about half business, half leisure) and spend more than $3,000 pp per trip. No wonder much of the talk at SOTIC was about luxury travel.
  • “The new wealthy want to experience something authentic,” said Sir Paul Altman, managing director of Altman Real Estate. “The billionaire at Sandy Lane [now] chooses Moontown as his dinner location. It is the experience that defines luxury. I recently had dinner with Louis Vuitton. He enjoyed Fishermans Pub & Beach Bar in Speightstown.”
  • Stubbs Smith, the minister of tourism for the Turks & Caicos Islands, said that her (very luxury-oriented) home turf was seeing that same trend. “True luxury is the ability to engage visitors in an exclusive way not found anywhere else,” she said. “Sun, sand, and sea is no longer the defining experience.” Keywords in her address: “meaningful, exclusive, personalized.”
  • The Turks & Caicos promotional video she showed us drove that home. Titled “This. Is. Real Paradise,” it featured images of landscapes, seascapes, marine life, a farmer, and locals dancing, but not a single shot of tourists lounging by a beach or pool.
  • At the same time, she cautioned, luxury travelers still want to be pampered; they demand a 24-hour concierge, 24-hour VIP transportation, private chefs, private nature tours, etc. And then, she added, “they go to a fish fry.”
  • Jazz Poulin, manager at Luxury Retreats, sees this same dichotomy. “Today’s luxury travelers want to know the story behind what they’re eating,” he said. “They want to know where that tomato comes from.” This farm-to-table movement is, perhaps, the truest intersection of the demand for pampering and for authenticity. As for the former, “the airport transit process is the most stressful part of the trip,” he said, so getting clients out of the airport as quickly and comfortably as possible is key. He added, “Recently, we even built a temporary heliport for a guest.” Now, that’s luxury.
  • One last thought from Adam Stewart: When choosing where and how to take a vacation, he said, “76 percent of baby boomers rate experiencing authentic local culture as ‘the most important’ aspect of their decision-making.” Mind you, he wasn’t just talking about luxury travelers; this applies to all travelers. Moreover, the figure Stewart quoted is for AARP members, not devil-may-care millennials.

So, you know, maybe this experiential travel thing we’ve heard so much about really is for real. For more information, visit onecaribbean.org.