Moderator and executive vice president of American Express Travel Claire Bennett with panelists (from left to right) jewelry designer Jennifer Fisher, Travel + Leisure special projects editor Jacqueline Gifford, Delta Airlines vice president of New York sales Chuck Imhof, and New York Destination manager at American Express Megan Shoemaker.
At the American Express Travel Salon in New York this week, industry experts agreed on one overarching theme for luxury travelers 2017: Customers will pay for the convenience and comfort high-end suppliers—and especially travel agents—offer.
Top among several trends they noted for 2017 is the demand for travel advisors, who provide personalized service, help clients find the hidden gems in a destination and set up one-of-a-kind experiences.
Chuck Imhof, Delta Airlines vice president of New York sales, talked about his own experience using a travel agent to plan a family vacation to Italy. One of his kids’ favorite memories from the trip was the one-on-one cooking lesson set up with a local chef, making handmade pasta.
And for Delta, Imhof said, travel agents “have been core to our business.”
Travel + Leisure special projects editor Jacqueline Gifford noted that “there’s this need among affluent travelers to have an exclusive moment to post, and people are willing to pay for this service. People are turning to agents because they want that human contact. Travel agents will only be more relevant as time goes on.”
Luxury travelers also are willing to pay for first-class seats and an upgraded airline product. “Flying isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience,” Gifford said. “We’re seeing so many enhancements around the entire flight experience and that’s going to continue.”
To meet the demand, Imhof said, Delta offers premium cabins with flat beds and a new VIP select service that escorts guests through security to the executive lounge. “We’ve seen an uptick in the premium level. It’s all about identifying and segmenting customers. Millennials want to be able to do something different that no one else can do, and then post about it.”
American Express Travel vice president Claire Bennett noted that premium economy will be an interesting segment to watch in the next couple of years, as we’re already seeing so much interest.
Both Amex and Delta said they are investing in improving their club offerings.
As far as destinations, Bennett is “happy to say Paris and London are back,” but affluent global travelers are now moving on to more unique secondary markets.
Imhof said Lisbon, Portugal, has been an emerging market, and Berlin is a particularly popular spot for Millennials.
Another trend in the luxury market is longer vacations. Gifford believes the affluent market is making the most of their vacation days because they ultimately understand that spending time with their family is more important than buying a new car, and are placing value on experiences over things.