Experts agree: The Great Recession has profoundly changed how consumers think – especially luxury consumers.
“We are seeing fundamental shifts in behavior,” brand marketing expert Idris Mootee told Travel Market Report.
Travel sellers also report significant changes in the demands and tastes of luxury clients.
To help agents stay on top of the trends, we asked Mootee to give readers the latest thinking about luxury consumers. Mootee is CEO of Idea Couture Inc. and author of High Intensity Marketing and 60-Minute Brand Strategist.
Then we asked travel sellers a similar question: What does luxury mean to your clients in today’s world?
Mootee named three trends in luxury that travel sellers should understand.
Trend #1: Boomers shift their focus
How baby boomers think about luxury has undergone a dramatic shift
Boomers, who constitute the biggest segment in high-end spending, have moved beyond their Yuppie years. They are leaving behind the need to put their social status on display with high-end goods. Today’s boomers are seeking self-discovery.
In travel, this translates to the end of “been there, done that.” Instead boomers are asking, “Where do I go to search for meaning?”
“Baby boomers are feeling like so many things they thought they believed in, or thought they knew, they realize they don’t,” Mootee explained. So now they’re looking for places to go where they’ll find deeper meaning, inspiration, enlightenment.
This search for meaning incorporates a sense of responsibility, Mootee added. “There is a new unspoken responsibility they’ve taken on. They want to make sure they still have an influence.”
Trend #2: Gens X & Y go exotic
For younger consumers, the desire to see the world is stronger than ever, Mootee said. In particular, exotic and off the beaten path destinations are popular.
“They believe those are the experiences that give them capital, in the sense of investing in experiences that will enrich them,” he said. “Their Flickr account is their treasure chest.
“Visits to the little town outside of Budapest and the little village in the Ukraine all become their social capital, in the way a Louis Vuitton bag used to be.”
Trend #3: Everyone wants to reconnect
A strong desire to reconnect with family and friends is common to all ages, according to Mootee.
“People feel like, ‘Who knows what will happen tomorrow?’ The safest place is to be with people you care about.”
Travel often enables these connections: Buddies from high school meet up in Vegas; a patriarch takes his extended family on a cruise. “People are using the luxury experience or destination as a catalyst to reconnect,” Mootee said.
Travel sellers weigh in
What does luxury mean to travel agents’ clients today? Here’s what you said.
“There are common characteristics we hear from clients: ‘I’m looking for a trip away from the crowds and one that is fully paid in advance.’ ‘We prefer private tours or none at all.’ ‘If we can avoid an airport, great; if not, business or first class flights, please.’ Luxury is making travel and relaxation not seem like work.” – Mike Currie, owner, Cruise Holidays of Southlake (Texas)
Anne Morgan Scully
“Luxury is when you give your clients something they didn’t know they could have. It’s the surprise – having a client visit one of their childhood heroes, or a musician playing a composer’s piano. The element of surprise is true luxury; knowing your client well enough so you can give the perfect gift.” – Anne Morgan Scully, president, McCabe World Travel, McLean, Va., Virtuoso
“Luxury means having what you want, when you want it. My clients want to talk to me at any time of day; my availability and responsiveness to their needs is luxury. They also view flexibility as a luxury. They are increasingly unresponsive to severe cancellation penalties and supplier requirements for advance pre-payment in full. Clients also want elements of authenticity and genuineness in their travel experiences.” – Robert Romano, partner, Fugazi Travel Agency Inc., San Francisco, Ensemble
“To some, it is the hardware, the actual ship. To others, it is the software, the service. To deliver a product or an experience that is exclusive and memorable, not available to most, tailored to the wants and preferences of my clients, is what luxury means in today’s world.” – Mara Hargarther, Hargarther, Thaler & Associates, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., CruiseOne
“True luxury means something out of the ordinary, an experience or product that pampers and offers a feel-good factor missing in most everyday items. In travel, that means exclusivity, extra comforts and space.” – Denis Lim, president, CruiseExperts Travel, Signature
“Luxury travel means not being nickeled and dimed to death once you’ve booked your vacation. A luxury vacation is all bundled up, including the tags, taxes and title.” – Dorothy Flannery, Top Sail Journeys, Key Biscayne, Fla., Cruise Planners
“Today luxury is the pampering and special services you receive while traveling. Luxury travel has become more about the overall experience, rather than the particular amenities that may have been deemed luxury in the past.” – Mark Kralick, travel counselor, American Express Travel Services, Washington, D.C.
“Our clients seldom use the word luxury. They simply want the best that is available wherever they are traveling. Exotic and luxury can easily be combined, especially with affluent travelers who are well-traveled and looking for that extra something, something unique that ordinary tourists don’t have the opportunity to see or experience.” – Lew Winger, president, Winger Travel Agency Inc., Nantucket, Mass., TRAVELSAVERS
“In the cruise market, beside great accommodations and service, it involves new experiences. The buzzword is ‘experiential travel.’” – Else Daniels, owner/manager, Vacations at Sea, Washington, D.C.