Words by Mark Hodson
What will luxury travel look like after the pandemic? While many of us sit at home dreaming of our next holiday, or trying to make sense of the government’s latest traffic light system, specialist tour operators that cater to high-net-worth individuals are working hard to create exciting – and safe – new travel experiences. They say their clients are determined to start travelling again as soon as they can, and they are prepared to spend more than ever to do it in style. Mark Hodson, editor of 101 Holidays, finds out more.
The rise – and rise – of private jet travel
Private jet travel was once the preserve of billionaires, but over the past two decades the introduction of charter fares and shared ownership schemes has made it accessible to thousands more wealthy individuals. The pandemic has accelerated that trend as increasing numbers of people are prepared to dig deep in order to avoid crowded airports and commercial flights.
Ben Briggs, marketing manager at the luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent said: “More and more of our guests are choosing to travel by private aircraft. They want space and privacy – their own bubble – whether it’s their own household, extended family or a group of friends.”
Abercrombie & Kent has introduced a range of private jet journeys, which have already sold out for 2021 and 2022. Highlights include a unique wildlife safari for a maximum of 48 guests that includes snow monkeys in Japan, whale sharks in the Philippines, orang-utans in Borneo and the elusive Bengal Tiger in India. The 24-day expedition costs a cool £120,265 per person.
Other guests? No thanks
Luxury hotels go out of their way to cater to the demands of high-spending guests. But penthouse suites and private pools aren’t enough for some, who want to book the whole hotel – or a private wing of the hotel – for their entourage. Briggs said: “We’ve had enquiries recently about holidays to Egypt, Greece and Costa Rica, all in excess of £100,000. Clients are upgrading to the best suites and in some cases, booking out the entire hotel.”
Ted Wake, director of Kirker Holidays, says increasing numbers of clients are chartering luxury barges, particularly on canals and rivers in France. “These are perfect for multi-generational families who want to relax in their own luxury bubble. These holidays are not cheap – between £25,000 and £35,000 full board including food and wine – but they are priceless family get-togethers, often underwritten by generous grandparents.”
Time is ticking
All luxury tour operators agree that their older wealthy clients are impatient to make up for lost time, and not cut corners. “Many are double vaccinated and feel they deserve a holiday,” said Wake. “They are staying longer, spending more and becoming more adventurous.” One client whose Orient-Express holiday was postponed last year decided to upgrade from a cabin to a Grand Suite, which increased the cost by £8,000. “It’s a priceless experience – I want to savour it,” he told Kirker Holidays.
Pete Brudenell, head of marketing at CV Villas, agrees that many grandparents are picking up the tab for a multi-generation booking that costs five or six figures. “Our average order value has increased by 46% since 2019, with the average duration of stay up just 12%,” he said.
The company offers a collection of luxury staffed villas that come with private chef, concierge and private travel options, but many clients want more. “We had one guest that requested for all new Egyptian cotton linen for his two-week stay, putting more than £3,000 on the bill,” said Brudenell.
Tropical islands are more appealing than ever, according to Grace Wright, marketing manager at The Turquoise Holiday Company. “The Maldives is our most popular destination,” she said. “Many clients want to fly and flop on a luxury island resort without the stress of moving around. They are spending more and staying longer, and travelling in bigger groups. Clients have been asking for helicopters, private jet travel and booking out whole sections of hotels.”
With some luxury hotels now offering ‘work from paradise’ packages including fast broadband and daily laundry, Wright says many clients are extending their stays to a month or more, particularly in the Caribbean where the five-hour time difference is manageable for some remote workers. Average holiday spend is now £11,000, up 20% on the year before the pandemic.
Honeymoon in paradise
An estimated 240,000 weddings have been postponed in the UK since the start of the pandemic and, with savings in the bank, many couples are planning to go large on their honeymoon plans. The Turquoise Holiday Company has honeymoon bookings for 2022 and 2023 with Africa and the South Pacific among the most popular destinations.
Liane Goldring at Mahlatini, the Africa specialist, says honeymoons now make up the largest chunk of their bookings. “Couples who’ve had their weddings pushed back or had only a small ceremony are determined to celebrate with a memorable trip. Most want a luxury safari followed by time on a tropical beach. The big difference now is they are staying in the same country – for example, the Masai Mara followed by the Kenyan coast rather than combining Kenya with Mauritius.”
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition is offering exclusive bush weddings and intimate honeymoons at its two game reserves, Ulusaba in South Africa and Mahali Mzuri in Kenya. “There’s been a shift in emphasis,” said head of press, Caroline Sheffield. “Today’s safari isn’t just about the thrill of a game drive, it is very much about education, learning about long-term conservation projects, immersion in local culture and meaningful interactions with local communities.”
New styles of travel
Although travel to Asia is peppered with obstacles right now, the specialist tour operator Selective Asia says loyal clients are booking ahead for 2022 and 2023. “People are booking big ticket items such as private Indonesian cruises and high-end resorts such as Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia,” said director Nick Pulley.
The company has also introduced a concept called Low Touch Travel where clients stay at fewer places, exploring by day trips in private cars, rather than moving from one hotel to the next every couple of days.
Experience Travel Group, which also specialises in Asia, says its clients want longer, more relaxing, more immersive trips, getting deep under the skin of a destination rather than just ‘box ticking’ famous sites. The company has introduced a new range of private tours, under the banner Revitalise, combining adventure and luxury, which include a leopard spotting safari in Madhya Pradesh, journeying from remote Satpura to a small lodge in Kanha, the park that inspired The Jungle Book.