Luxury travel planners are seeing an uptick in bookings, driven by a demand for remote destinations, exclusive group travel, and passion-centered experiences.
Virtuoso said that more than half of its network of more than 20,000 luxury travel advisers estimate their clients will spend more on trips this year. In the first half of last year, Virtuoso’s global sales were 69% higher than its pre-pandemic highs of 2019. Virtuoso’s booking trends for this year so far are on pace to make 2024 another record year.
The continued strength is remarkable, given how bullish sales were in 2023. Kensington Tours, a luxury travel agency, said luxury trip values rose 9% last year.
Skift spoke with leading operators in the space. We came away with seven emerging trends set to shape luxury travel in the year ahead.
1. Group Outings
Intimate group travel remains important for families and friends post-pandemic. Luxury private group tours continue to drive performance for Black Tomato, making up 30% of its bookings in 2023, and the luxury travel company sees continued momentum from its 2024 bookings.
Black Tomato revealed its “See You in the Moment” trips towards the end of last year, dedicated to this growing travel segment that “prioritizes coming together to share and celebrate special moments.” These itineraries are designed to “take the friction out of group travel,” as the company’s travel experts work with each individual to tailor flexible logistics around flights, hotels, and guided experiences.
Many families don’t want to be limited to staying inside a luxury vacation rental or resort. So some tour companies are responding with private tours with experiential elements to broaden the horizons of multi-generational group travel.
Last year, Kensington Tours introduced its Beyond Villas offering, letting families book private group travel that includes experiences like attending Hollywood screenings and parties or viewing car races from above a favorite team’s pit.
Developing new products is key for Kensington Tours as loyal guests return and look for novelty. It saw its repeat bookings companywide rise 30% year-over-year in 2023.
2. Intimate, Small-Vessel Cruises
Private yacht charters are a fast-emerging luxury travel category for small groups of friends or families. Virtuoso travel advisors see new and experienced cruisers booking these “less-crowded, upscale voyages.”
Popular routes include Europe’s Danube River, the Mekong River in Asia, and North Africa’s Nile River in Egypt. Virtuoso is also seeing interest in adventure cruises to Alaska and Antarctica for 2024. (See Skift’s 2024 outlook for Active Adventure travel for more boat-based trends.)
Kensington Tours recently launched Kensington Yachts to tailor its offering for customers looking to combine river and ocean cruises with land experiences.
The niche itinerary planning service books hotels and villas for its guests, in addition to chartered yachts, complete with a private tour guide for popular destinations such as Costa Rica, Galapagos, and the Arctic.
3. Passion-Led, Multi-Gen Adventures
Luxury tour operators are seeing more requests to turn educational family travel into unforgettable, passion-led adventures.
Black Tomato has seen demand for its “Field Trip” product increase in 2023 as “families look to connect over shared passions.” These educational travel trips are rooted in young adults getting parents excited about something they love to do, like surfing or diving.
Pelorus, a luxury tour operator of extreme experiences with an average price tag of $140,000, says Generation Alpha (children born after 2010) greatly influences planning these kinds of trips. It is seeing 12-year-olds decisively contribute to activity recommendations based on what they’re learning at school, reading about online, or seeing in nature-based David Attenborough documentaries, for example.
4. Wellness: Do Less to Be More
Black Tomato has observed “a shift from broad wellness programs” that try to change a traveler’s lifestyle to a more straightforward approach, described as “reductionist experiences.”
The company has collaborated with brands such as Six Senses and Joali Being to create its “Bring it Back” series emphasizing “personalized wellness, aligning specific self-improvement areas with suitable destinations and experts.” It’s become about “slower, more focused travel, aiming for profound, lasting transformation,” said Black Tomato.
The itineraries include activities like breath workshops, psilocybin (magic mushroom) retreats, sleep clinics, and meditation masterclasses.
5. Simple Solitude
Travel companies are looking to offer their guests “genuine solitude” to recharge and reset.
Black Tomato’s signature Blink camps have grown by 40% since 2021. Set up in some of the world’s most remote locations, like Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, the trend is fueled by the “organic therapeutic effects of solitude.”
Its Get Lost service has also become popular, as guests are taken to unknown destinations, including lesser-known national parks. Supported by the work of Quiet Parks International, the experience is centered on the “psychology behind disconnection, stillness, and finding inner steel.”
Luxury hospitality brand Singita has also seen wellness evolving to emphasize access to vast, undisturbed spaces for “meaningful opportunities to just disconnect.” The company said it has taken a holistic approach to spiritual, physical, and mental wellness by “creating serene sanctuaries integrated through every aspect of the guest’s stay.”
6. Memory Lane Trips
This trend reflects a connection to personal history, such as genealogy or memoir. Black Tomato sees travelers inspired to plan trips based on their family members’ or close friends’ seminal journeys. Slower and more purposeful travel, enhanced by nostalgia and a fresh perspective of their loved ones who went before them, are also motivating factors.
“Ultimately, in coming across many lanes of memories, travelers forge a deeper connection to their family history, each other, and the destination,” said Black Tomato.
7. Unexplored Frontiers
Luxury travelers continue to be drawn to unexplored, pioneering travel experiences, with seasoned travelers diverging from their usual European options to more exotic and less explored locations. Virtuoso luxury advisors are seeing an increased interest in re-emerging hotspots such as Japan and Iceland.
Black Tomato is seeing a focus on destinations like Argentina’s remote Mitre Peninsula and lesser-known areas in Peru. The company will launch a new rafting adventure in the Ancient Valley of the Incas this year, along with experiences in less explored regions of Patagonia.
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