11 Trends Defining the Next Decade of Luxury Travel

11 Trends Defining the Next Decade of Luxury Travel

Fittingly, 2021 marks the 11th anniversary of ILTM Latin America and the beginning of a new decade in travel.

Instead of looking backwards, I want to take this opportunity to look ahead and contemplate what’s next for luxury travel. How can travel address some of the world’s biggest challenges, and – hey, why not? – how can travel shape the new pathways we all want to take. A fresh and much-needed restart to get the world moving again, here are 11 trends to set the tone and swing us towards the passionate, sustainable, inspiring, and exciting experiences that await us all.

Ready? Let’s go!

1. Conscious travel

Connect with yourself + others + destination

The mantra “Live Full. Travel Conscious.” has been hovering around the industry’s best minds for an important reason. It addresses the present need for the traveller to become a pivotal agent and actor in the positive transformation of the world we explore. Choosing with purpose is key. Enough of over-tourism and lack of awareness. We cannot expect to dive deeply into a country just by being bystanders. We need to connect with its people and start conversations that could lead to cultural discoveries and experiences. We want to be immersed while doing good, therefore transforming ourselves and others along the journey. Our trips should combine sustainability and wellness, cultural immersion and exploration, adventure and involvement with the destination, as well as the supporting of conservation and environmental projects, empowerment of artisans, producers and local businesses. We have the ability to positively impact the spots we visit by injecting revenue into local economies and establishing links with local communities. The paradigm shift affects the entire market and is the result of the choices we make. A trip is meant to entertain, amaze, educate and have an emotional impact, taking us into the present moment while remaining sustainable. Purpose, partnership, positive contributions. It’s all about evolution and consciousness. Don’t you want to be part of this shift?

2. TA Hype

The rise of travel agencies & advisors

We all know how it goes. The traveller plans a trip thinking everything is under control just to discover that it’s not. During the first wave of Covid, there were so many cancellations and postponements, no flights, mass evacuations, delayed plans. And who was there to save the day? The travel advisor. The one with the knowledge, the connections, the professional service, and the best intentions to excel at their job.

Covid has given us all new perspectives, and this is especially true for the travel industry. End clients and luxury travellers have gained a new appreciation and respect for agencies and advisors. The quintessential travel agent is the one who will not only know their clientele but their providers, their products and all the logistics/documentation required in the ever-changing post-pandemic scenario. It’s not simply about planning a dream vacation; it’s about navigating what seems to be a million options and selecting the best ones, customising for each client, curating their experiences, and monitoring the new travel protocols, requirements – and last minutes changes make it all the more difficult.

I believe travel agents are the hype in the luxury travel market right now. Accordingly so and well-deserved, indeed.

3. Off the Grid

Escaping mass tourism and overcrowding

Due to the social distancing required, escaping the crowds is a must these days. But its benefits are way greater than just our little bubbles. Overcrowding is not only unsatisfying and undesirable now, but it can also reverberate into economic, social, and environmental issues. Beloved cities have suffered the downsides of chronic mass tourism – think Rome or Venice. Remember the cruise ship that crashed into a dock in 2019? Thankfully that lead to the city’s decision of banning large ships from entering the Venice lagoon this August… after years of warnings of irreparable damage to Venice’s ecosystem. Nepal also reported a traffic jam of people waiting to summit Mount Everest in 2019, which lead to the perishing of climbers. We often take the risk of jeopardising the very places we are fond of when we should be doing the exact opposite.

So, instead of being surrounded by loads of people in crowded destinations – escalating the problems – how about getting off the beaten track and opting for alternative destinations? You can join the next wave of awareness travel and choose under-visited or remote locations.

Think about a wellness retreat at the foothills of the Himalayas, fuelled by Ananda, with a wonderful set of tools that will rejuvenate and empower your body, mind, and soul. Choose a pristine, beautiful place – such as the Icelandic, Patagonian, or Scandinavian outdoors – to enjoy a week of nature-fuelled adventure, with paddling or kayaking along the way. Companies like Nordic Luxury and Eleven Experience challenge your limits, with physical adventures and mental resilience. Brands like Six Senses and Aman have also nailed the concept with its trademark basis of wellness, sustainability, and organic luxury, in hotels, resorts and spas amidst spectacular sceneries around the world. There are even “Mystery Trips” where you spend a week alone in the wilderness after being dropped by helicopter in an undisclosed setting (a guide will be tracking you from a distance), concocted to get you to tap into your inner resources and confront your fears and anxieties to move forward. Black Tomato creates adventurous tailor-made expeditions to wilderness destinations like Mongolia or the Arctic that are kept entirely a secret from you. Going off-grid is the utmost travel experience, a way of reconnecting with yourself and sorting out what matters in life. It is a fascinating and powerful way to gain a fresh perspective.

Sometimes getting lost and disconnecting is the only way to change toxic habits and reconnect with yourself.

4. The Staycation

Exploring your own city and country

I often catch myself serendipitously discovering alternative sides of São Paulo, the city I call home. To unleash the potential of a staycation you must view your city with a fresh perspective and curiosity. Mini breaks and stays at the city’s fabulous hotels paired with wellness treatments, exploring art galleries and hip boutiques, visiting museums or new restaurants and bars while strolling around, all add an extra edge to this combination of vacationing and staying home in days of pure indulgence. It’s hassle-free, with no airport queues and travel time, just a decadent experience within the city. By the end of this escape, you’ll come away refreshed and – if you desire – luxuriously pampered. It can be surprising to look at your city as a visitor and not as a resident. As I always say: Travel in your city? Shouldn’t you try it!

5. Positive Luxury

Offsetting your carbon footprint

We all take aeroplanes to zip around the world to perform our globetrotting tasks. But taking to the skies is taking its toll; roughly 2 to 2.4% (some sources even say up to 5%) of global CO2 emissions come from aviation. While extremely pertinent, it doesn’t compare to the impact of road transportation which is responsible for 44%. Our routine actions such as driving, flying, and heating burns energy that is highly pollutant. Controlling and offsetting is an effort that has become a prominent question given climate change impacts. So, the question is what can we do to offset our travel emissions? We need to find a way to compensate, either by calculating emissions and then purchasing the equivalent balance or by travelling more efficiently. How? Planning better, staying longer, and exploring a destination by other means (taking the train, for example). Airlines that fly internationally should think of offsetting any extra emissions under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. You can also discover ways to counterbalance by eating locally grown foods (the so-called localvore), using energy wisely and choosing companies that take a responsible approach to the environment by providing employment, reforestation, and social benefits to communities. You can also choose an offsetting program to donate to. This all can lead to the so desired zero carbon footprint. It’s our world, our house… and we’re all together in this.

6. Long & Slow

Slowly discovering, for longer

It’s quite common to hear of those coming back from a dream vacation on the verge of burnout after having taken the extra mile in search of additional highs, only to tick things off an ambitious list that includes interminable selfies and photos. It’s almost as if you haven’t travelled if not picturing, posting, and frenetically trying to capture everything. It’s all so exhausting and almost depleted of meaning. We need a mindset change to fully understand why we travel. After all, who cares about how many countries or famed places you have been to? Only you can take away the pleasure and value of your trip. Doesn’t it make more sense to account for how much you’ve enjoyed, learned, and experienced in your travels? The new era of slow travel is here to bring us back to its original purpose: tapping into the unknown, discovering, enjoying, reuniting, and living joyful moments. So how can we have all that? Through real immersions, long trips, days of flânerie, slowly discovering local pleasures, hidden treasures, and destinations as well as people. The celebrated Tao Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu perfectly sums up slow travel: “A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” I couldn’t agree more. We all, in our timeframes and possibilities, should engage in it. After all, time is the ultimate luxury; enjoying your time the best way possible is living life to its fullest.

7. Sustainable Luxury

Sustainable development through travel

One of the most transformative experiences I’ve had is making a difference through community work in countries like Bangladesh, India, or Kenya, feeling the profound impact of these contributions on the people around you as well as within yourself.

Today, companies (such as ME to WE) design trips based on sustainable development and work towards strengthening communities and individuals by making them active partners in positive change. When altering the self-centred mindset to an us-centred one, we open ourselves to real situations and enlarge the purpose and reach of our travel by opting to protect our planet’s most vulnerable destinations. By transforming tourism’s impact on nature and people, we can truly influence the planet’s future. It goes beyond the environment; you can be a part of the social and economic transformations that responsible tourism can bring to the lives of local people. Examples? You can support countries that suffered devastating problems and need tourists to come back to boost their economy — by visiting non-affected spots within the destination — such as Australia after the fires, or St. Barth, St. Martin, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas after the Hurricanes Irma and Maria, or Sri Lanka after the 2019 Easter bombings.

But now, it’s the whole world who needs and wants us back with all the care and safety measures in place.

The impact of travel can be so lasting and powerful that it now attracts more and more travellers who wish to go that extra mile to support actions that address sustainability, the protection, development and preservation of communities, the environment and wildlife – while making them key players instead of mere spectators. How rewarding is that? And isn’t this one of the most important lessons we’ve all learnt during all these months locked in and wishing to go out?

8. Lifestyle Brands

A new chapter in hotel life & aviation travel

What started as the boutique hotel trend at the beginning of the 1980s (think Kimpton, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell (co-owners of the mythic Studio 54), and the legendary hôtelier and Aman Resorts founder Adrian Zecha) has evolved into the lifestyle hotels of today with their intimate, design-oriented, and customer-centric features. The players have evolved and partnerships between established brands and creators of cool – like Ian Schrager and Marriot International – are changing the scenery with a fresh set of lifestyle hotels collections, such as the W, Edition and Public hotels. Together they are upping the game by employing hyping additions such as award-winning architects (for instance, Herzog & de Meuron in Public Time Square), thus creating fun and inspiring public spaces, incredible views, innovative design, youthful mood, and unique panache that combine the perfect mix of luxury and lifestyle. Other brands thrive in the confluence of high fashion meet boho laid-back culture, such as The Slow, in Canggu Bali or First Cabin in Japan, a mix between airline-inspired hotels and ryokans. These are a few examples of the transformation of lodging into lifestyle experiences.

The fleet revitalization has re-emerged with the introduction of Airbus A350s, A380s and Boeings 787-10s, while first class and executive suites are the standouts of the new innovative flights – with additions that deliver top-notch safety and sanitary measures while delivering lifestyle experiences to frequent flyers. Examples? Singapore Airlines’ new First Class Suite is ahead of the game, whereas Qatar Airways with its QSuite sets a new standard of private seating. Air France and Swiss Airlines go above and beyond to keep their luxurious services and very chic first and executive classes cabins in which their savoir-faire and elegant styles are presented in form of comfort and exclusivity. There is also the return of Virgin Atlantic’s innovation The Loft – a social area featuring comfortable seats and a large screen for watching movies in the Upper-Class section of its Airbus A350-1000 aircraft. Emirates already had its individual Private Suites cabins in their A380s, and the famous Onboard Bars are back as we move towards the inflight swanky social spaces that were conceived for super-long-haul flights and were to include areas for yoga and communal dining. In other words, prolonging the in-flight experience through exclusive lounges of state-of-the-art architecture coupled with lifestyle services. The heights of the airline lifestyle know no boundaries.

9. Hybrid Experiences

Blending adventure, immersion, and wellness

It’s a brand-new world out there, travellers! One that sets a frontier between wellness, adventure and reset. I could feel it coming, and so could you, right? Expeditions entrenched in rugged landscapes that are deep-rooted in luxuries such as tented camps with in-suite bathtubs and torch-lit four-course dinners can also offer nomadic expeditions aboard 4×4 jeeps, well-crafted vessels, horse or camelback and, why not, on foot. Each is led by super experts and field guides that pour knowledge into exotic itineraries that transform travellers into explorers while tuning their perspectives on cultures, people, wildlife, and the mind-blowing settings encountered along the journey. It can be on the outskirts of the Saara or the Atlas, the gorges of Oman or the Gobi Desert, maybe the red canyons of Utah, the waters of the Mighty Zambezi or the unparalleled safari camps such as Matetsi, Stretch Ferreira, Bumi Hill or Deteema of Zimbabwe. You can also go for a tiger-filled national park in Ranthambore, Rajasthan, the tropical rainforests of the Amazon or the breath-taking peaks of Bhutan, crisscrossing lanes of Ladakh – wherever your preference is, you will find fleeting hotels in ultra-exclusive locations that combine hedonism and humanism in spectacular settings.

And then, there is the rise of wellness – one of the most powerful trends of our times. In such a troubled world, the sense of well-being is imperative, and travelling in search of this reset is essential. A whole new wave of accommodations, with special-designed rooms, carefully calibrated programs, experiences, and activities aiming to shape the next level of good living is being conveyed by high-end hospitality brands like Aman and Six Senses and retreats such as Canyon Ranch, Ananda in the Himalayas and SHA. Luxury hotel groups as Rosewood, Como, Shangri-La, Hyatt, Marriot, Mandarin Oriental, to mention a few, are equally aboard the wellness lifestyle trend. Even fitness brands are migrating to hospitality: the first Equinox Hotel will be opening this year in the Hudson Yard, NYC, with interiors designed by David Rockwell. The idea is to embark on an invigorating journey that will take you on a new path. In times where health is considered the new wealth, who wouldn’t want that?

This blend of remote immersion, luxury lodging, fully charged natural wellness treatments and spiritually elevating experiences – conducted by exceptionally well-prepared locals – steer the travellers towards adrenaline-fuelled adventures, peaceful retreats, transformative journeys culminating into life-changing experiences that redefine our worldview.

10. To Infinity…

Beyond Earth, space travel and tourism

Space travel has long been on the wish list of humanity. From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, it’s the space battle of billionaires. In late April, Virgin Orbit announced they will launch flights from the Alcântara Launch Center (CLA) on Brazil’s northern coast. It seems everyone wants a slice of space. Curious? Here’s some highlights!

It looks like Orion and Axiom Space are currently ahead of the pack. Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini announced the launch of his first space tourism program, which will feature a floating hotel designed by none other than the ubiquitous Philippe Starck. At a cost of US$ 55 million (included are 15 weeks of prior preparation on Earth), space tourists will be able to enjoy 10 days of orbital travel in accommodations beyond hi-tech. Made up of several capsules, the Axiom Space hotel aims to accommodate eight people, including a professional astronaut. The idea is to send the hotel into space or anchor it in the current International Space Station (ISS), which floats 408 km from the Earth’s surface. But those in a hurry might even get there sooner.

In the busy match of the race, Orion Span, led by Frank Bunger, is developing Aurora Station, a fully modular space station and a luxury hotel that will accommodate six guests at a time (including two crew) for a 12-day journey – at a modest US$ 9.5 million – where they will live as true astronauts (following three months of training). And Bezos’ Blue Origin is following the suit; his company has been developing an infrastructure for spaceflight capabilities since 2011 for the lucky few aficionados. The price of those short sightseeing trips to suborbital space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is likely to cost around US$ 250-300K, while Virgin Galactic’s 90-min flight would cost US$ 250K. There is already a steady waiting list for future travellers.

In 2019, NASA announced its plan to allow private astronauts to go on the ISS, with SpaceX’s spacecraft Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. The price? Around US$ 35K per day, per person. Those astronauts would be permitted to travel to the ISS for up to 30 days, travelling on the US spacecraft. Everything indicates that the reward for so much effort will be amazing: views of your home city from space, the ability to participate in research experiments (like growing food in orbit) and sharing the experience live with friends and family on Earth via the Internet. Such great exploits require Ditto investments and travelling orbits in the millions of dollars, nothing that discourages wealthy adventurers and space cowboys going onto the final frontier of civilization.

Science fiction travel is a reality in 2021, with NASA finally launching astronauts aboard capsules built by SpaceX and Boeing. Maybe travellers dreaming of intergalactic luxury capsules will be following soon. I can hardly wait to report from the edge of space.

11. JOMO

The joy of missing out

It may be time to take a step back and think about the reasons behind your desire to travel and how much of it is genuine. Fact: social media has drastically transformed the way we interact in the world, while increasingly dictating consumer choices. Studies have shown that most people were more likely to travel somewhere if they thought it would increase their social media following and engagement. But that comes at a price: anxiety, frustration, jealousy, and even missing out on ‘the essence of the now’ in that coveted place you decided as a destination. Within a trip filled with posts, messages, DMs, and stress, how much time is left for actual enjoyment? Very little. So-called FOMO (fear of missing out) leaves us plugged into the digital world to the point of exhaustion, trapped in a cycle of taking that popular stunning selfie to tick of your virtual bucket list, only to move on to the next hyped destination. The real question is: what is the most productive way to spend your time abroad? JOMO could be the answer.

The opposite of FOMO, it stands for “joy of missing out” and is what the coolest folks are already doing with the pleasure of freedom. The new trend of hotels where wi-fi connection is limited to some areas, or even non-existent, is a blessing for busy travellers and those in need to reset and disconnect to recharge and enjoy. Living in the here and now instead of broadcasting on social media is pure JOMO. This new approach to travel emphasises connection: to yourself, to locals, to foreign cultures, to the environment that surrounds you. Brilliantly simple, highly recommended, and very much needed. So, next time you plan a trip, think about the reasons why that destination is important to you, and stay longer, enjoying it to the fullest, relaxing amidst all that wanderlust. And remember, you can always post about it later if you choose to, but you cannot regain moments lost. So, it all comes down to what matters most: live the moment or just pass by it? There’s nothing sexier than a person who lives in the moment. Haven’t we all learnt that by now?

Be present, enjoy life to its fullest, that’s living!

Juliana A. Saad is a writer, editor, and curator specialised in travel, culture, lifestyle, and luxury. In other words, Ju travels the world looking for incredible stories. A regular ILTM media attendee, you can catch them next at ILTM Latin America this October. This year, we’re at the Tivoli Mofarrej São Paulo Hotel from Tuesday 26 October to Friday 29 October, see you there!

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