Luxury travel’s “new norm” means offering bespoke days out as well as “philantourism” and long-stay options, a TTG Luxury Travel Summit panel agreed.
Speaking during the ‘Ideas in crisis: coping with the new normal in luxury travel’ session, Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of New York-based Embark Beyond told how he had been forced to innovate only a year after opening for business.
“We were set up not to do just travel, but to become a trusted advisor for customers’ lifestyles.”
Covid, he said, had accelerated this concept, with a planned summer camp instead being taken to more than 50 clients’ homes, complete with a home schooling programme. Another success was Embark Longer, with leases of hotel rooms of 1-6 months.
“That did so well for us that we created a broker network to find second homes for clients for the season.
“We just launched Daycations; for just under $5,000, up to eight people go 1-2 hours away for a really great day trip.” This often included a top quality lunch and access to a remote area of the US, he explained.
Tom Barber, co-founder of London-based Original Travel, said a “high-touch travel company” needed to be “up there with a financial advisor or lawyer”.
Barber said Covid would enhance a lot of trends already emerging. “Our concept of philantourism is not as big a commitment as voluntourism but it’s a concept of choosing a destination because it has had a rough ride. There were lots of things we were planning and bigging up that we’re just going to double down on as a result of all this.”
He added: “Our new umbrella concept is Travel Less, Travel Better. Everything we do will sit under that. We will give the choice of staying in a chain hotel or a community-based programme. This is absolutely fundamental stuff from now on in.”
Barber said families would not consider quarantine after a holiday because of schooling issues, but predicted: “Sabbaticals are going to be huge. Families and quarantine is not a good place, but families and sabbaticals is a good place because you have online learning and enriching experiences.”
Norman Howe, founder of Canadian luxury travel advisory agency Howe & Co also said Covid would exacerbate current trends: “Pre-pandemic, there was a structural shift away from group travel to private travel. This desire now has a health element, because strangers are dangers.”
He advised: “If you made money at 15 clients, figure out how to make money with five.”
He said sustainability was an issue but added: “I think people will focus on physical and mental wellbeing before they go back to saving the world.”
Howe predicted wellness brands would seek openings in travel, with Ezon agreeing travel was “the perfect platform” for this move.
Howe advised companies to have enough cash for the next 6-8 months or to seek investors, but Ezon said there was an issue with consolidation because it was currently difficult to determine a company’s true worth.
Ezon said the industry also needed to collaborate to convince consumers travel was safe: “I wish we could start a campaign that says ‘Tell us about your first time’ – the first time you went to an airport or flew with a mask on. Something cheeky, but that would inspire people to share experiences.”