Audrey Hendley is the president of American Express Travel, one of the largest multi-channel consumer travel agencies in the world. The opinions expressed in this article are her own.
With spring and summer approaching, a time when travelers would normally be jetting off on trips around the world, the world’s attention is instead focused on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic to gauge when travel will return to pre-pandemic levels. While the pandemic has created a dynamic shift in the way people travel, what’s particularly interesting is the way it’s shifted perceptions of luxury travel.
Based on our ongoing conversations with customers and close monitoring of consumer sentiment through our ongoing Amex Trendex survey research, we’re seeing that many are starting to view “luxury travel” differently–in fact, about half of survey respondents note that the definition of luxury travel has changed because of COVID-19, including 60% of millennials. What used to be associated with luxury travel–like in-person, hands-on customer service–may not be what most luxury travelers are currently looking for in today’s environment. Today’s consumers say that personalized experiences (82%), cleanliness (81%), and privacy (79%) are the most desirable luxury amenities. Through our American Express Travel: Global Travel Trends Report and with help from American Express Travel consultants, expert travel counselors across the globe who are on hand 24/7 to help card members plan for, book and navigate current and future travels, we uncovered a number of emerging trends impacting the world of luxury travel. As we look to the future of travel, here are five ways we expect luxury travel will evolve.
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Quality Over Quantity
With people traveling less frequently right now, our card members are seeking out quality travel experiences over quantity. Travelers are taking time and putting careful considerations into every travel decision they make–leading many to embrace “slow travel”–settling in at a destination of choice in order to really appreciate the place, such as a recent customer who booked a 75-day vacation in a penthouse suite on a cruise. Similarly, our new report found that 60% of respondents are interested in taking extended trips to experience new destinations.
There is also a desire to build quality time with loved ones into travel plans–the vast majority of survey respondents (71%) want to take a vacation with their family, spouse, or want to visit loved ones they missed in 2020. In line with this, our travel consultants are seeing an emergence of new hybrid travel itineraries from couples who are planning vacations around special occasions and coordinating with close family and friends to join them after spending quality time on their own. With more families looking to travel together, our travel consultants have also seen increased demand for multi-generational accommodations, private dining rooms, family-based activities, and hotels with adjoining rooms.
Interest in Supporting Local Communities
In many markets, especially in Japan, Hong Kong, and New Zealand, we’re seeing a growing interest in giving back–many have been interested in learning about utilizing cash back offers, travel credits, and American Express Membership Rewards points for charitable donations. One partner that has worked closely with our travel consultants to help educate card members is Micato Safaris and their nonprofit AmericaShare. Micato AmericaShare is dedicated to helping populations in Nairobi, Kenya who have been affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We’ve also seen interest in card members seeking guidance to visit a school or community in need of support, as well as an increase for requests for “like a local” experiences to help give back to communities. This interest expands beyond just our card members, our report found that 72% of survey respondents agree that they are passionate about traveling to destinations to help boost the local tourism revenue and economy, and 77% agree that they want to be more conscious about supporting small, local businesses while traveling.
Private + Remote Travel
As space and privacy is becoming a priority for luxury travelers, 80% of survey respondents indicate they are even willing to travel to destinations during the offseason so that it’s less crowded. Similarly, we’ve also seen increased interest in our customers searching for unique getaways and spacious, fully equipped villas. We’re also seeing a strong desire to be outside and experience the great outdoors, 60% of respondents indicate that outdoor activities are more important and the majority of respondents are more likely to travel to beach resorts (69%) or the countryside (56%) for a vacation destination now compared to prior to COVID-19.
Increased Demand for Trusted Travel Advisors
As the travel landscape is particularly complex right now, consumers are seeking out trusted travel advisors to help them navigate and plan their future travels. More than half of survey respondents (59%) indicate that they want to use a travel agent to help plan luxury travel. Travel agents not only help take care of all the research and legwork during the trip, but they are also there to help when plans get disrupted. For example, when COVID-19 first hit and travel policies and restrictions changed regularly, our customers around the world needed our help navigating through very complex and unpredictable travel scenarios, from trying to return home from their travels, to reuniting loved ones from across the globe, to rebooking future trips.
And to help, travelers have access to the latest information and resources through digital channels. We also quickly developed a global COVID-19 information hub on AmexTravel.com, working hand in hand with over 150 global travel partners across hotel, air and cruise, to provide our customers with timely and up-to-date travel policy information to guide them through their travels.
High-tech & Seamless Integration
Seventy-five percent of survey respondents associate seamless technology integrations, like digital check in, with luxury travel today–and we see this growing in many areas. For example, I expect more and more hotels to start offering digital options, such as the ability for guests to go directly to their rooms by offering contactless check-in or submit concierge requests such as spa or dinner reservations through mobile apps. At the beginning of the pandemic, American Express leaned on our high-tech meets high-touch servicing capabilities to quickly pivot to support our customers in ways and scale unlike ever before. Our systems are also now updated to provide our clients with information on COVID safety protocols that hotels and airlines are taking to ensure travelers receive the high health standards that they demand.
As we embrace a new wave of luxury travel, one thing that remains constant is our inherent love for exploration and experiences. We still believe the future of travel is bright and that’s why we’re continuing to invest in and innovate our offerings so that whenever folks feel comfortable traveling again, we’ll be ready to help them explore the world again.
American Express Travel: Global Travel Trends Report Methodology
This Amex Trendex online poll was conducted by Morning Consult between January 15-24, 2021 among a national sample of 1,000 travelers in Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Mexico, and the U.K., and 2,000 in the U.S. $70k+ USD household income (HHI) equivalent in Australia, Canada, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S., $50k+ USD equivalent HHI in Mexico, and $20k+ USD equivalent household income in India. Travelers defined as adults who traveled by air at least once in 2019. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points in the U.S., plus or minus 3 percentage points in the other countries.