Industry Update
Opinion Article30 November 2018

The Definition of Luxury in 2019

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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A recent story in Travel Weekly hits us, hard, with two truths: the old definition of luxury is obsolete (plush sheets and ornate chandeliers alone don't cut it) but a new definition has rapidly taken hold and it spells a new reality for travel providers and marketers.

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Here's what Travel Weekly's Jamie Biesiada wrote:"The concept of luxury travel has fundamentally changed and evolved over the years. Industry players in the know argue that the glamour associated with opulent accommodations and crystal chandeliers has once and for all made way for a very different kind of upscale travel: the luxury of adventure, experience, authenticity and uninterrupted time."

And that marks the start of a whole new game.

Some providers, and marketers too, have been caught flat footed and still point with pride at 19k gold fittings in the public areas as though that counts for much anymore.

Today's guests - many of whom have ample old-fashioned luxury at home - are in a resort seeking something they don't get at home. Think about that. It is not hard for the affluent to surround themselves with all the right stuff at home and those who care about it do.

But do they have - as Biesiada enumerated - adventure, experience, authenticity?

Nope. At least not all of it that they crave.

But lately I see the most sophisticated resort clients on the hunt for the right ingredients to bring exactly that to their guests.

Mark it down as a must-do this month, even before 2019 starts, because you will need these building blocks to stay competitive in the near-term future. That's how fast this change is taking hold.

Guests today don't want - at least not all the time - a safe resort meal. Many want to go local and drink a jamu with the locals in Bali, they may even want to learn how to make it.  

That's just a small case in point. But it illustrates the principle: many guests are eager to explore beyond the boundaries of the resort and to soak up local culture.

Understand that none of this is easy and the bar, suddenly, is much higher and the demands for creativity and insights have multiplied. The old luxury was rather easy to deliver - with a sufficiently sized checkbook. The new luxury requires mating what's authentic and important about a destination with what resonates with your guests - who might not in fact relish every authentic experience on offer.

Go ahead, offer a durian tasting menu and see exactly how many guests want it.

Another complication is that many travelers now are prowling for tips and info on unique, authentic experiences in less traveled places. Just 10 years ago we could safely assume that the major influences on guests were the leading travel magazines. If we knew what was in them, we knew what we needed to know.

Now I'd also point to bloggers, podcasters, Youtubers, Instagram stars, and similar. There is a huge amount of information available about travel experiences that change us - which is what much of today's new luxury is about - and today's new traveler is hunting it down.

Another point in the Travel Weekly piece worth noting: indulgent consumption no longer is a hallmark of luxury, indeed it may no longer even be seen positively in many circles.

And the article makes a fascinating claim: in lots of ways Africa is the proving ground for this new luxury.

A generation ago the luxury traveler wanted isolation from the local environment. They might not have admitted as much but that was the reality.

Today's traveler wants to genuinely see, feel, smell, experience life in Africa.

It's a challenge for resorts and a challenge for marketers to get across the narrative of what this new travel is.

The Travel Weekly piece - persuasively in my mind - argues that a lot of Africa is the same for the budget traveler and the high-end traveler. But what the new luxury traveler providers had better deliver are thoughtful, personalized touches for each guest.

Easy is giving everybody the same gold-plated bathroom sink. Hard is finding and delivering a few moments that makes this traveler's trip.

This goes way beyond Africa. It's true in developing Asia, in Sedona and Sonoma, in Copenhagen and in Berlin.

Hard to do? Yes. But think of the joy in successfully delivering. For the guest too.

Bury the old luxury, it is history. But revel in the new luxury. That's the pathway into tomorrow and it has already started.

Babs Harrison

Babs Harrison is managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners, a boutique public relations/marketing consultancy for select luxury resorts, hotels, and spas. Harrison has 25 years of experience in hospitality and has worked with leading brands in the US and internationally .

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