Luxury Travel Is Booming and 5 Other Takeaways from ILTM
If you’re not familiar with ILTM, it is the premiere luxury travel trade show that has been happening in Cannes for the last 21 years, gathering and connecting travel suppliers––including hotels, cruises, tours, yachts, trains, aviation, and destinations––with travel buyers (luxury travel agents). The organizers claim this year was the biggest turnout ever, with over 1,800 exhibitors and 1,800 buyers from 77 countries, not to mention media like me! As a first-timer, I have no point of comparison, but I believe them!! My four days in France were jam-packed with non-stop events, press conferences, meetings, and parties, and the streets of Cannes were teeming with people. Here are key takeaways from meeting with everyone from CEOs and General Managers to travel advisors and journalists from around the world.
2022 was a Record Year for Luxury Travel and 2023 Looks to Be Bigger
Demand for luxury travel has never been greater, thanks to savings amassed during COVID restrictions. This was echoed time and again throughout the 4-day gathering. Virtuoso, one of the leading travel advisor consortiums, predicts the luxury market will grow by 34 % over the next five years, thanks to demographic shifts of healthy Baby Boomers headed into retirement, and Millennials and Gen Zers who consider travel as part of their identity. "COVID taught us that travelers are intrepid, travel is not what they do, it is who they are," said Leading Hotels of the World CEO, Shannon Knapp at the opening luncheon.
"COVID taught us that travelers are intrepid, travel is not what they do, it is who they are," - Shannon Knapp, CEO, Leading Hotels of the World
The Luxury Traveler has Changed
According to research by Marriott International, two major culture shifts occurred during the pandemic for people who already have financial security. “Aspirations have changed. People want to lead more meaningful lives and invest in their personal relationships,” said Tina Edmundson Marriott's global brand & marketing officer. This was echoed in a study by American Express for ILTM, "Buzz v. Reality: Decoding the Luxury Travel Consumer's Mindset," Unable to enjoy their money over the past two years, the affluent are now looking to resume traveling in new and fulfilling ways, and in style. "'No expense spared' and 'Time is precious' are sentiments expressed by many," according to Sangeeta Naik, global head, strategic partnerships & marketing, at American Express Travel. Factors such as wellness, sustainability, philanthropy, and human connection will become more integral as people look to travel ‘better, resulting in demand for more multi-generational travel, longer trips, and more unique experiences. Hilton, Hyatt and IHG, and Marriott also noted the continued strength of "Bleisure" travel and the demand for special, authentic experiences that can be as short as a meal or a few days added on to a business trip.
Over the next year, visiting family and friends or overseas property are two of the main holiday drivers for affluent travelers, according to the American Express study. Enforced absences due to the pandemic mean that the wealthy are looking to reconnect with their loved ones. This has resulted in increased demand for larger accommodations––villas, adjoining rooms, and private jets. Doug Gollan, founder of the website Private Jet Card comparisons, said the "demand for private aviation has grown to the point that legacy brands such as NetJets don't have the capacity for new clients as they struggle to meet the demand of existing clients."
Though there seems to be a considerable ongoing discussion about how travel fits into a world grappling with the climate crisis and sustainability, demand from luxury travelers points to it being a concern but not a deciding factor with just over a quarter saying that sustainability and environmental protection are important to them (rising to 35% of under-45s) according to the American Express study.
Top Destinations for Luxury Travel
Looking ahead to 2023, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Israel are the top destinations booked by travel advisors with Global Travel Collection (GTC), the luxury leisure and premium corporate division, of giant travel consortia Internova, which has over 100,000 travel advisors worldwide. Japan, Greece, Spain, the Bahamas, and South Africa round out the top 10. This was echoed by Virtuoso, who cited that 47% of global travelers have intentions to visit Europe. As restrictions are being lifted in Asia, demand surges. 25% of global travelers plan to visit the region with 53% intending to visit Japan. The other big news, finally cities are back! In the UK 73% and in the US 44% of luxury travelers are planning city breaks, according to American Express.
Next Level Stimulation: Exploration, VIP Experiences, and more...
Every travel supplier touted the ability to offer travelers personalized and authentic experiences, from hiring university professors to guide private riverboat cruises in Bangkok with Anantara to exclusive VIP events such as being in the pit during Formula 1, soon to be offered by Kensington Tours' new "Black Book" division, the industry is upping the ante to meet heightened expectations from luxury travelers. Belmond went to the expense of delivering a train car from the famed Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express and parked it right in front of the convention center for travel advisors to have a look firsthand at the impeccably restored 1920s rail car that actually inspired Agatha Christie to write, Murder on the Orient Express.
Virtuoso's CEO Matthew Upchurch cited stats: 37% of high-net-worth travelers are traveling for cultural reasons, 34% are looking for adventure, 16 % are seeking expedition travel. In particular, Virtuoso c-suite clients are seeking activities that push beyond the typical comforts. He explained the shift, "Storytelling is a significant component of what travelers want, causing them to seek a higher level of stimulation, education, and engagement from their experience." He also noted that scarcity of exclusive-use products like villas, yachts, and even private islands are driving up rates.
Service is a Key Differentiator
Employee engagement and satisfaction is the key differentiator for travel suppliers. Virtuoso's Upchurch said, "With location, accommodation and food & beverage at parity, the delivery of true service is the ultimate change agent in transforming a great vacation into a memorable one." Belmond CEO Roeland Vos said, "Before people were traveling to five or six cities to check the box. Now they would rather take time, go to one destination and really get under the skin of where they are and want the insider knowledge and this is what we hire and train for in our people." While labor remains a challenge everywhere, every hotel brand mentioned how they are investing in employees' training and education to deliver better, more authentic experiences.
What is next?
Despite passing mentions of economic headwinds and whispers of a possible recession, ILTM could have been an event out of the Roaring Twenties. All the big luxury leisure travel companies and destinations were there splashing the cash, most notably Saudi Arabia, whose massive push into tourism is unparalleled in scope and speed as the Kingdom hopes to attract 100 million visitors as part of Vision 2030. On the other end of the spectrum was first-time ITLM participant, Bhutan, the tiny country high in the Himalayas that is 70 percent covered with forest and nature reserves, known as a place for personal and spiritual discovery. The country made worldwide news headlines in June when it raised the Bhutan Sustainable Development Fee from $65 to $200 per person per day, which Carissa Nimah, chief marketing officer for the Tourism Council for Bhutan, explained is part of a big governmental strategy to attract more responsible tourism. Chase's new travel division was also on hand and hosted a special surprise moment at the buzzing Fouquet Bar at Majestic Hotel in Cannes, picking up the bar tab for everyone one night!!
"Herteliers" at ILTM
My favorite part of ILTM was meeting "herteliers" IRL!! It was amazing to have the opportunity to chat with Crystal Vinisse Thomas from Hyatt, I ran into Anne Golden from Pan Pacific at the airport, got to catch up with Carmen Otero, Director of Sales and Marketing, Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena, and had the chance for a one-on-one with Marlene Poynder, GM of The Carlyle to get her insights on the last day of the conference. "Luxury travel advisors are so busy that many are even turning away business," she confided and added, "City trips are back, and booking lead times are getting longer due to lack of air capacity."
It was inspiring to meet CEOs of the biggest independent hotel brands, Shannon Knapp, of Leading Hotels of the World, and Lindsey Uebberroth of Preferred Hotels & Resorts and Beyond Green, and to see women leading the luxury divisions for big hotel brands, Jane Mackie at IHG, Tina Edmundson and Alexandra Withers at Marriott and Kristien Deleersnijder at Four Seasons in EMEA. And fantastic to be part of the "truffle shuffle" atop eggs prepared by acclaimed London Chef Sally Abe, of The Pem restaurant at the Conrad London, whose kitchen is run by seven women.
In my funny "unconscious bias" moment, I was scheduled to meet with the Chairman of The Doyle Collection, assuming Bernie Gallagher was a man (she's NOT). It was super exciting to meet French sisters Louise and Kimberly, who are building the Maisons Pariente brand of boutique luxury hotels in France, and adding their first property in Paris this spring.
Fellow journalists Jeannette Ceja, "Jet Set with Jeanette" whose work shines a light on Latinas in the travel business, and Mariangela Rossi, who started profiling female hoteliers in her native Italy during the pandemic––meeting them was like finding long-lost sisters. It was also great to connect with luxury PR powerhouses from US Jennifer Hawkins, Alice Marshall, Vicky King, and Melanie Brandman who were onsite with clients during the week. Loved chatting with luxury travel advisors, Marybeth Hillier of Travel Edge and Maxime van Gelderen from Dubai. Finally, thanks to Lucy Clifton and the team at Spotlight Communications for organizing such a robust and useful agenda for journalists at ILTM.