How will the pandemic affect the types of luxury experiences travellers are looking for? Are they more likely to want nature experiences or eco-tourism experiences? Will cultural experiences be more or less sought after? We look at five key interests driving experiential tourism now.
There’s nothing like a pandemic to focus the mind on personal health. Wellness tourism was worth $USD639 billion in 2017 and growing rapidly, according to the non-profit Global Wellness Institute. “The pandemic has opened our eyes and given the world a renewed appreciation for good health and well–being,” says Caitriona Gaffney, Director of PR, MSPA International at Minor Hotels, parent of Anantara resorts and spas.
“We know that people are actively concerned about their wellness and willing to go the extra mile to look after their health and immune system.” Expect the industry to evolve beyond traditional pampering, with more emphasis on new therapies, such as the IV immunity booster program at Anantara Kihavah, Maldives; on self-actualisation and mindfulness; and on high-end branded group holidays and health summits, such as those offered by Gwyneth Paltrow’s cultish goop organisation.
The photographs of penguins on the streets of Cape Town and Venice with clear canals is expected to have a profound effect on the way the affluent will choose to travel.
“We’ve witnessed the natural world being given a breather,” says Condé Nast Traveller’s first ever Sustainability Editor, Juliet Kinsman, who is also founder of Bouteco, a portfolio of sustainable, style-led luxury hotels and resorts.
“This has offered tangible examples of the good that can be achieved when the negative effects of human activity are halted, as air and water quality have been improved and wildlife has flourished. Our lighter touch is a wonderful thing.” A growing number of enlightened travellers will become more judgemental of a hotel or resort’s eco-credentials, choosing positive actions, such as preserving an environment’s biodiversity and genuine engagement with community over energy-abusing opulence.
As more luxury travellers look for transformative experiences in nature, stays in properties with intimate access to wilderness or UNESCO-protected landscapes will have greater cachet. As conspicuous consumption recedes, focus will be on simpler activities, such as horse-riding, mountain biking, star gazing and hiking, and especially those that offer exclusive access to pristine terrain and private nature reserves, such as Aman Resort’s Amanwana on Moyo Island in Indonesia.
Locally, Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley is experiencing a rush of bookings from guests keen to reconnect with nature threatened by bushfires. General Manager Tim Stanhope says the recovery of the bushland and wildlife is a positive, inspiring experience.
“Those guests who want to get involved in the conservation program can take part in seed planting, habitat mapping, water testing and tree planting. It’s very life-affirming.”
Travel as a Force for Good
With so much negative talk about over–tourism and the exploitation of local cultures even before the pandemic struck, more luxury travellers will be thinking about how to spend their dollars compassionately, and to use their privilege to become dynamically involved in global projects in a hands-on way.
Charitable organisations such as Education For All Morocco, which builds and operates boarding schools for girls in rural Morocco, facilitates school visits in the High Atlas Mountains for donors who want a more meaningful interaction with the students and schools they support.
For Australians, there are many opportunities to help our First Nations people through supporting Indigenous– owned tourism operators, such as Lord’s Kakadu and Arnhem Land Safaris, or volunteering with organisations such as Yalari, which helps Indigenous children receive a quality education.
Travellers are more than ever yearning for human connectivity, seeking genuine experiences with diverse cultures, through their music, art, crafts and food traditions. Evan Petrelis, Managing Director of Renaissance Tours, a leading operator of expert-led cultural experiences, says that even with indefinitely closed borders, discerning travellers will continue to want to tour with like-minded people in special– interest groups.
With European travel off the agenda for a while, Renaissance Tours has created its largest collection yet of enriching travel experiences within Australia. “The pandemic has forced us to rediscover aspects we may have taken for granted about Australia: our world-class art galleries and museums, internationally –acclaimed musicians and superb performance venues, gardens and landscapes of outstanding beauty, and some of the finest gourmet produce and wines you’ll find anywhere in the world,” he says.