A surge in luxury travel is being paralleled by a rise in the use of travel advisors, according to speakers on a Luxury Travel Panel at Global Luxury Collection’s “Elevate” virtual conference. GLC is a division of Internova Travel Group. The speakers were all representatives of major trade and consumer travel media.
These were among the trends discerned by the journalists: people are staying in place longer than in the past; more travel closer to home; a desire for less interaction with strangers; and a need to avoid any anxiety around health and safety.
While many observers had predicted a decline in luxury travel early in the pandemic, said Victoria Walker, senior travel reporter for The Points Guy, the opposite has happened. “As soon as a destination opens,” she said, “people will go.” And, because of a desire for comfort and safety, she said, many people who might not have traveled on the luxury level are doing so now.
“The death of luxury travel was greatly exaggerated,” agreed Stellene Voldanes, editor-in-chief of Town & Country magazine. She said that after 18 months in quarantine, the idea of taking a trip “feels like the greatest gift.” She said it was important for suppliers and advisors that trips run more smoothly than ever. The moment a bit of chaos enters, she said, “you might feel unsafe.” Even though people are anxious to travel, said Voldanes, “nerves are a bit on edge. Suppliers and advisors need to keep in mind that calm is luxurious right now.”
The coverage of travel has changed, said Arnie Weissman, editor-in-chief of Travel Weekly, a sister publication of TravelPulse. Prior to the pandemic, he said, Travel Weekly focused on product news and other information that was moving at a relatively slow speed. Now there is more coverage of the psychology of society and how that has impacted travel. As a news organization, said Weissman, the publication aimed to maintain objectivity. On the other hand, it wanted to inspire readers – mostly travel advisors and suppliers – because this is their livelihood. “We wanted to keep hope alive,” he said ”in some dark moments.”
Natalie Compton, a staff writer for the Washington Post, said she has never spoken to so many doctors, adding “I have epidemiologists on speed dial.” She said the current situation called “not only for a different style of writing but a much different approach.”
Speakers agreed that vaccination mandates have been, as Weissman said “a game changer.” He said he has been on two cruises where all passengers were vaccinated. There were former government health officials on board and when asked about masking, they said they only needed to do so when getting off for shore excursions. “The sense of comfort from vaccination has been significant,” said Weissman; “it gives you a sense of a shield.”
Agreeing, Compton said, “It makes people feel more comfortable if there are mandates in place.” She said they do matter in determining where people go.
Walker said she has found it’s more so traveling distance than vaccine mandates that have made a difference. She said that many people don’t want to sit on a plane for long periods and are simply worried about being too far from home.
As for the growing movement toward advisors, Paul Feinstein, a freelance writer, said he can’t imagine spending a lot of money and still not knowing all the rules and restrictions in a destination. The advisor’s role, he said, “has to be broader than ever.”
Weissman said a coming Travel Weekly story will be about how many advisors are seeing new customers because of so much positive media coverage. He said that because of that many advisors who were resistant to charging fees are now doing so because some of the “newbies” ask many questions and then book online or elsewhere. Many of those new to advisors, he said, “generally require more handholding.”
Voldanes said Town & Country recently ran a story about advisors with a focus on the fear of being stranded with no one to call for help. “This is a new travel landscape, ” she said, “and you need someone to guide you.”
Feinstein said he looks to advisors to find travel experiences he would never find out on his own – like a James Bond experience where he got to reenact scenes from Bond movies.
Advisors, said Weissman, are on the front line of identifying trends. For example, he said, one advisor talked about “tripstacking” – booking multiple trips for the same time frame to see which one is viable as the departure date approached. That phrase has now been adopted on many platforms.
When the journalists were asked if they personally use an advisor, Voldanes said she goes to Greece every summer and knows the country well but still uses an advisor. “Even in a country I know well, situations have arisen where I need their help.”
Weissman said that he has “a great relationship with a great advisor.” He added that, pandemic or not, an advisor “adds value every step of the way.” On the luxury level, that might mean upgrades or having a personal relationship with a hotel general manager. He said that he hopes people who have discovered advisors during the pandemic will stick with them afterward.
When asked if there have been any surprises as we emerge from the pandemic, Weissman said, “World cruises sell out immediately,” not something he might have expected.