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The changing face of luxury travel

Experienced travel professionals will never rest on their laurels when it comes to innovation in the industry

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Since I entered the travel industry 50 years ago, while everything has changed, everything has, to a certain extent, stayed the same. People still want to go away and be able to boast about their holiday but they want more luxury with a better understanding of the destination.

The average luxury traveller is now better educated and more aware of the Green Movement and that is impacting on the market, with more partnerships being formed that benefit local communities. What has become apparent is that the successful luxury products and brands are those that are able not just to evolve but stay one step ahead of the pack.

Companies have to remember that what was a bespoke experience three years ago is now run-of-the-mill for manytravellers. I think problems arise when companies are led by accountants rather than explorers. Abercrombie & Kent’s ethos from the beginning has been to give every customer not just a holiday but a unique experience and I still travel 300 days a year looking for new ways to excite our clients.

Many of today’s sophisticated travellers routinely travel by private jet or first class for business and don’t have the time to research and plan their vacations. They expect someone else to take responsibility for their trips, and to deliver the wow factor.
To this end we set up Private Travel at Harrods and are now looking to expand this idea and set up travel advisers in high end hotels and retail outlets around the world. This makes meeting the travel expert even more convenient for clients.

Preferences are changing as well. Over the past year we have seen a slight shifting of the holiday focus. Rather than clients taking two or three holidays a year, with and without the children they are now clearing their diaries for multi-generational travel. Usually this coincides with a landmark birthday or anniversary.

In my work as Chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council, I see what an important economic role the travel industry plays as an international economic driver. More than 235 million people worldwide are employed in Travel and Tourism, which represents 8.2 percent of all employment and 9.4 percent of world GDP.

Some of the biggest changes we are seeing this year are the result of the emergence of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China. Their governments recognise the essential role that tourism can play in developing their economies. China has made travel and tourism a strategic pillar of their economy with major investments in infrastructure that are expected to generate long-term and sustainable returns, along with increased employment. At the same time, the growing number of educated professionals in each country is fuelling interest in travel abroad.

And they are changing the face of luxury travel. The Brazilians love adventure and want elegance and style. They like to travel in big family groups so villas are perfect for them. Russian travellers like luxury but demand high-end concierge services, like private store openings, while Indians are very keen to experience all aspects of what European capitals have to offer.

These groups are all fairly easy to cater for, whereas the Chinese market presents more of a challenge as they expect Mandarin-speaking guides and a trip completely customised for their requirements. This may include having top-quality Chinese food prepared for them, including delicacies they are used to. I recently took 11 Chinese billionaires on their first safari to Kenya and rather than teach a local guide Mandarin I took a Mandarin speaker and taught her to be a safari guide. All of these people have money to spend and so they are an important element for all businesses across Western Europe in these tough economic times.

In 2012, luxury is no longer defined by conspicuous consumption; it is more subtle and less ostentatious, Being able to navigate these rapidly changing times while maintaining a superior brand is the challenge, but put simply, it is about offering a better, more luxurious experience than anyone else.

Geoffrey Kent is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent, he is also Chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council

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