Luxury is Out! But High Travel Spending Will Persist

February 26, 2021

Last month, Jennifer Lopez released her “Love Don’t Cost a Thing Challenge” on the internet in celebration of the 20-year anniversary of her hit video. Even though the video showed the singer tossing away expensive items as though they were no longer a means to happiness, the video was still met with backlash. As many people in the world struggle with the financial hardships brought on by COVID-19, trashing things of value hit a sour note.

Just weeks before, Kim Kardashian threw herself a birthday party in Tahiti — contrary to recommendations from the state of California and the CDC about restricting non-essential travel. While Kardashian claimed that all partygoers had quarantined and received multiple health screenings, most Twitter comments screamed “read the room.” While she certainly has the right to spend her money as she wishes – and frankly may have followed best travel practices when it came to testing and quarantining – consumers simply didn’t want to know that she was celebrating abroad, while they were left in lockdown.

So, what does this mean for destination marketers? It’s time to take heed – the old ways of marketing luxury travel are out. Many affluent people have become more sensitive to how their wealth is displayed.

In the coming months, destinations will need to find new and unique ways of providing travelers with the feeling of affluence, minus the ostentation. Travelers are still looking for “luxurious” experiences, but under a much different guise.

1) A Dramatic Rise in the Search for Meaningful Experiences
While the demand for the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons won’t go away, don’t expect pool-side selfies to continue to be the norm. While meaningful travel has always been a major draw for some travelers, destinations can expect that demand will be even greater in the coming months and years.

The approach to selling destinations will have to focus on making a meaningful impact – or reducing the negative impact – locally. Expect to see a dramatic rise in travelers requesting ways to embrace local culture, meet local people and give back to their communities. Destinations that promote their community and the personalities that comprise it will become much more attractive to travelers.

2) Progressive Growth in Demand for Sustainability
The travel industry has long been challenged with perceptions of “waste” given the environmental pollution, air pollution and negative impacts to the terrain that can come with an increase in visitation. Now that people around the world are awakening to the impact of overtourism, destinations will need to make sure everything they do — from daily operations to supply chains — remains environmentally and ethically sound.

Socially responsible business practices can include reducing your carbon footprint, sourcing locally when possible and supporting human and animal rights.  Additionally, destinations should be transparent about their community’s capacity to accommodate travelers, such as the Italian government’s 2018 limitation of foreign travel to 1.5 million travelers per year.

Destinations that demonstrate an ability to be more sustainable might not see an immediate return on investment, but the paybacks in brand loyalty and ultimate impact on the local community will be worth it once the pandemic is under greater control.

3) Wellbeing as Wealth
COVID-19 has reminded us that wellness is what’s truly important. And just like that, the pursuit of wellness has catapulted in importance. Expedia recently released its 2021 Travel Trends statistics, and 63% of respondents said that travel creates a greater cultural understanding, while 56% reported that travel is healing.

The Global Wellness Institute reported that wellness tourism (the interest in travel as a means to greater physical, mental and spiritual health) grew 6.5% between 2015 and 2017 – double the growth rate of general tourism. We suspect this percentage might now have tripled as a result of impacts of the global pandemic.

With so many travelers looking to fill a need in their lives, destinations have the opportunity to court their wellness dollars. Wellbeing is no longer simply a trend for a niche segment of travelers.

Travelers aren’t ready to give up luxury travel completely. They are simply looking for ways to make their large travel investments count in deeper, more meaningful ways. In the years to come, destinations should begin marketing to travelers’ interest in travel as a means to mental and spiritual restoration. Instead of telling them what they can’t do because of the pandemic, it will be important to tell them what your destination can do for them — and how it can make them feel.

If you are looking to create more meaningful and restorative experiences for travelers, get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn more about how DCI can put its 60 years of placemaking experience to good use.