Six Surprising Shifts Shaking Up Hospitality & Tourism
Trends are trending. An inevitability really, in our inextricably interconnected world, where tech has enabled convenience in every domain and a fascination with fads has quelled the real meaning of the term ‘trend’.
What was once defined as patterns of change has become conflated with high-ranking hashtags, often suffixed with ‘-core’, ‘-tok’ or ‘-gram’ and so unbelievably niche that even avid social scrollers miss them – their bespoke algorithm deeming it irrelevant.
In reality, we’re confusing what’s trending with trends. Trends are directions – lines along which energy and activity flows. Not quite Barbiecore, they’re significant, persistent societal or cultural shifts. Not chasing cool to win sales.
That said, sometimes these shifts do seem fleeting; temporary infatuations that rarely withstand the caprices of the monoculture. Especially the ones you’re about to absorb. But often enough, whether profound or trivial, they’re reflective of wider value vectors and human drivers. And when it comes to predicting what’s next, they’re prime tools.
No discipline is exempt from the influence of trends and their meaning, obvious or otherwise. Travel and tourism is one of the most affected sectors by the great recalibration (COVID) and has meant the ways in which we travel and what we seek out or engage with while doing so are starkly different in this post-pandemic era.
Well aware how pervasive talk of the pandemic is in these contexts, it’s important to note that, however tedious, it was a prolonged period of uncertainty, trauma, fear that simultaneously brought renewed focus on health, accessibility, equality, sustainability, reconnection and self-discovery. Not to mention rapid advancements in both tech and medicine.
Like it or not, the COVID pandemic was a universal experience that has shaped much of how we exist today; our values, behaviours, rituals, lifestyles – the list goes on. To not acknowledge that truth would be to choose ignorance. And to be ignorant of the ultimately very human reasons behind some of the stranger shifts in luxury travel would be a disservice to audiences everywhere, and possibly detrimental to your brand perception.
From the raunchier side of tourism to curative and craft-led escapes, let’s look at some of the more surprising strains of travel taking shape today.
Taking the ‘further for longer’ travel trend to new heights, commercial space tourism launched onto the scene in April 2021 with the world’s first fully commercial space flight. Part of the SpaceX mission to ‘make life multiplanetory’, the company’s Falcon 9 model and Dragon capsule rocketed into orbit with a former NASA astronaut and three UHNW civilian crewmen.
Also a frontrunner in the ongoing commercial space race, Space Perspectives have designed a spacecraft capsule — a carbon-neutral vessel propelled by a SpaceBalloon™, the key contributor to its footprint-free status. A set of credentials which certainly haven’t hindered the capsule’s aesthetics.
Inside ‘Neptune’ — the chosen name for the capsule itself — passengers are invited to chat over cocktails, set the mood with adjustable lighting, select the perfect playlist for the climb and marvel at the 360° panoramic views (the largest ever flown to space) as the craft makes its way 100,000 feet above the earth’s atmosphere. Guests can lift off from land on the Florida coast or from Perspective’s MS Voyager — a floating spaceport set to be the first of many.
Going a few atmospheric layers further, Virgin Galactic are the world’s first commercial spaceline: connecting people the world over to the wonder and awe created by space travel. Valued at 1.1 billion dollars, their mission is to democratise space and have already taken their first passengers to the edge and back.
With the mechanics of getting there near enough sorted, brands are beginning to work on the ‘stay’ part of our intergalactic getaways.
Orbital Assembly, a business specialising in the design and construction of space stations, intends to open luxury accommodations in orbit by 2025. Primarily hotels, both projects – Voyager Station & Pioneer Station – will lend themselves to business and research alongside guest R&R among the stars. Voyager has expanded since its initial plans were announced to now include accommodation for approximately 400 guests while Pioneer is more boutique-esque and will only house 28 guests at a time.
Far too taboo for traditional luxury travel, tourisme libértine (French origin – no surprises there) caters to a vogue for embedded sex in the experience. It’s a sensual strain of travel that existed before the pandemic but is seeing somewhat of a resurgence as global wants for intimacy become more acute.
Though the trend’s raison d’être is, of course, sex-related, it’s not to be confused with sex tourism. Libértine tourism is a lucrative niche that appeals to the licentious nature of playful luxurians who are sex positive and socially progressive.
As previously mentioned, it’s not a rare curiosity. In 2016, the Azamara Quest, a Royal Caribbean ship set off for a seven-night cruise around the Adriatic. On the itinerary: “sensuality, erotic games and theme evenings with hot shows”.
The ‘Cruise Désir’ set its 690 passengers (345 couples) back a cool €10,000 for the highest quality experience, the details of which are kept secret. Desire Cruises – Azamara’s experience partner – host voyages all over the world with 2024 destinations ranging from the French Riviera to Rio de Janeiro.
When it comes to blending the sex-positive mindset with luxury travel, Luxury Lifestyle Vacations (LLV) have established themselves as pioneers for those who seek adventure in every sense of the word.
Founded twenty years ago by husband and wife Claudia and Pepe Aguirre, the brand was a fusion of the couple’s shared decades-long experience in the industry with an ethos of promotion pleasure, indulgence and exploration. Three pursuits that are increasingly central to definitions of modern luxury.
It’s certainly a small alcove in the wider travel space – especially in terms of luxury offerings where there’s a lot left to be desired – but one to take note of in light of wider societal shifts towards a super sex positive and prudeless future. Brits be warned.
DRUNK & DISORDERLY SOJOURNS
One Brits can get on board with. The sterility of lockdowns has encouraged luxurians especially to engage in the extravagant, experientially excessive and edgier side of tourism.
Visit invitation-only speakeasy, Bedroom 6, and you’ll find young revellers reviving antiquated absinthe rituals. The concept and vibe became so popular the brand has hosted pop-ups across the States and even built a partnership with every creative’s favourite haunt, Soho House.
In Mexico, Rancho Pescadero’s has built the hangover into their offering. To them, taking guests on a voyage of self-discovery and personal enrichment involves many rounds of mezcal followed by the ‘Hangover Experience’ – now a cornerstone of the resort’s refined positioning.
Ayahuasca retreats and ceremonies have been a staple of the ‘authentic’ transformative travel experience for years despite the hallucinogenic remaining a fringe psychological medicine. So it’s no surprise wanderlusters have begun to venture further into the nexus of travel and narcotics as leniency has grown. Digital platform Bud & Breakfast connects cannabis-using tourists with sympathetic or even encouraging hotels, residents and resorts.
We’re calling it conspicuous hedonism – a trend previously explored in our Luxury Hospitality Report. But as with all of the shifts explored here, it’s not for everyone. So as some luxurians follow Alice down the drug-induced rabbit hole (legal or otherwise), others wish to foster a different kind of main character energy.
The fun of playing pretend isn’t something we leave behind when we hit double digits; a fact being proven with the emergence of itineraries based on our favourite films or shows.
Being glued to our screens for the best part of two years, on top of our pre-existing obsession with on-demand content, it makes sense that our collective love of film is driving our desires for travel.
Data from streaming giant Netflix revealed that 70% of shows consumed by regular users were filmed in a foreign setting, and the locations of selected shows were frequently their favourite holiday spots. Positioning luxurians at the centre of carefully choreographed narratives, reminiscent of their go-to stories, has become a near surefire strategy to capturing consumer’s fleeting attention spans.
For Dharma, it’s one way of answering a question at the centre of their ethos: WHAT IF TRAVEL WASN’T ABOUT WHERE YOU GO BUT WHAT YOU LOVE? Following the major success of Netflix series Emily In Paris, the experiential designer has curated the first of multiple itineraries in and around the City of Lights, allowing stylish travellers to channel their inner Emily.
Black Tomato, who have seen a 30% increase in client interest in narrative-based experiences, launched their Bond-themed odyssey earlier this year in partnership with EON Productions, the James Bond franchise’s producer.
Spanning six destinations that resonate with the Bond brand for their prestigious and evocative qualities, ‘The Assignment: Europe’ is a curated twelve-night experience that immerses guests into the world of 007. Martinis abound throughout the extensive itinerary we’re sure. From getting under the hood with Aston Martin and car-chase-worthy off-roading with Land Rover to high-stake evenings at Les Ambassadeurs and the Casino de Monte-Carlo, private ascents of the Torre dell’Orologio or secret recces of the restricted Bollinger Estate. And that’s barely a third of what’s on offer.
Not one to skimp on the delightful details, Black Tomato only offered sixty tickets for the experience in line with the franchise’s 60th-anniversary celebrations – a true superfan immersion, not for the fainthearted nor the Bond beginner.
Considering the scope of our global filmography, the opportunity here is exponential. Film location tours, dining homages to cinema’s greatest recipes or simply a one-night narrative where guests can take on a new role. Whatever it is, story – whether already written or a brand original – should always be at the heart of the experience.
Away from the frenzy of chasing bad guys, hotels and travel curators are catering to guests who seek low-stress, mindful vacations from daily life – those looking for something specific; new hobbies and rituals they can take solace in or rediscover creativity through.
Hotel, members club and co-working space all in one, Birch has two locations on either side of London that offer city folk a “mainline to joy” with “moments that make you go ooh, ahh and hmm”. Some of these moments manifest through craft. Pottery classes designed to delete distraction help guests re-centre their creativity while their interactive bakery gives the buttoned-up opportunity to get a little messy. Birch art studios do much the same and the ground’s horticultural adventures are all about old-school methods to reconnect with nature.
Premium hospitality brand Voco Hotels has recently introduced a limited-time Find Your Flock birdwatching package at select properties in the US and Singapore to coincide with the migratory season. Birding popularity has soared recently, its appeal heightened by the mental well-being benefits of looking at and hearing birds.
At Royal Mansour, a private palatial riad in Marrakech, guests have the opportunity to be tutored in pottery, weaving, beading, and more by top master craftsmen at dedicated, glass-panelled studio Atelier d’Artiste. At Bishops Lodge in Sante Fe (revitalised by Auberge Resorts), patrons have access to workshops ranging from chalks to watercolours led by local artists like Katie Rodgers, whose commissions include Christian Louboutin and Veuve Clicquot.
Dedicated to reimagining travel for a new generation, The Luminaire fosters a community of curious travellers taking them to far-flung corners of the world to unearth an enlightened depth of knowledge. From quests to find Cleopatra’s tomb to artistic journeys through Japan, one of their most recent additions takes travellers on a horological adventure through time to learn the craft of watchmaking.
From one-on-ones with expert creators, curators and clock restorers to private, hands-on interactions with some of the world’s finest and most significant timepieces, The Luminaire takes curative play and a thirst for knowledge that special step further. For those who want to travel slowly, with intention.
Another to lull our busy minds, sleep tourism is ironically not slowing down, emerging as a distinctive trend in the travel industry – reflective of a growing societal pedestalling of wellbeing.
In an era marked by relentless connectivity and fast-paced lifestyles, individuals are increasingly seeking destinations that offer not only picturesque landscapes but also opportunities for restful and rejuvenating sleep experiences.
Luxury resorts and wellness retreats around the world are capitalizing on this trend by curating specialized packages that prioritize sleep quality. From high-tech smart rooms that adjust lighting and temperature to promote better sleep hygiene to serene natural settings conducive to relaxation, sleep tourism caters to the conscious traveller seeking a holistic approach to their wellbeing.
Banking on predictions of a $585 billion sleep economy by 2024, Aman partnered with certified sleep specialist Dr Micheal Breus on the Amangiri sleep retreat. The experience begins with a pre-arrival assessment and one-on-one interview with Breus before guests are assigned a genetically predetermined sleep regimen called a "chrono-type" which acts as their foundation for the rest of the retreat.
Six Senses offer a range of sleep programmes across many of their destinations including Ibiza, India and Figi. At Six Senses Spa Thimphu in Bhutan, The Sleep Retreat acts as part of their renowned wellness programme, designed to "restore energy levels and establish a balanced, and sustained, sleep pattern" through an on-call Sleep Doctor, holistic massage, hot stone baths and low-intensity training programmes.
While R&R has always been a crystal clear driver of travel, where mattress quality and thread count are established markers of luxury, taking leave from daily life to sleep and discover how to sleep better is indicative of a desire for deeper care. Not something to cast as a fleeting fad.
Perhaps only one of these shifts is relevant to your brand – perhaps none, certainly not all. Regardless, they’re strains in the larger travel ecosystem, giving context to a vast industry and a myriad of microtrends, macrotrends, global drivers and human truths. They’re spaces to be played in, offering room for innovation in how brands convey their message and meaning. Just look at Prada.
Within travel, there are so many avenues for experimentation. It’s about bending your brand in unexpectedly sound ways. Heightening your charm and crafting moments of surprise and awe. A word of warning though – bend too far and it will break.
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