Could bespoke travel rise to dominate the luxury travel market?
THE LUXURY TRAVEL MARKET is constantly evolving, given the insatiable consumer demand for new, unique and exclusive experiences.
Consequently, trends are often short-lived with high-end travelers soon ready to move on to the next big thing.
However, bespoke travel appears to be the exception, with studies showing it steadily gaining momentum in the market rather than petering out.
According to Visa, in 2013, one in 10 respondents to their Global Travel Intentions survey opted for a personalized guided tour with a customized itinerary on their last overseas trip. But in 2015, this number rose substantially to one in five, with affluent travelers and millennials showing the most interest in these excursions.
Similarly, American Express also found disenchantment with pre-packaged, “cookie cutter experiences,” with a whopping 85 percent of respondents preferring a customized itinerary instead.
What’s fuelling the trend?
As luxury travel becomes more accessible and associated niches like experiential travel, over-commercialized, exclusivity is harder to find. In response, the market is gravitating towards what Greg Oates, in an article for Skift calls “personalized fulfillment”, to better meet the needs of high-end travelers.
As a result, vacations are becoming less about ostentatious displays of wealth and more about meaningful and “uber-personalized” experiences. Something that Oates says is fuelling demand for the “accumulation of travel memories drawn from transformative moments that resonate deeply with the individual traveler’s ideal of personal fulfillment and his or her best aspirational version of themselves.”
For consumers who can afford it, bespoke travel could be the next step up in the luxury market – and a necessary one to avoid mediocre experiences.
Creating and delivering personalized experiences
While independent planning is one option for travelers, the prospect can be overwhelming – especially for those just dipping their toe in the waters of custom travel. For this reason, many opt to work with a specialist travel company to organize and book their trip – a service that has created quite a buoyant travel niche for these operators.
Each company has their own process when it comes to meeting needs and expectations.
“Clients are looking for unique and custom experiences, so when they go home to their country club or boardroom they can brag about spending the night in one of chairman Mao’s summer palaces, or lunching with the farmers who discovered the terracotta warriors,” said Mark Grundy, president of Wendy Wu Tours, in an article for Travel Pulse.
The company specializes in tailormade trips to Asia, which are fulfilled and managed by their Asian Inspirations brand. Here, travelers get the best of both worlds; they can draw on the expertise of travel consultants and have them make all the arrangements while still maintaining control over every facet of their vacation –from the standard of accommodation and the itinerary of excursions, right down to the meals that will be provided.
Limitations and future growth
Bespoke travel is not without challenges both for travelers and operators.
In the same article, Steve Born, vice president of marketing for Globus, a travel brand that offers the option to personalize packages through its Monograms vacations, pointed out, “Custom packages … can be a collection of disparate parts, leaving it to the traveler to connect one component with another without any on-trip support. For the agent, not only is this time-consuming but unprofitable, as many components offer little if any, commission.”
So what does the future hold? Could bespoke travel continue to grow and gain traction in the luxury market, or will it hit a logistical ceiling and simply plateau?
At this juncture, either scenario seems possible, but as to which will triumph, only time will tell.