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High-end travelers look for expert trip-planning advice, but not from travel agents

Feb 18, 2013 12:22 pm

Skift Take

These specific examples won’t all survive, but they speak to the next solution to travelers’ needs and the failure of traditional travel agents to evolve.

— Jason Clampet

Latest Report: The Big Business of LGBT Travel

Overwhelmed by options, luxury travellers are increasingly entrusting experts to decide and plan every component of their holidays.

As travel becomes more accessible, many today look to the internet to help them discover new and exciting holiday options. Yet, the seemingly endless degree of choice available means that time-starved luxury travellers are willing to give away responsibility for deciding their holidays to others – in the quest for truly rarified experiences, it makes sense for discerning holidaymakers to enjoy a travel experience hand-selected by a trustworthy holiday operator.

Six-year-old luxury travel operator Black Tomato, which specialises in piecing together unique tailor-made experiences for its customers, recorded a £14 million annual turnover in 2012. In addition to planning the usual holiday itinerary – flights, accommodation, etc – Black Tomato prides itself on meeting customers’ every minor need or desire. This can be anything from compiling a selection of songs on an iTunes playlist for the traveller to listen to while away to providing a film for the traveller to watch once back home and faced with the post-holiday blues.

If one of the purposes of a holiday is to allow relaxation, then it makes sense that travellers are handing over control of the decision-making process. Increasingly, travellers are opting out of the strenuous input required to filter through the plethora of holiday possibilities. Instead, this process is being wholly placed into the hands of operators who are trusted to offer more simplified, exclusive and novel holiday selections that expedite (and, at times, entertain during) the decision-making process.

The coming year will see more travel services evolving not only to help their discerning customers discover appropriate holidays, but also to help plan, finalise and offer those experiences in the most interesting and exclusive of ways. This may manifest through the way in which holidays are presented; the story behind how they are selected; the exclusivity of the platform they reside upon; and even via the additional perks with which they are offered.

Take a look at how these brands are using innovative methods and platforms to package and present ‘choice cut’ holidays, services and experiences for their customers:

Hotel Haiku is a travel website that lists hotels around the world in an exceptionally simple fashion. Information about a featured hotel is limited to a single image and a haiku-style description of the property. The site also features ‘notels’, which are architecturally or conceptually unique holiday rental properties

American Express Travel launched Nextpedition, a tailor-made mystery vacation with social media integration. The trip begins with a quiz designed to attribute a Travel Sign to each user, based on their interests and personality. Travellers can share the quiz on Facebook and then have the opportunity to speak to a Nextpedition Travel Specialist, who will create a vacation based on their Travel Sign, as well as duration and budget. Destinations include cities in the US, Canada and Europe, and the vacation itinerary is revealed gradually via a mobile device; the Travel Console. This device suggests personalized activities and makes recommendations on places to see and things to do. The Travel Console also allows vacation-makers to keep a record of their trip, uploading photograph and videos, sharing on Facebook and making comments – plus family and friends can follow the progress of the trip in real-time. Package prices start at $1000.

Mumbai-based travel brand SOTC launched Box Holidays – tangible, pre-packaged travel offerings that can be purchased online or off the shelf in a participating retail store. Rather than having to spend time and effort researching options with a travel agent, purchasers can simply buy a Box Holiday, which features all the key details on the outside of the box, including price, validity period, service inclusions, images and so on. Pricing begins at INR5,990 per couple (£71) for domestic getaways and INR47,410 (£570) for international packages.

Roadtrippers is a travel website offering driving directions through the US based not on the most efficient journey, but the most interesting route. Users enter their start location and destination, and Roadtrippers shows the most direct path to take; drivers can then alter the distance they are willing to travel away from that route and add filters depending on what kind of things they would like to see along the way – including local dining options, offbeat hotels and national parks. Suggestions featured on the site are curated by local experts.

New York-based Excursionist is a members-only travel website selling exclusive vacation experiences curated by local professionals and site members. Excursionist offers vacations to worldwide destinations that involve local individuals, including artists, scientists, chefs and activists. The handpicked travel guides accompany the tourist on their vacation, providing information and local knowledge, so creating a unique, educational experience. Excursionist also works to provide its members with special access to tourism-related sites such as archaeological digs and other places that are often closed to the public.

Indeed, the increase in travellers relinquishing their roles as holiday planners is bound to result in more travel operators fighting to win their attention by presenting holidays in interesting ways. However, those with wanderlust will ultimately only demonstrate loyalty to the providers that accurately source and tailor every single holiday in a way that exceeds expectations.

Lola Pedro is a senior industry analyst at London-based trend firm trendwatching.com . One of the world’s leading trend firms, it monitors and reports on emerging consumer trends, insights and innovations. You can follow its latest reports on Twitter @trendwatching .

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