Soft adventure luxury resorts throughout the Americas are diversifying their travel experiences to provide deeper immersion into the destination for a wider range of customer types.
That was the primary takeaway at last month’s PURE Life Experiences conference in Marrakech. We’ve recently covered a few of the more notable participants at the event: Fogo Island Inn in Canada, Great Plains Conservation in Botswana, Icehotel in Sweden, and the new luxury resort product in Australia.
It’s not so much a case of major systemic trend shifts in the soft adventure industry heading into 2016. It’s more a matter of degree. Every independent property today is already trumpeting local experiential travel, so now resorts are attempting to differentiate themselves by offering a greater variety of experiences so guests can better customize travel options.
“People have less and less time today, so when they do have time to be with people they care about, they want those experiences to count,” said Simon Chen, managing director of The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado. “Family time especially is incredibly important, so no one wants a kids camp anymore.”
Little Nell has expanded its range of activities over the last few years, creating everything from new snowcat tractor tours over unmarked terrain in winter to multi-day bicycling tours in summer.
Chen told Skift that the hotel’s summer business has increased to the same level as winter over the last year because of the new activities and a rebranding in 2014. The new Little Nell website and video series now prioritize the resort experiences over the resort, which he says is a must for multi-generational clients.
“We’ve really started to branch out, and we offer a lot more things to do based on a considerable amount of research into what our guests want today,” explained Chen. “We have a 60% repeat rate so we need to make sure we’re keeping up with our guests’ changing travel requirements, and a big one is they’re now often traveling with two or three generations.”
The new website was created because many of those long term guests have kids who want to research video content online before they travel. Although, while the new site has led to higher conversions, Chen said, “Our clients still want to pick up the phone and talk to someone who knows Aspen.”
Wedding & Corporate Groups
During 2009 when most luxury resorts took a serious hit in their group business bookings because of the recession, the 37,000-acre Resort at Paws Up (above video) in Montana doubled its group sales. Corporations that had previously booked international travel for retreats suddenly needed to stay domestic due to tighter budgets, so they searched for properties with unique guest experiences to compensate for the lack of glam appeal.
That trend has continued through to 2015 with groups now making up 40% of overall annual bookings at the property. Before the recession it was south of 15%.
According to John Romfo, director of sales/marketing at Paws Up, the resort caters especially well to Fortune 500 automotive and tech companies because of the upscale tent accommodations and large amount of soft adventure activities in a remote wilderness.
“We get a lot of very entrepreneurial people because our resort fosters out-of-the-box thinking,” he said. “We had no intention of going after group business when we first opened about 10 years ago, and now we can’t even keep up with it.”
Five years ago Paws Up had 12 luxury tent accommodations, along with a variety of more traditional lodging. Now it has 30 tents and six more are planned.
Romfo says millennial wedding groups are also demanding the tents. Originally they were only available from June through August, but that’s now been extended from May through mid-October due to the volume of group inquiries.
“We don’t take groups in the summer because that’s all family business, so there’s just no room,” he added. “We’re also seeing an increase in multi-generational families with up to 40 to 50 people sometimes, and they’ll buy out a bunch of the tents.”
Check out this Paws Up video that answers the question, “What does luxury mean to a child?”
South American Adventure Travel
In emerging and developing nations, there’s also a shift toward more mainstream consumer awareness of adventure tourism’s role on economic and environmental sustainability. In many cases, resorts are now differentiating their value proposition by how they’re integrated within their community, before the physical product itself.
Summing up that mentality in the UNWTO’s latest Adventure Tourism report, Secretary General Taleb Rafai, wrote: “From a global perspective, adventure tourism incorporates and promotes the values of the tourism that we want—a tourism that respects cultural and natural assets and protects the most vulnerable.”
Beyond Luxury Media, the people behind PURE, weaved that responsible tourism theme into the event with the #ChangeWorlds hashtag and numerous educational sessions.
In Peru, for example, Inkaterra operates luxury lodges in and around Cusco and Machu Picchu, including the newly opened Hacienda Urubamba. The brand is positioned first around the educational guest experiences and the conservation work of the Inkaterra Association, creating programs designed to help drive the local economy.
“We don’t like to sell ourselves as luxury resorts,” said Michele Barton, head of marketing for Inkaterra. “Instead, our success is based on two things: conservation and sense of place, based on experiences specific to the destination.”
On the flip side, Singular Luxury Travel Designers is a tour operator specifically promoting Cartagena as a luxury experience, but with a wide range of add-on travel experiences in nearby emerging regions.
San Basilio de Palenque, for example, is a small community one hour away where African slaves escaped and formed their own community. Columbia’s Coffee Triangle is also growing in demand among upscale travelers, because plantations are now offering elegant food and beverage experiences, much in the same way wine regions attract tourism.
“Coffee has become a point of inspiration,” said Ricardo Hernandez Caballero, CEO of Singular. “There’s a rise of interest in coffee culture and plantations, so we work with them to create Columbian coffee, rum and chocolate tastings.”
In terms of resort design innovation, Nayara Resorts in Costa Rica announced the development of Nayara Tented Resort, which is being promoted as the first safari-style luxury accommodations in Latin America.
The Luxury Frontiers group is the developer behind the project, which also operates numerous safari camps throughout Africa. According to the company website: “Luxury Frontiers’ innovative business model provides existing resort owners, who have excess, non-revenue generating land, the ability to add unique tented camps, treetop living suites and other alternative light-on-earth resort solutions.”
Scheduled to open in 2017, Nayara Tented Resort will be located close to two other existing Nayara properties. The 24 multi-room tents will have outdoor living areas, upscale furnishings, A/C, and plunge pools fed from the nearby volcanic hot springs.
Luca Franco, managing partner of Luxury Frontiers, told Skift that the safari model brings an entirely new product experience with unlimited potential to South America. He said, “The attraction is living without walls.”