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Luxury is an ever-evolving concept, with a definition that changes as rapidly as the values of consumers and the world they live in. Luxury travel is no exception. Travelers today live in a world that is increasingly connected, tumultuous, and fast-paced, with stimuli and worries coming from all angles. With the bombardment of news of global unrest, terrorism, climate change, and other instabilities, along with the superficiality of hyperconnectivity and social media relations, luxury travelers are looking for ways to escape these realities and reprioritize what matters to them on a personal level.
Just last year we wrote about the continued importance of memorable, bespoke experiences in luxury travel, but as ever, we are witnessing an evolution. Experiential travel is still desired, but it has spread so widely in the travel ecosystem, it is now readily available to travelers outside of the luxury category, thereby losing its exclusive edge. To compensate, luxury travel today has gone deeper than the experience itself. Rather, the ultimate luxury lies in the transformational value of the experience and how it helps travelers become the person they aspire to be. In other words, the new luxury is personal fulfillment.
This evolution is part of the wider shift from the Experience Economy to the Transformation Economy, where the product that is purchased is not an experience, but rather the improved self that results from it. Stemming from consumers’ desire to move up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, luxury has moved beyond the second tier of the hierarchy, “esteem,” to the inward-looking, highest tier of “self-actualization.”
This new level of luxury is entirely personal and contextual. What constitutes a transformative travel experience can only be defined by each individual traveler based on their own personal values, passions, and aspirations at a particular moment in time.
“Transformative travel encompasses a broad spectrum of experiences, whether that may be learning a new skill to having a meaningful conversation with an artisan in his or her studio who explains the process and story behind each object he or she creates,” Melanie Brandman, CEO of the luxury travel communications agency The Brandman Agency, told Skift in 2017.
Luxury travelers are increasingly traveling with intention, motivated by the internal journey that accompanies these types of personally relevant physical experiences.
With such a specific journey in mind, luxury travelers are looking to brands to help them find the experiences that will lead to their fulfillment. Travel brands that want to appeal to the luxury segment must prove themselves to be understanding of this goal. They can only set themselves apart from the experience-saturated market by clearly portraying the transformational, self-actualizing value they can provide or facilitate. In return, the brand’s connection with this journey is likely to facilitate meaningful customer loyalty.
Marriott is one such brand that has taken action to appeal to travelers motivated by personal fulfillment. The hotel company has started to offer high-end, self-improvement activities as part of its loyalty program at some of its luxury brand locations. Guests can bid rewards points for master classes like private basketball training with Dwyane Wade, a golf clinic with Annika Sörenstam, and a cooking lesson with Eric Ripert, among others. With guests bidding upwards of 300,000 points for each master class, these experiences provide the personal transformation luxury travelers now crave, while maintaining the exclusivity they continue to desire.
Large brands are not the only players looking to entice luxury travelers in search of transformation. Boutique travel companies are also getting on board. From high-end yoga retreats and luxury “glamping” experiences in remote wilderness settings, luxury travelers are being presented with increasingly personalized travel experiences created with the sole aim of guiding them on their journey toward personal fulfillment.
As with any quickly adopted trend, this one also runs the risk of being exploited by brands that use transformative-travel language, but don’t actually provide the life-changing experiences luxury travelers are after. Only those that truly embrace the meaning of the trend and commit to helping customers on this personal journey will see the payoff by attracting and meaningfully connecting with luxury travelers.