As the year — and decade — turns, travel journalists are bombarded with client-serving PR pitches about the newest/hottest/splashiest trends. But given that change is an evolution without a clear starting date, it’s wise to employ 2020 hindsight before looking forward to how travel will unfold in 2020.

Conveniently, the recently released 18th annual Bain & Company Luxury Study, produced in conjunction with Altagamma, provides some guidance.

According to the study, the overall luxury market, encompassing both luxury goods and experiences, grew by four percent at constant exchange rates to an estimated 1.3 trillion euros globally in 2019. The growth is coming largely from Asia and from younger generations, according to the study, which was authored by Bain partners Federica Levato and Claudia D’Arpizio.

The report says that while millennials accounted for 35 percent of the luxury market in 2019, by 2025, that will rise to 45 percent. It’s members of Generation Z, however, who are poised to reshape the industry. By 2035, Gen Zers could comprise up to 40 percent of luxury buyers.

“Gen Z customers are the new frontiers of tomorrow’s luxury market — and they already represent a growing portion of luxury consumption in Asia,” said D’Arpizio. They are also already showing specific consumption habits differentiating them from millennials. Therefore, going into the new decade, “luxury brands will need to connect with customers in an increasingly personal way,” said D’Arpizio. “The products, experiences, and ideas that they deliver will need to flow together to appeal to the emotions of younger customers, who are diverse, global, and opinionated, and also more pragmatic than millennials.”

She predicted experiential travel will progressively evolve into “achievement travel” for Gen Z, with an emphasis on travel experiences that allow them to align with community. Those experiences will need to be designed to be more sensitive to ethical and environmental standards, as Generation Z “will be more committed to social responsibility than prior generations.” Moreover, the relevance of social responsibility is aligning among nationalities, with Asia catching up with the West.

The Travel Landscape Transforms

Global consultancy Euromonitor suggested that experiential luxury is set to outpace all other categories of luxury spending: “Luxury is becoming more than just a price point but a state of mind that luxury brands embody as consumers continue to seek truly authentic and transformational experiences.”

Transformational travel seems to be the term on everyone’s tongue as we enter the New Year. It’s defined by the Transformational Travel Council as “intentionally traveling to stretch, learn, and grow into new ways of being and engaging with the world.”

Currently, transformational travel is mainly linked to the wellness arena. And, in fact, a new survey of Virtuoso travel advisors specializing in wellness named meditation and mindfulness as the top travel activity their clients are seeking. That’s because clients “are looking to wellness trips to restore balance and transform mind, spirit, and body. They are seeking skills to help maintain that calm and support their mental, spiritual, and physical health once they return home.”

But in 2020, transformation is likely to break free of its wellness yoke. According to Philippe Brown, founder of luxury travel advisory Brown + Hudson, a 2020 vision of transformation includes insight, memorability, knowledge, purpose, and timeliness, all of which can permeate all levels and types of travel. “As travelers harness nature, culture, and social activities to connect with their inner self and to promote qualitative life changes,” said Brown, “travel won’t be so much about the where, but the why.”

Brown + Hudson has coined the term “meta travel,” suggesting, Brown said, “both ‘beyond travel’ and a self-referential idea of travel that teaches you how to travel. It’s getting consumers to think about why they are traveling in the first place.”

For families looking to bond, for example, Brown + Hudson is designing trips as compelling games, like “a 14-day in-country escape room that helps families to discover themselves and wherever they are almost peripherally — and addictively,” said Brown. These are tailored journeys that include challenges, puzzles, and mysterious encounters. By turning a trip into a game, Brown said, “Serendipity and shared experiences allow families to discover places with a heightened multi-sensory awareness.” 

Providing tourists with a means of experiencing different cultures is another type of transformational travel that is gaining traction. In Luang Prabang, Laos, Amantaka has launched the Buddhist Learning Centre designed to educate guests about the principles of Buddhism. Guests can receive private daily teaching from an abbot, or they can witness monks and novices at sunrise accepting alms.

In terms of travel to remote and unfamiliar destinations, Brown noted that it’s easier for Western travelers to experience transformation when they are comfortable. Providing the luxuries needed to make challenges achievable in difficult environments is key to allowing nature help the mind switch off, focus, rebalance and potentially transform, noted Brown.

Piers Schmidt, founder of London-based Luxury Branding Services, applauded forward-thinking companies like Brown’s that continually eyeball trends, rather than waiting for a date on the calendar. “In the real world, consumers and the companies and brands that seek to serve them continue to adapt to the beat of a drum that has little to do with the pronouncements of forecasters and more to do with evolving commercial contexts and consumer preferences.”

“The eagle-eyed will always be able to spot interesting new things that are gaining traction in the less well-documented nooks and crannies,” added Schmidt. “The trick, however, is not to seize on these willy-nilly and lazily badge them as a trend with a pithy headline, but to have the wit and imagination to interpret what such early indicators mean for you and your business and execute on them accordingly.”

Photo Credit: Transformational travel will be a major luxury wellness trend in 2020. In Luang Prabang, Laos, the resort Amantaka has launched the Buddhist Learning Centre designed to educate guests about the principles of Buddhism. Amantaka Laos