Luxury is Now Synonymous with Experiences. Here’s What That Means for Incentive Travel.

Though luxury will probably always be about Quality, Comfort and Elegance (as confirmed in a Skift/Marriott survey), luxury travel and traveler preferences in general have shifted over time. Travel Weekly, J. Walter Thompson, Conde Nast Traveler, and Serge Dive of Beyond Luxury shared their perspectives on what luxury travel used to be, how it’s defined now, and where it’s going.  Whether that’s due to technology, globalization, or other factors; it’s important to keep a finger on the pulse to create incentive programs that participants are motivated to earn.

What Luxury Travel Used to Be

“At first, the only people who could travel were heads of state or industries. That’s why they wanted to have palaces, they wanted a very codified environment. They wanted people with white gloves. By the 2000s, millionaires who had made the money outnumbered millionaires who inherited the money. And that changed the game. They were young, multi-cultural, multi-gender, multigenerational, etc.” – Serge Dive, CEO, Beyond Luxury

From Homogeneous to Multidimensional: The demographic makeup and psychographics of incentive travel participants have changed – necessitating a change in the way programs are designed.

“Before, luxury travel was all about sheltering you from your environments. Luxury hotels guarantee you that you could be in the middle of somewhere in Mexico, but the design of the hotels will be exactly like all the other hotels of the same brand around the world.” – Serge Dive, CEO, Beyond Luxury

From Stereotypical to Unique: The comforts of home are nice, but if you travel for a cookie-cutter experience, then why travel at all? Incentive travel participants want to be whisked away to something different from the expected.

“In the Dynasty days of our founding, luxury was synonymous with 500-thread counts and presidential suites, now it’s about being one of the few to spend the night in the Himalayan kingdom of Mustang or witness a tribal festival in Papua New Guinea.” – Conde Nast Traveler

From Opulent to Exclusive: The desire for prestige still exists, it’s just measured differently now. Incentive communication needs to push exclusivity over opulence. Most travelers are interested in connecting with local people and culture more today than three years ago, according to Skift research.

How Luxury Travel is Defined Now

“For the past two years, the number-two travel motivation on Virtuoso’s Luxe Report has been “seeking authentic experiences,” with related motivations like “exploring new destinations” and “personal enrichment” also highlighted.” – Travel Weekly

Authentic Above All Else: Listening to incentive travel participants and their desires will help you create a motivating program. Finding “new” destinations and facilitating personal enrichment might be challenging since each traveler has different tastes and pasts, but enabling them to partake in authentic experiences should be a top goal.

“New luxury travel fixers offer unpredictability, extreme authenticity, and the excitement of a challenge. Comfort takes second place to an inner journey to self-discovery. The luxury traveler is inspired by physical and intellectual challenges that deliver personal growth.” – JWT

The Importance of Self-Discovery: A focus on wellbeing and personal betterment has taken center stage; and on the sidelines, are the days of wasteful extravagance. More and more, audiences are choosing barre classes over bottomless mimosa bars – or at least cycling BEFORE mimosas.

“Adventurous—and wealthy—consumers want to raise the idea of uniqueness in travel to a new level. This nods to a growing trend toward personalization that’s brewing among a wide group of consumers, who are eschewing cookie-cutter experiences for trips that reflect their personalities.” – JWT

Make it Personal: Today’s incentive travelers are getting harder and harder to impress. The secret will come in personalizing their experience. The Luxury Evolution Report from Skift found that two-thirds of luxury consumers agree that luxury goods and services are about differentiating themselves from others.

Where Luxury Travel is Going

The same report found that, while most luxury consumers agree that worthwhile travel experiences are typically the most expensive, a large minority disagreed. This suggests that luxury is evolving, and the sentiment is shifting toward the more intangible aspects of travel (memories, experiences, etc.)

“The millennial generation prefers to spend its money on the memorable elements of travel experiences and save on the more functional aspects of travel. To appeal to millennials’ appetite for wanderlust on a budget, several airlines are launching purse-friendly ways to travel the globe.” – JWT

Share the Wanderlust: It’s easier, and cheaper, than ever to travel to remote places; so now it’s not about where you go as much as what you do there. Give your incentive travel participants an experience as time-sensitive and exclusive as a Snap.

“Locating new cultural hotspots for 2018 is less about finding undiscovered locales than regarding established cities through a new lens, thanks to the emergence of exciting new neighborhoods and cultural institutions.” – JWT

Through Fresh Eyes: There are only so many destinations in the world. While some may be more popular at times, it’s all about the way you position the destination to your audience. This will include the use of new and emerging technologies which will literally change how destinations are seen and experienced.

Designing incentive travel programs for changing preferences will keep the programs motivating and desirable for participants to earn. Incentive travel is typically synonymous with luxury, and luxury is now synonymous with unique experiences. Are you ready to start designing them?

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