By Alessia Horwich
How overuse of the word ‘luxury’ poses a problem for the market’s high net worth players.
In the travel industry today you hear the word luxury a lot. A week on a yacht in the French Riviera is a luxury getaway, as is a private villa in Mykonos with a dedicated chef, and a weekend staying in the penthouse in a five-star hotel in Paris. But holiday companies such as TUI and Thomas Cook are also advertising luxury holidays in Tenerife for £450pp. That’s the thing with the word luxury these days — it’s used to describe so many different products that you can no longer tell what it actually means. This confusion has led to the rise of the affluent traveller, a new tier of wealthy middle-class holidaymakers who have money to spend on a high-end trip but not unlimited funds.
The reason this new demographic has been identified is because the overuse of the word luxury poses a problem for the market’s ultra-luxury players. They need to set themselves apart from the industry’s luxury pretenders in order to continue to appeal to the high net-worth individuals they traditionally attract. The way they are achieving this is by making the experience they offer increasingly personalised. Guests arrive to special gifts in their room, carefully chosen using data from previous visits, and a bit of social media research to discover any likes or dislikes. Hotels and operators are offering increasingly exclusive experiences: if guests want to drive out into the desert to stay in their own personal camp and have their favourite Michelin-starred chef flown in to make a meal just for them, it’s no problem. If they prefer to eat dinner at Machu Picchu after everyone else has left, it’s possible. Or if they fancy an exclusive shopping experience on Rodeo Drive with a stylist to the stars, it’s a pleasure to organise. But there’s a downside. The more exclusive the experience, the more costly it is, and it’s a distinction dividing the top of the luxury sector into those who have money to burn, and the new, much bigger group: the affluent travellers.
So what’s the difference between the affluent traveller and the luxury traveller? The first thing is budget. The affluent traveller has the disposable income for a fabulous holiday, but not necessarily unlimited funds, so they are looking for value. They don’t travel as much as ultra-high net-worth individuals — they have full time, though well-paid, jobs — so rather than elaborate experiences, they are after a quality escape from the nine-to-five. This means a gorgeous pool, a room where the bed is a notch up from their own at home, restaurants that serve exciting, innovative, modern food rather than standard fine dining classics and fast, free, Wi-Fi so they can keep in touch with home. They want excellent service, but it needs to be unobtrusive — unlike the luxury traveller, the affluent traveller is not used to having staff waiting on them.
Curation of their own holiday experience is important for the affluent traveller. They don’t want their trip to feel pre-packaged, so where a luxury traveller would use a tour operator or travel agent, the affluent traveller is more likely to organise a trip themselves, doing the research and booking directly.
And what they’re looking for is the cool factor, as opposed to trusted luxury names. They want to show off on social media, so the neutral, or lavish but slightly old-fashioned luxury interiors of the big chains at the very top of the market are less of a draw than trendy decor with stylish modern pieces and an individual vibe that you find in unique, boutique properties. The affluent traveller wants a drinks menu with inventive cocktails rather than predictable classics. They don’t mind if they can’t have a massage in their room, but when they go to the spa they want a carefully curated skincare offering rather than whichever mainstream brand the hotel has hastily done a deal with. And they want alternatives to the mass tourism experience: they are looking for well-researched guides to the local area packed with hidden spots, restaurants the locals love and the best boutiques for unique souvenirs.
And that’s where the affluent traveller differs most from the luxury traveller. Where ultimate luxury means perfect service and exclusive experiences, the affluent traveller is all about discovery. They want to be shown the best of the area through cuisine, brand choice and style. Infuse personality into your property and you’ll no longer need to use luxury as a catch-all adjective: your choices will speak for themselves.