How has the meaning of travel changed in response to the pandemic? Winston Chesterfield of Barton Consulting offers a guide.
Travel is one of the most meaningful areas of expenditure for the world’s wealthiest consumers. The COVID-19 pandemic made it even more precious, with lockdowns and border closures restricting movement for almost two years. Elite travellers were so determined to get away during this period that they turned to the considerable expense of private aviation – many for the first time – while record numbers of new buyers splashed out on their own superyacht. Nonetheless, despite these get-arounds, their travel plans and habits were severely impacted.
Now that the threat of coronavirus is receding, great numbers of people are travelling extensively again, getting back into their well-worn habits of hopping on a plane and flying to a far-flung destination. However, for many consumers, the meaning of travel – what it is for and who it is for – has evolved in response to the experience of the pandemic.
At its root, ‘purposeful travel’ is a sustainability concept related to a sense of responsibility. Concerns about travel’s impact on local wildlife, local people and the local environment are at its core. ‘Purpose’ in this context is widely interpreted as having a sense of restraint, engaging in local philanthropy and ethical experiences.
However, the concept of ‘purpose’ – much like the related concept of ‘sustainability’ – is not interpreted in the same way across consumer groups. And ‘purposeful’ consumption – and ‘purposeful travel’, in particular – has evolved. Originally only the external environment and the people that the travellers themselves affected were considered. Now ‘purposeful’ is just as likely to relate to a much more self-oriented sense of purpose.
Purpose is about… sightseeing fatigue
It may seem paradoxical, but many elite travellers see sightseeing-led travel – particularly when they have already had similar or related experiences elsewhere – as the antithesis of purposeful travel. Truly unique and special places, particularly those on a bucket list, are excluded from this; there is still a great desire to be present to witness natural and man-made wonders. But the obligatory traipsing around ‘the sights’ is now seen as aimless.
Purpose is about… longer, more in-depth trips
It may seem logical that ‘purposeful travel’ would be more about shorter trips that make less of an impact on a location. However, elite travellers see far less purpose in shorter trips that merely scratch the surface. Instead, they want to travel to fewer places and spend longer in each one, focusing on quality and fully immersing themselves in the location and the people. Education is at the heart of this, not only learning about each place they visit, but also self-learning and self-discovery.
Purpose is about… who you’re with
For elite travellers, wasteful travel isn’t necessarily about the impact on the environment, it is about not travelling with the right people. Instead, elite travellers want to spend time with people they really want to be with, get to know better, learn more about and more from. Getting closer and feeling more of a bond can be the purpose of travel itself.
Purpose is about… avoiding other travellers
Elite travellers consider travel to be wasteful or purposeless if they’re spending too much time surrounded by or connecting to other travellers. This isn’t simply about tourist traps and wanting to avoid the masses – a long-term trend among wealthy travellers – it is about needing to feel a sense of escape and adventure, which is why they’re getting away in the first place. This often means heading to untouched places, which runs counter to the ‘purposeful travel’ narrative of treading lightly on such locations.
Purpose is about… doing more, not less
It is a common misconception that when an elite consumer says that they are interested in something ‘purposeful’, this means they want to do less: buy less, fly less, occupy less space. However, very few elite consumers think like this. They recognise areas of their life where they can be less wasteful, but very few consider that their entire existence and ‘life footprint’ should be smaller. Sometimes purpose is about doing something properly and for longer.
Purpose is about… what matters the most to you
Elite consumers are not entirely selfish beings, but it is a mistake to presume that their desire for ‘purposefulness’ is rooted in selfless philanthropy or sacrificing their desires for others. They appreciate ethical justifications, and can support them, but they are rarely the prime ‘purpose’ in question. Purpose comes from an inner conviction about what matters to them.
What all of this demonstrates is that ‘purpose’ is a self-derived and self-defined value, not a top-down edict. In many ways, an elite consumer’s sense of what is purposeful or not can fly in the face of what marketers think it should be. It is the responsibility of everyone involved in elite travel to discover what that purpose is.