Experts Weigh In: The Trends Driving Luxury Travel Now

At Beach Enclave in Turks in Caicos, a group of industry leaders gathered to discuss what’s next in the evolution of luxury travel, from the great slowdown and travel as a part-time resident to the next destinations on our radar.

It’s easy to write a list of—and commiserate—on travel’s problems over the last couple of years: skyrocketing flight and hotel prices; inflation; natural disasters and wars; and, persistently, staffing shortages.

And yet at Indagare, our members are traveling far and wide for an average trip length of nearly eight days, with hotel spend 30 percent higher than last year. Travelers are also placing more value not only on where they’re staying but how they’re spending their time, with more emphasis on specialized guides and thoughtful experiences to make the most out of their time–the touring spend is 67 percent higher than last year.

At Beach Enclave in Turks & Caicos (full Indagare review coming soon, but it is a great new-to-us villa option on the islands), we met to discuss the ever-evolving travel landscape through the lens of Indagare alongside influential travel media and hoteliers. We gathered with the global editorial director of Condé Nast Traveler, Divia Thani; travel journalist Chadner Navarro; the owner of Beach Enclave, Vasco Borges; and several Indagare leaders, including CEO Melissa Biggs Bradley, COO Eliza Harris and myself, the editorial director.

The roundtable lasted for several hours. See below for edited highlights on key trends and destinations.

Destinations on Our Mind

In our 2023 Indagare trend report, we wrote about Mediterranean islands like Sicily, and Mallorca, African favorites like safaris and Egypt, as well as mainland Greece as places to watch this year. What destinations are emerging or playing a big role now?

What destinations are emerging or playing a big role now?

Melissa Biggs Bradley: “It’s not only specific places, it’s moments in time for certain places. When I first went to Rwanda, it seemed an exotic place that was still haunted by the horrors of the genocide, and I went to see the gorillas but fell in love with the whole country and its resilience. Initially, people were afraid and then once we took a small group, slowly perceptions began to change. It was a slow, educational process. We did the same thing with Egypt, gradually exposing people to its wonders and helping them get over outdated fears of the situation on the ground.

This year, I fell in love with Guatemala. Again, Americans think it’s this dangerous place because the State Department has it on a list, but it’s just not. The indigenous culture is so alive in Guatemala that it offers a glimpse into traditional cultures that is rare to experience, except in the most remote areas of the world and yet it is a few hours flight from the U.S.

And Antarctica, I would say go for two reasons now. One is if you care about the natural world, it is the most profound experience that you can have of the power of nature and the frailty of humanity, without going to space, probably. Every single thing you see is only shaped by nature. And from an impact perspective, it’s important for us to understand what’s at stake if we don’t protect Antarctica. It really turns you into an environmental warrior in a very profound way.”

Chadner Navarro: “Japan has been really busy this year. And Latin America is one of my favorite parts of the world—it is just captivating.”

Eliza Harris, COO, Indagare: “One-seventh of our business is Italy. But safari is a big trend we’re seeing, very experiential.”

Rose Allen: “And not just safari—it’s the types of groups going on safari. We have large multigenerational families coming to us, saying there are 22 of us, ages 10 to 75, and we’d like to go on safari.”

Melissa Biggs Bradley: “Yes, and it goes beyond safari to places like Ghana and Senegal. There is much bigger interest in West Africa. And now people do go to more off-the-beaten-path places in Italy, to places like Turin, Modena, Bologna.”

Kial Church: “If you factor in the cost for coastal Italy with the boat hire, guides and more, a safari looks much more affordable, where almost everything is included. We’ve seen a lot more interest in Scandinavia than before, where people are trying to escape the crowds, heat or prices. There’s interest in Norway, Denmark and Sweden that we haven’t seen before.”

Elise Bronzo: “We’re seeing Southeast Asia now for 2024—it took a bit longer because of the pandemic, but we are seeing Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia inquiries. We see group travel trends as the wave before private travel requests and we do see the Middle East as trending.”

Divia Thani: “We have a big Asia focus at the end of the year, as we really want people to go back to Asia. It has been such a hard time. Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos–they need you and us to come back. When the war started more than a year ago in Ukraine, people wrote off Europe. Look at it now. People don’t want to go all the way and not have a great time, so it’s also giving them the confidence to go back.”

What cities are on your radar?

Melissa Biggs Bradley: “What I’m personally interested in are the smaller cities. Mexico City has had a huge moment and yet there’s all these wonderful cities like Guadalajara within Mexico. I think you can have a really interesting experience by going away from the major capitals, like Antwerp instead of Amsterdam.”

Kathryn Nathanson: “Diana and I were in Tbilisi, Georgia. The proximity to Russia is a little dicey right now, but we absolutely loved it and discovering the food and wine regions.”

The Great Slowdown

Divia Thani: “During the lockdown, I kept a sketchbook and started to sketch every night, something that I really missed. Before going to bed, it calmed me down a little bit. What it ended up being at the end is something quite meaningful and unexpected. I had distilled it down to the things that were really important to me and what I wanted to do—that one view in India I really wanted to go back to; the golden light in California or Australia.

Travel for me now—whether the same or different places—is going so much deeper and not wider and immersing yourself.”

Vasco Borges: “We’ve been seeing this at Beach Enclave. The concierge meets the guest the day after arrival and often we find that people end up canceling things. They want to enjoy the people they’re with, have chefs cook dinner in the villa for them, slow down.”

Rose Allen: “A big part of staying longer is vetting and developing experiences that make you want to stay longer, like soaking up the energy of the incredible yoga instructor here at Beach Enclave, Lizzy. Dreaming up these experiences and the relationships with people that make you stay at a luxury villa is the key. Before we arrived, we were each sent a video greeting from Gregory and Anne, the butlers for our villas. It was so simple, and yet nothing any of us (a well-traveled group) had ever seen before.”

Part-Time Resident Travel

Melissa Biggs Bradley: “There has been a shift—no matter what age—in understanding that travel has gone beyond a vacation to a major lifestyle change. People are saying—I might move to Barcelona or Lisbon for three months and I think I want to be a part-time resident. We didn’t have that same understanding pre-pandemic.”

The Hotel Passion Projects

Melissa Biggs Bradley: “I think the most sought after properties in the world are what I call the passion projects. It’s The Brando, or what Jochen Zeitz has done at Segera Retreat or The Ranch at Rock Creek, or Julian Robertson’s properties in New Zealand and Islas Secas in Panama. They were created by people who could do anything in the world—after they fell in love with an area and then fashioned retreats they wanted for themselves and their family that they opened as hotels.”

The Explosion of Group Travel

Melissa Biggs Bradley: “During the pandemic, people said no one will ever want to be with other people again. In fact, people have realized they will prioritize travel—and travel with others—more than anything else. You’re going to remember those times you spend in other places with people doing extraordinary things, which may be why our group trips business has absolutely exploded.”

Elise Bronzo: “Luxury is ultimately, do you feel known through the experience? Travel transcends luxury; it’s embedded in the way we live and we needed to travel again to feel like ourselves again after the pandemic. And group travel can be a vehicle to explore your passions—who am I and how do I pursue what I’m interested in through travels?”

The Artificial Intelligence Train Coming Towards Us

Divia Thani: “What’s been really helpful for us has been to have an attitude of embracing what’s new and being incredibly optimistic and open instead of saying, it’s one more thing. And I think authority is back in style. [At Condé Nast Traveller] I handle seven global markets and we found that across the world, people were going back to authoritative sources of information.

If people look to you as a source of authority, then they will be more patient and may stay longer than three seconds on your content before moving on to the next thing.”

Melissa Biggs Bradley: “The pandemic taught people that there's real value in expertise and it separated the experts from the novices. It's like Martha Stewart and decorating—people thought they could do it themselves. But then there's a shift back and the people who can afford to always want experts, whether it's accounting or travel or anything. For us, it's all about spending the time and effort to scout and to really get the good sources.

I always resisted the idea of world’s best hotels or rankings of hotels, because for me, it was all about matchmaking. The best hotel in Paris for a couple is not the best hotel in Paris for a mother-daughter weekend. It’s all about giving people the tools for what suits them.”

Vasco Borges: “I think a big part of it is also allowing ourselves to have more fun. Part of the reason we do that butler video before arrival is we want it to feel more personal and more fun.”

Sarah Minges: “Across the Six Senses brand, there is free ice cream and gelato all day. At Zighy Bay in Oman you can paraglide into the resort to check-in. This is such an amazing way to feel more personal and fun.”

How will AI help us? Right now it’s in the AOL dial-up phase.

Diana Li: “My dream is an AI filter that is built on top of Indagare’s content. There are ways AI can be used for efficiency and helping to build customer personalization. Do everything we’re doing but better and more efficiently.”

Elise Bronzo: “But it doesn’t replace knowing the customer.”

How To Create a Sustainable Business

Indagare operates as a 100 percent carbon-neutral company and donates nearly two percent of its annual profit to projects and causes we support.

Vasco Borges: “If you sit and wait for the guests to ask, it won’t happen. I do think it’s our responsibility, a much bigger responsibility than we confess, also to provide great opportunities for the locals. There are so many cases where people start on the bell desk and then end up as general managers. That can make a huge difference in a place like Turks & Caicos and I’m assuming places like Sri Lanka, the Maldives. You can help bring these people into the world economy and help careers evolve.

All our concierge and resort managers are local and have been here forever. My favorite profile is a beach bum who now wants to make a bit more money and will take our clients to the best beaches. It also helps the clients.”

Melissa Biggs Bradley: “We realized that it didn’t matter how much money people had, they just didn’t opt in to offset their travel. So we finally just said, okay, we’re going to make all trips carbon-neutral. Over time, hopefully everybody will do the same thing.”

Diana Li: “This year, 75 percent of our members said they’d rather pay more for the trip if it was just baked in.”

Contact your Indagare trip designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip. Our team can match you with the destinations, accommodations, reservations and activities that are right for you.

Published onSeptember 7, 2023

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