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trends in luxury travel | the real thing | the search for truth

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.

Australian travellers are tapping into luxury travel trends that marry risk and reward.

From a tented camp in Rajasthan to a riad in Morocco, from a river-front lodge in South Africa’s Sabi Sand Game Reserve to an adora-bubble on a Maldivian beach … unique and authentic places to stay are hot.

Monastery, igloo, or treehouse? Yes, we’re interested. Definitely.

“Travellers want context,” says Michael Londregan, Managing Director of Asia Pacific and Global Strategy for Virtuoso, an international network of 17,500 luxury travel advisers leveraging A$33 billion in global purchasing power.


The Tengile River Lodge advantage

“If they are going to stay in a Spanish villa they want it to be in Spain. They want a Queenslander in Queensland not a Fijian bure. People love a five-star Taj resort because it used to be owned by a maharajah and has Indian DNA.”

Authenticity is a key travel imperative, according to the 2019 Virtuoso Luxe Report, along with luxury cruising, action and adventure, and multi-generational travel.

Curiouser and curiouser…

Never have so many generations been in a position to travel at the same time, says Londregan. “We literally have four generations capable and able. Often, the only way the generations can connect and maintain bonds these days is by travelling together … and the generation that has the discretionary income is happy to pay.

“This has also given rise to the Skip Gen concept, grandparents saying to the parents, ‘You’re really busy with work, we’re going to take the grandkids on safari to Africa; it’ll be a wonderful bonding experience.’”


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Leopard on the lookout in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve

The typical Australian traveller in 2019 is inquisitive, willing to explore new destinations, travel off the beaten track, and is not deterred by political or environmental upheaval. We can handle some risk.

A survey of travellers published in February by Australian luxury travel advisory The Goldman Group, in conjunction with AccorHotels, found that when choosing a destination, considerations of personal safety and health came in third after price and weather, with national security issues and political concerns further down the list.

“We are resilient,” declares Anthony Goldman, joint Managing Director of The Goldman Group. “In our survey, only 33 per cent said they might worry about their own personal safety. Even in times of a natural disaster or political incident we don’t stay away for too long.”

The hungry heart

And we are always hungry. Food is a big destination driver. But we are leaning more towards experiencing what’s local than shelling out for the Michelin-star experience.

For Christine Manfield, chef, author and tour guide, food offers a deeper connection to a place. Her first stop is always the local market where the language of food transcends any difficulty in communication.

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A spice souk in the Moroccan town of Rissani

“Food is the very purpose of my travels – to take myself beyond my comfort zone, to be challenged and to satisfy my eternal curiosity,” she says. “Food is my entry ticket. Exploring the tastes of a country takes you to the very heart of its culture.”

For Manfield, that might mean chiselling a salt crust from a five-kilo salmon cooked in a ring of fire at Argentine chef Francis Mallmann’s Siete Fuegos cooking school in Mendoza, where seven ways of cooking with fire are demonstrated, an experience Manfield describes as “primal and thrilling”.

Or spending a day on a boat in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel in Tasmania tasting, straight from the shell, abalone, oysters and sea urchin caught by the crew.

It might mean shopping at the Broadway Market in London Fields for food produced in community plots or making empañades in the home of two sisters in Buenos Aires.

“Visiting local homes is a win-win: it’s way for local women to have some income and for us to support them in that. It’s nitty-gritty cooking that does away with smoke and mirrors, and lets you see how easy it is.”

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Bounty from a potager garden at Otahuna Lodge, Christchurch.

Transformational travel

The food immersion taps into the new desire for holidays to be “transformational”. Not only to make travellers see their own lives through a new prism but to transform communities and landscapes they visit.

In the Goldman Group survey, 49 per cent said they travelled “to have experiences that are transformational.”

In 2019, it’s less about the destination and more about how you want it to make you feel. Travel as medicine. Can a family trip to India recalibrate the world view of a “screenager”? Can an Ayurvedic retreat restore health and wellbeing? Will a cycling tour of Tuscany trip the unfitness wire?

Says Goldman: “Being on safari, sitting in a Jeep surrounded by four different animals is transformational. That’s when the penny drops. It reminds you how insignificant the human race is. You have that moment of clarity: ‘I’m in your backyard and not mine.’ That is transformational.”

Up close and personal

Highly personalised itineraries are de rigueur. A businessman with a free day with family in Beijing might want his adviser to book an origami class for his daughter, a kickboxing tournament for his son, a quiet spot to hike on the Great Wall of China and traditional Peking Duck in a family home for him and his wife.

Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2012) is expected to become the largest consumer group in the next two years. Inclusion, engagement, personalisation, intrinsic value, and experience are their bywords when it comes to travel. Music festivals and performing arts programs at sea are winning them over.

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Paths less travelled on the Great Wall of China

Trending, too, is the special interest trip or cruise, often inspired by connections made via social media – photographers, bird-watchers, bridge players, and Disney tragics. Gluten-free cruises are a thing now, and industry observers are tipping more offerings that target communities bound by a common interest, either medical or social.

Couples looking for an intimacy boost are booking push-the-envelope holidays that focus on fear-confronting physical activities – adventures in deserts, icescapes and rainforests. A sense of achievement is now the end game: from challenging mountain climbs to cooking classes hosted by noted chefs.

You’ll want it on Instagram, where on an average day more than 350 million posts are tagged #travel. Any hotel or hotspot worth its salt will provide selfie opportunities in 2019, whether the flower bedecked swing at Anantara Riverside Bangkok or the logo-ed entrance to the new Yves Saint Laurent museum in Morocco.

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Selfie swingshift at Anantara Riverside Bangkok

This year, luxury “lobbyists” will enjoy homeware hotels that double as brand merchandise showrooms (sleep in the sheets and then buy them), families will be taking nomadic sabbaticals together, and there’ll be astrotourism – star-gazing for those who want to chase eclipses and marvel at dazzling constellations in the clear, endless skies of, say, the Atacama Desert or the Maldives.

A ramped-up appreciation of conservation and sustainability is changing the way travellers think. They are likely to support a resort with genuine anti-waste initiatives. And be more impressed by not how much marble is in the lobby, but how much plastic isn’t.

Says Virtuoso’s Michael Londregan, “Every time we travel we become a better citizen of the world we live in, and that can be vis à vis the environment, wildlife, humanity, or charity.

“Travel in 2019 is less of a luxury good and more of an essential part of humanity.”

Where to next?

In times of world flux – political, economic, humanitarian – travellers give their bucket list a big snow-dome shake. Aspen for the skiing and Europe for the summer? Maybe not this year. Here come the disruptors, the destinations that have been sitting at around #5 on the bucket list, shaking their way to the top. The 10 most up and coming destinations, according to the 2019 Virtuoso Luxe Report are:

1 Japan, 2 Croatia, 3 Iceland, 4 Portugal, 5 Egypt, 6 Cuba, 7 Morocco, 8 Antarctica, 9 South Africa, 10 Colombia.

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Curation at Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech. Photo © Fondation Jardin Majorelle/Nicolas Mathéus


This feature first appeared in Travel & Indulgence, The Australian, March 18, 2019 


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

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