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Learnings from The New York Times Luxury Travel Conference 2016

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Euromonitor International had the pleasure of attending The New York Times Luxury Travel Conference held in Singapore at the Grand Hyatt from 1 - 2 December. In this article, we recap on some of the key trends mentioned by purveyors of luxury travel over a series of engaging panel discussions and presentations.

The rise of Asia in luxury travel

Image: Melissa Ow, Deputy Chief Executive of Singapore Tourism Board

Source: The New York Times

In the opening address, Ms Melissa Ow, Deputy Chief Executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, highlighted the tremendous potential of Asia for luxury travel. Rapid economic advancement in burgeoning markets like China, India and Indonesia has translated to an increase in the purchasing power of Asian travellers. Indeed, according to Euromonitor, Asia Pacific is expected to generate the fastest growth globally in terms of outbound expenditure from 2015 to 2020 at a 7% value CAGR. This region’s contribution to the global outbound spending pool is also expected to rise from 39% in 2015 to 44% in 2020.

It is therefore pertinent to understand what luxury travellers are looking for in order to meet their demands. Ms Ow noted that increasingly, the luxury traveller is spending more on experiences instead of products such as fashion, collectibles or jewelry. In Singapore for example, visitors could be seen indulging in bespoke art tours, private dining events, courtside seats at the Women Tennis Association Finals and Sky Suites at the Formula One Night Race.

Achieving luxury through authentic hospitality

An important aspect of the luxury travel experience would involve creating an atmosphere of authentic luxury. Travel agents or hoteliers could attract guests by focusing on the local culture. This could be done through arranging visits to heritage buildings and places where locals hang out; or providing an opportunity to mingle with the locals through planned activities. Beyond this foundation however, is the challenge in meeting expectations of multigenerational travellers who may at the same time exhibit a great disparity in lifestyles from the local community. Thus, a panel consisting of Mr Eddie Teh, General Manager of Belmond Hotels and Cruises and Mr Loh Lik Peng, Founder of Unlisted Collection, believes that (itinerary) customization is the answer to please travellers as it empowers individuals with the ability to do what they each want to achieve for their trip. This provision of “experiences beyond expectations” would form as a hallmark of luxury travel.


Image: Eddie Teh, General Manager of Belmond Hotels and Cruises, Andreas Kohn, Vice President of Capella Hotel Group Asia and Loh Lik Peng, Founder of Unlisted Collection (left to right)

Source: The New York Times

In addition to choice, suppliers need to offer time to guests, as pointed out by Mr Andreas Kohn, Vice President of Capella Hotel Group Asia. Authentic hospitality cannot be derived from rushed experiences and it is crucial to let travellers be able to soak in their moments. He also reminded suppliers that authentic hospitality involves collaboration with the locals on various fronts and this has to be threaded carefully to prevent excessive disruption on their lands and cultures.

Authentic hospitality is also about offering the personal touch. Mr Simon Thomas, Head Concierge at The Lanesborough trusts that there will always be demand for hotel concierge services as there are still things that you cannot replace with technology. Luxury travellers, in particular, crave for exclusivity and this trend would create the opportunity for services that go an extra mile.

Keeping up with the generational shift

Image: Amrita Banta, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Agility Research & Strategy

Source: The New York Times

Millennials have been consistently referred to as the consumers of today and a significant contribution to the current economy by panelists throughout the two-day conference. According to Euromonitor International, more than half of the world’s millennials come from Asia Pacific in 2016. This group is noted to be aspirational, affluent and ambitious, thus showing an inclination for luxury travel. Ms Amrita Banta, Managing Director of Agility Research & Strategy, went on to share pertinent insights regarding affluent young travellers. It was revealed from her study that this demographic group is highly adventurous in travelling to new places and trying new things. This could be the reason why ‘bleisure’ trips, which are a mix of business and leisure in travel, have become more popular among young affluent Asians. Millennials also prefer to plan their activities in advance and social media emerges as the most popular channel used to look for information and advertising on product and services relating to luxury and travel brands.

At a subsequent panel discussion on shaping the brand story, public relation experts chimed in that visual literacy is exploding in this era as images have become a way of democracy among everyone. They attested that ‘social media is a business’, which makes it imperative for brands to start investing in this tool and control their messages with a strong crisis communication plan.

An evolution in the culinary experience

While fine dining traditionally accounts for an extremely important bottom line in hotels, evolving foodservice trends suggest that there could be new approaches in engaging the new age traveller. Acclaimed restaurateur Ms Janice Wong highlighted casual dining as the next big trend in the dining scene. Casual dining is characterized by good quality, moderately-priced food served in a modern upscale environment, straddling between fine dining and fast food. It started emerging three to four years ago and has been hugely popular in countries like Singapore.

This democratization of dining is also embodied by the rise of food hall style eating, according to Mr MPS Puri, Chief Executive at Nira Hotels & Resorts. With gastronomy being an important social currency, it is crucial for hotels to continue considering it as an integral part of their operations. Moving forward however, foodservice operators need to adopt a mentality of leveraging technology in striving for quality and efficiency.  In this aspect, chef robots, drone waiters and 3D food printers are expected to be featured more heavily over the next few years.

The future of luxury travel

With the number of informed luxury buyer exploding, Mr Yann Debelle de Montby of Debelle de Montby Associates which specializes in interior design for luxury brands thinks that simplicity would eventually amount to be the true form of luxury. The ideal shopping experience as he envisions would entail a consumer “coming into a store with no one telling you too much”. He warned that overdesign is increasingly taking consumers away from the shopping experience. Overdesign, in his definition, happens when the consumer is being forced to relate to a space which he/she does not feel comfortable with. In keeping close to the luxury consumer, a retailer should also consider details such as impeccable customer service and the usage of scent in stores (or air design), which often goes underutilised.

Mr Petter Neby, Chief Executive Office of technology company Punkt, thinks that the idea of simplicity and minimalism should be manifested in hotels as well where operators need to pay more attention in protecting consumers from information overload. As interactive surfaces and talking appliances start penetrating our lives, hotels need to create rooms that balances digital infrastructure with the opportunity to disconnect. Digital detox is set to become an important discourse that the hospitality industry should not neglect.

The future is also all about space travel as Ms Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor Virgin Galactic, provided audiences with a sneak peek into the developments of the world’s first civilian space flight. She reckoned that space adventures are very likely to commence in the near future with test flights already underway. A journey into space is expected to cost around US$250,000 and entitles one to watch the earth from above and experience the feeling of weightlessness. Approaching the final frontiers of space opens up another chapter in the travel industry but on a broader level, it will signify a huge advancement for humanity.

Image: Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor, Virgin Galactic

Source: The New York Times

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