An appetite for luxury

Against a backdrop of ongoing travel restrictions, most Asian luxury markets are choosing to travel within their home base while keeping overseas travel dreams alive, discover TTG Asia Luxury reporters.

Australians are satisfying their luxury travel needs with domestic getaways that were traditionally glossed over in favour of overseas experiences.

They are also getting used to a different kind of luxury than they were accustomed to – one that is more rustic and often defined by the remoteness of the location.

Domestic locations with dramatic landscapes, such as Flinders Ranges National Park, are a hit with wealthy Australians holidaying at home

“Luxury in Australia is different to staying in a magnificent hotel in the centre of Paris, for example,” said Claudia Rossi Hudson, owner of Mary Rossi Travel.

“This is because the experience or the definition of luxury that we can give in Australia includes the tyranny of distance. So, you might be staying in Lizard Island where the lodges are very comfortable but they are not gilt taps and marble floors.”

“(Instead) they are luxury on a lodge that is on an island, an hour and a half’s flight in a private aircraft from the nearest international airport. There are no local food sources and it’s expensive to stay there. And when you’re there, you realise that the luxury element is its uniqueness and remoteness, and the fact that you had that entire beach practically all to yourself and that portion of the Great Barrier Reef,” she explained.

Luxury travel agents are also finding that Australian preferences are quite different to those of the international visitor, desiring locations with dramatic landscapes over local wildlife and city experiences.

“The Kimberley in Western Australia is incredibly popular,” said Kirsty Siekmann, CEO at The Tailor. “International clients would come to Australia with a lot of boxes to tick but Australian clients are doing two weeks just exploring that region.”

“Demand is very strong as they have the dry and warmer season so along with Queensland and much of the Top End, their bookings are completely full this year,” she continued.

Also popular are five-day safari trips in the north, food and wine region visits, treks in the Flinders Ranges, and a breathtaking journey and dining experience on The Ghan.

However, the trend is expected to turn at the end of the year when the summer heat pushes domestic tourists to Australia’s cooler southern parts. Seikmann projects that travel bookings for Margaret River, Tasmania, and Victoria will skyrocket, following patterns from last year. – Adelaine Ng

While India’s wealthy were able to explore the world inlate-2020 and early part of 2021, their travel freedom was curtailed when a second wave of Covid-19 infections swept across the country this April.

Indian travel consultants dealt with numerous cancellations, triggered by international destinations slapping entry bans on travellers from India.

The Maldives saw intense demand from Indian travellers before the second Covid-19 wave hit in April 2021

Summer 2021 was supposed to be a good travel season but with infections still raging in India, outbound travel possibilities and demand continue to be suppressed.

Prior to the latest cancellations, Luxe Escape had clients who booked a month-long stay in London and private jets to Dubai, shared founder Aditya Tyagi.

Demand for summer breaks in the Maldives hit its peak for Tour Passion, said founder Naveen Manchanda, before Covid-19 returned to wreck bookings.

“We also had good enqueries for Europe for high-end cruises and experiences like spa and (dining). However, the second pandemic wave changed the entire scenario,” said Manchanda.

Hopes are now pinned on 2022.

Tyagi said: “Most of our clients are now desperate to travel out of India. We already have a small VVIP group request to Saint Tropez, and demand for destinations like Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Nordic countries (are back).”

When outbound travel is once again possible, Tyagi said clients would be drawn to small luxury boutique hotels where mingling with other people could be avoided.

Wellness tourism would also be top of mind amond India’s well-heeled.

“Wellness retreats in Europe and South-east Asia will be high in demand in 2022. Luxury travellers will opt for longer stays in an absolutely safe environment,” said Ajay Jaipuria, founder, Travel Oyster India.

Echoing the prediction, Tyagi has crafted a week-long yoga cruise in Croatia, led by a yoga master who will also conduct other wellness programme onboard.

In fact, Tyagi is so confident in the potential of post-pandemic wellness tourism that he has launched a new brand, Well Escapes. – Rohit Kaul

Japan’s wealthy consumers are likely to spend on domestic jaunts rather than overseas trips in the coming months amid a slow Covid-19 vaccine roll-out and government advice to avoid “unnecessary and non-urgent” travel abroad.

Luxury travel providers are expecting an uptick in sales for the rest of 2021 based on consumer sentiment and behaviour since the outbreak.

Kyoto’s autumn season is selling out, thanks to wealthy domestic travellers who are discouraged from travelling overseas this year

Makarim Salman, founder and lead guide of high-end private tour company Maction Planet, anticipates further growth in domestic travel “from autumn 2021, once the Olympics is over and more people have been vaccinated”.His high-end hotel partners in Kyoto are already reporting full bookings for autumn.

Private suites or remote locations that can accommodate greater social distancing are likely to be a hit.

Hoshino Resorts is also anticipating growth in micro-tourism, which involves travel within an hour’s drive from home. In 2020, the luxury hotelier enjoyed 90 per cent occupancy at its Kai Enshu in Shizuoka Prefecture, where 60 per cent of guests were locals keen to experience the renowned tea baths and tea fields.

According to credit card company Luxury Card, suite room occupancy in Japan in 2020 was more than five times higher than in 2019.

In anticipation of more business, hotels are being bullish with openings and renovations. Hotel the Mitsui Kyoto, adjacent to Nijo Castle, opened in late-2020 with a Presidential Suite costing 1.3 million yen (US$ 11,723) per pax per night. Shiroyama Hotel Kagoshima opened its 200m2 Imperial Suite, which offers stunning views of active volcano Mount Sakurajima and costs 1.1 million yen per night.

Private jet bookings are expected to soar too, as luxury domestic travel demand improves. In June 2021, Matsuzakaya Nagoya Travel Center and ANA Business Jet began offering trips from Nagoya International Airport to Niseko, Hokkaido, and Nagasaki, Kyushu, for two million yen per person for a booking for four passengers.

Takayuki Suzuki, representative of Matsuzakaya Nagoya Travel Center, told TTG Asia that “sales are strong among the wealthy at the moment” while ANA Business Jet’s president Jun Katagiri said wealthy travellers are choosing private flights because of their low infection risk.

Due to limited travel since the outbreak of the pandemic, Salman also predicts splurges by middle and upper-middle class consumers on luxury travel products, giving a further boost to Japan’s high-end sector. – Kathryn Wortley

Bespoke itineraries and exclusive destinations that allow for privacy and space, slow travel and are family-oriented constitute luxury travel trends in 2021 and 2022 for the Singapore market, according to four specialist travel operators.

Nico Heath, co-founder and director of Lightfoot Travel, explained: “The first is a desire for private islands and private island resorts. The Maldives, where each resort is on its own island and you are whisked from airport to resort immediately after landing, has been exceptionally popular. Once airlines start running routes more regularly, there has also been an upswing in interest in more far-flung destinations such as Fiji and French Polynesia.”

Well-heeled Singaporeans are favouring far-flung and safe destinations like Fiji; nearby destinations

An uptick in private jet holidays also arose due to the desire to reduce risk by avoiding commercial air travel.

“There’s a shift to slower travel options and more in-depth travel instead of hopping around to see as much as possible within a certain amount of time,” observed Mike Harlow, general manager for Scott Dunn Asia.

Think single destination country, or keeping inter-country travel to a minimum, according to co-founder and managing director of Quotient TravelPlanner, Javiny Lim.

Harlow noticed that East Asia remains top choice as it is still closer to home while offering a wide variety of experiences which can be done in a single location.

Heath observed the desire for road trips as they give travellers greater freedom, the ability to slow the pace of their journey, and with a lot less risk.

Rugged landscapes and the freedom to go on long driving journeys in expansive destinations, such as New Zealand and Ireland, are of interest to luxury travellers in Singapore, Lim added.

“Travellers are more willing to explore deeper at a destination and want to be wowed by extraordinary experiences on their holiday, from astounding nature to award-winning architecture to exclusive interactions with esteemed custodians.”

Locations like Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands with unsurpassed natural beauty and native wildlife continue to be a draw in 2021 and beyond.

Besides, there is also robust demand for family holidays and private villas to house the extended family in destinations such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Italy and Greece in 2022. African safaris are popular with families with older children.

It comes as no surprise that affluent travellers are prioritising safety, and are willing to pay more for hygiene reassurances and preferring the flexibility to amend their travel plans with zero or minimum penalty.

Founder and director of Intriq Journey, Jess Yap, said: “Guests are starting to enquire and book for luxury travel for last quarter of this year and into 2022. For instance, we have a small group journey that is departing to Saudi Arabia in December 2021. We also have some bookings to Antarctica for the year-end.” – Serene Foo

An unusual luxury travel trend is emerging in Thailand, where – despite having more complex post-pandemic travel procedures to grapple with – billionaires are choosing to skip assistance from travel agencies to achieve utmost privacy for their holidays.

Anake Srishevachart, president of UniThai Trip, said an increasing number of high net worth customers are choosing to book their own private jet and charter resorts on their own. For those who have continued to rely on travel agents to customise travel packages for family or friends, resorts that are exclusive to members are favoured.

Such as Hong Kong, are preferred by Thai luxury travellers

Anake said: “The pandemic has taught well-heeled people to change their lifestyle and leisure activities. Many now value even more true exclusivity and privacy during their trips.”

However, a complete departure from travel agencies is not possible when special interest trips need to be made, such as vaccination tours.

Outbound travel specialists in Thailand that are still retaining luxury accounts say destinations close by are in favour, such as places within Thailand or Singapore and Hong Kong in South-east Asia.

Industry veteran Pornthip Hirankate said Thailand’s own Phuket and Phi Phi islands are attracting many Thai residents with spending power.

Den Mahavansanandana, managing director of Inspirit Holidays, said exclusive tours to Singapore, Laos, Cambodia and Bali are selling well, while there is also demand for parts of Europe. He believes that governments will be watching how Thailand conducts her Phuket Sandbox tourism reopening. If done well, governments will gain confidence to welcome Thai residents into their own country. – Suchat Sritama

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