Written by Andrew Conway
The classic Australian song, ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’, has long captured the inherent spirit of antipodean travellers. With longer annual holidays, higher disposable income and a keener sense of adventure than many other nationalities, Australians are widely considered among the world’s most prolific travellers.
But a distinct cultural shift is changing the way Australians now explore the world. The once-popular “been-there-done-that” approach is rapidly giving way to a more thoughtful, altruistic and globally minded rationale that’s also moving firmly into the thriving luxury travel arena.
Not the rarefied world of five-star hotel suites, white linen tablecloths and silver service, but a more authentic, immersive, private and highly personalised space – and luxury travel brands are responding to the new mindset.
“Small and intimate is in,” says Cathy Wagstaff, Editor-in-Chief of Signature Luxury Travel & Style, a leading media sponsor of ILTM – with the largest audited circulation of any Australian consumer travel magazine – and of LATTE, the only luxury travel trade enewsletter in Australasia.
“Australians will always love Europe, especially Italy and France, but there is a trend towards smaller, more personalised hotels, customised tours offering unique and immersive cultural experiences, and authentic regional cuisine in places like Japan, Iceland, the Galapagos Islands, Africa and Antarctica,” she adds.
Wagstaff points to tented camps, ‘bubble’ tents, exclusive wellness retreats and off-the-beaten-track wildlife safaris, especially those with a genuine focus on conservation.
“Australian luxury travellers want the best and will be loyal to luxury travel brands that deliver on service, product and experiences,” she adds. “Giving back to local communities wherever possible is also increasingly important.”
Michael Londregan, Managing Director of Virtuoso Asia Pacific, agrees.
“Small is big and exotic is really popular,” he says. “Australian travellers are looking for things in the middle of their wishlists like the Galapagos, Japan, Antarctica, Cuba and Mexico.”
“These are all places that have traditionally not sat at the top of people’s bucket lists, but that are really doing well this year,” he adds.
Londregan says there is also a backlash against mainstream travel offerings. “Now it’s all about bespoke,” he contends. “I want travel to be designed around me, according to my and my family’s brief. I don’t want to be offered a trip that’s near enough, but cheaper. The point isn’t the cost; it’s the perfection of the fit. I want it custom-made for me.”
The latest Virtuoso Luxe Report (Australia), which surveyed the opinions of leading luxury travel agencies and advisors in 82 locations across the country, predicts 2019 will be a year of ultra-personalised experiences for Australian luxury travellers.
“High-end brands are starting to understand that personalisation is the new luxury,” says Londregan. “For the industry to do this well, we need to understand broader societal changes and trends towards health and wellness, authenticity and true engagement. The human trends that are happening for high net-worth individuals are translating into the travel trends we are seeing today.”
While the average income of Australian luxury travellers is reported to be around $318,000 – and they spend approximately $13,000 per trip – value for money is still a key driving influencer.
“Everyone wants value, no matter how much money they have to spend,” says leading luxury travel authority and Joint Managing Director of The Goldman Group, Anthony Goldman.
“Luxury travel brands need to understand that even though a client will spend big on travel, if the experience doesn’t live up to the promise, you will not be able to attract that high-end traveller on an ongoing basis,” he says.
“Another point to note is that luxury means different things to different people, and contrary to what most people think, luxury travel is no longer the reserve of the very wealthy.”
Goldman says luxury travel is changing, and it is no longer about being over the top. “The luxe travellers of today are seeking more personal and stripped-back special experiences, with superior service and recognition remaining mandatory,” he says.
“Australian luxury travellers are adventurous, travelling with family and travelling more often, and want to experience local culture over white tablecloths and chandeliers.”
The booming luxury cruising industry is also seeing a shift in trends. Senior Vice President and Managing Director Asia Pacific at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Steve Odell, says Australian luxury cruise clients are increasingly looking for a one-of-a-kind, fully inclusive experience akin to travelling on a private yacht.
“Simply translated, this means a personalised style of travel,” he says. “Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the only luxury cruise line to offer free unlimited shore excursions in every port. This is matched by exemplary service, all-suite accommodations with private verandahs and an array of inclusive dining choices on every ship in the fleet.”
Odell says key trends for luxury cruising in 2019 include bespoke guided tours that immerse guests in the local culture of the region being visited.
“We are also seeing a surge in bookings for destinations such as Japan, French Polynesia, the Baltic and Alaska,” he says. “Smaller ships mean smaller boutique ports of call, away from the crowds.”
Lead image: Joali Maldives – Three Bedroom Ocean Residence