13 Questions with… Michelle Papas, Luxperience

LATTE chats one on one with Michelle Papas, Event Director of luxury travel show, Luxperience

This week LATTE chats with Michelle Papas, Event Director of Luxperience.

Kickstarting her career in international sales with luxury hotel groups such as Starwood, InterContinental and Shangri-La, Michelle sought to broaden her tourism industry experience with marketing roles for elite tourism attractions and within destination development and marketing.

She oversees the Luxperience event and ensures that the event remains innovative for the carefully selected participants and provides opportunities to tap into emerging trends and luxury brands.

Michelle, this year is the eighth time Luxperience has been held. Can you tell us about the evolution of the event from its launch back in 2012?

Luxperience was created to fill a gap in the market for a locally inspired luxury travel industry event. Not only does the Australia Pacific region have a growing number of suppliers able to actively compete with international high-end products but we have a travel market that recognises and demands quality and authenticity as well as premium service levels.

The event has significantly grown in size, more than double since our inaugural event, but we have more importantly focused on continually attracting quality delegates with real spending power. Of course, the biggest evolution is currently taking place since Luxperience was acquired by global exhibition company Diversified Communications with plans to continue to improve the experiences based on delegate feedback and lead the industry within the dynamic and exciting evolvement of luxury travel.

Are there any changes, minor or major, between the 2018 and 2019 events?

Our 2018 event was reimagined and enhanced when we became a part of the Diversified Communications fold. We had an expanded team, a new home at the brand-new ICC and a revitalised events program setting the standard for the years to follow.

For those who came in our earlier years will not recognise the event it is today, and we’re committed to year-on-year improvement! For 2019, we are focused on building the momentum and have some exciting instalments to reveal closer to the opening.

For those who haven’t attended before, can you provide a snapshot of the companies that attend Luxperience? What space (hotels, resorts, tour operators, airlines, etc.) are they from?

We have a range of global luxury companies spanning hotels, boutique lodges, resorts and private villas, wellness retreats, tourism boards, private aircraft and yachts, tour operators, cultural experiences and cruising. We have also expanded the range of destinations participating at Luxperience. Currently, we have 50 destinations represented and are still receiving applications, so this is likely to grow. Our range of product is directly linked to the product categories sought out by our buyers. It is important that we seek out and act upon this feedback to ensure we are offering what the market needs.

Can you tell us about the principal behind the theme of this year’s event, ‘Experience is Everything’?

As mentioned before, the idea of luxury is changing. Luxury travellers are no longer satisfied with just a beautiful suite. The ‘Experience is Everything’ notion was implemented to reflect the luxury consumer who is seeking more authentic, meaningful and unique high-end experiences.

Insights from our Global Buyers and overseas networks show that the interest in new experiential and niche product, especially from Australia and New Zealand, far exceeded any other preferences from their clients.

We’ve recognised that the actual destination often isn’t the main factor when deciding where to travel. Experiences are driving luxury travel. Be it food and wine, shopping or sporting events, today’s high-end traveller is looking to immerse themselves in the destination and unique experiences that can’t be found anywhere else.

Recently Luxperience confirmed multiple new attendees from European countries, including Greece and Croatia. What has been the hook for these sellers, and has that list of European sellers since increased further?

The number of Australian luxury travellers to Europe has had steady growth. According to AFTA, we’ve seen a 4.8% growth in our outbound travellers from 2017 to 2018. Over 11 million international trips were taken by Australians year ending December 2018. There seems to be no slowing down. Another key factor is that Australian luxury travellers are high yielding, and this is a factor that is being recognised year on year by many of our international suppliers. We are committed to reinforcing the quality of the Australian travel market internationally.

Each year we survey our buyers to evaluate what kind of product their customers are desiring. Europe keeps appearing as the most desirable destination, in particular Greece and Italy, and Portugal is growing. With this evidence, it wasn’t hard to get these exhibitors on board. This year, we welcome our first Croatian and Portuguese exhibitors. We are also excited to welcome other European products from Spain and France.

Does the domestic market account for the largest share of sellers, and can you confirm some of the first-time exhibitors/hotels/resorts that are involved?

Our key focus is on luxury travel whether it be international or local product. We have strong interest from international buyers, particularly USA, China and Europe coming to Luxperience for high quality and uniquely Australian, New Zealand and Pacific products. North America is a key market for Luxperience and in 2019 we are expecting a significant presence from premium travel specialists affiliated to the major luxury travel brands in the USA. We also have seen significant growth in interest from buyers in South America this year.

We equally have strong interest from international sellers wanting to access premium agents from around Australia. We qualify all these buyers carefully to ensure they are the appropriate calibre and have the greatest potential for our sellers

For 2019, we have a range of first-time exhibitors from Europe, the Maldives, Asia, New Zealand and Africa covering hotels/resorts, tourism boards, tour operators and private aircraft and yachts. As mentioned, we were extremely happy to sign our first Croatian exhibitor, Maslina Resort. Also, for the first time, Australian-owned global company Ahoy Club, luxury charter yacht specialist, will be involved and hotel properties such as Santo Maris Oia, Vakkaru Maldives and Esprit de France.

There are still more exciting exhibitors to be announced.

Are there other regions of the world that have a larger presence at Luxperience 2019?

This year we have strong representation from Japan, Korea, Macao, New Caledonia, Peru, Bhutan, Thailand, Tourism Australia and India are all there with their national tourism boards. There is a great spread of product from Europe as referenced earlier and we also have a number of other first time destinations about to finalise their participation but I will leave those for future LATTE issues!

One of the focus areas of this year’s Luxperience Famil program is Wellness Retreats, one of the fastest growing areas in luxury tourism. Can you tell us about which Wellness sellers will be represented this year on the floor and is it a focal point in the 2019 program?

We have seen a rising interested in various forms of wellness travel within the luxury space so it is important for us to have a balanced list of exhibitors representing this segment.

This year we will welcome new exhibitors with a strong focus on luxury wellness tourism. For example, AYANA, which aims to provide guests with a unique and authentic experience and is known for its iconic spa on the rocks and yoga and meditation activities. Another, Sangha Retreat, located west of Shanghai in Suzhou (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), is a transformational wellness destination providing an immersive experience in nature, healing and harmony by uniting Eastern wisdom and Western science.

Which Australian state has the highest number of new sellers in 2019?

That is a little hard to ascertain at this stage as we are still accepting registrations. We do, however, want to ensure that focus is on regions that are the most desirable in terms of buyer interest. What we have found from our global buyer registrations is that the following regions in Australia have the most interest:

Tasmania: 37%
Queensland: 32%
WA: 26%
SA: 25%

The other thing to note is the interest in Australia and how this is dispersed between the states. For example, over 30% interest in traditionally popular destinations like Queensland is maintained while Tasmania is on fire.

What are some of your goals for Luxperience 2019? Have any of those already been achieved before the event starts 7 October 2019?

We have just finalised our 2019 Advisory Board. This year, our board will be focusing on expanding the event and further positioning Luxperience within the global travel industry as the cornerstone event for high-end experiential travel within the Australasia Pacific region.

How do you rate or gauge the success of Luxperience each year? Participant numbers, feedback from attendees, or other means?

Each year we survey all attendees about their experience at the show and also conduct focus group studies with both buyers and exhibitors to extract insights to further improve the experience. This feedback is incredibly valuable.

While many focus on the number of buyers and have ‘the more the better’ approach, our buyer numbers are monitored according to the number of exhibitors on the floor specifically to maintain the quality of scheduled appointments between buyers and exhibitors.

Last year we introduced appointment ratings in our app to gather insights on the quality of the appointments had between delegates. Some 69% of our respondents rated their appointments 5 star which was equivalent to them expecting to make bookings with that product or buyer within 12 months. Analysis of our 2019 buyer registration data shows that our buyers are making bookings averaging $1,500 per person per night.

I’m sure you’ve been asked this several times previously, but would Luxperience consider relocating to another Australian city in the future? Perhaps the 10th anniversary could be held in Melbourne or Brisbane?

Never say never! At this stage, Sydney is the main portal for our travel industry, especially for those who are travelling internationally. The Opera House and Harbour Bridge are still the main selling points for international travellers, and so we’ll be in Sydney for the foreseeable future.

However, the Luxperience famil program showcases some of the lesser-known parts of Australia, and this year guests will travel to regional Victoria, Byron Bay, Tasmania, the Whitsundays and Far North Queensland as well as SE Queensland and the Kimberley. We are hoping to add a few more tours to the program soon as the interest from our global buyers is growing.

Final question, and it’s LATTE‘s signature question. Where is your favourite coffee outlet and what is your go-to beverage order?

ONA Café Marrickville is my current fave if I am in the area. Luckily we also have 3 great cafes a few steps from our office in Kent St. My go-to is a large skim latte which has the right level of caffeine I need per day ☺

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