Inflated pricing no deterrent to ultra-luxury travellers

Virtuoso panel discusses post-pandemic trends

Virtuoso Travel Week 2022 panel of experts and Virtuoso executives. From left - James Turner, Misty Belles, Beth Washington, Matthew Upchurch, Susan Bowman and Anthony Goldman.

Luxury travellers remain unperturbed by pandemic-induced inflated prices for holidays, a panel of travel experts has unanimously agreed during a discussion at Virtuoso Travel Week.

“What we’re seeing is clients aren’t even asking about cost in some cases,” said Anthony Goldman of Goldman Travel Group in Australia. He said there is pent-up demand for clients wanting to go to destinations that have been on their bucket list “for so long”, that now they will spend what it takes.

“What we’ve learned over the last few years is you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. So they are taking these experiences. And we are used to dealing with high-net-worth clients.

“All of a sudden my clients are coming out of the woodwork, spending more than we thought they’d ever spend,” Goldman said.

Beth Washington of Getaway Guild in the US said her highest luxury travellers “are not really blinking an eye at the inflated prices.”

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Washington said the “sticker shock” of overpriced travel arrangements is being felt more by aspirational travellers who perhaps only just entered the luxury travel sector pre-pandemic.

“Those are the clients that I do think are a little bit more sticker shocked by prices right now,” she said, adding “once they’ve had the taste of an amazing experiential trip or a luxury hotel, they also aren’t really willing to go back.

“So while they may have sticker shock, for the most part, we found the pushback is maybe verbal, but they still are gonna go for it.”

Canada’s Susan Bowman of LuxeXperts noted that pricing from four leading companies in Canada were averaging between 5% and 37% up, compared to 2019, with her clients in general either taking the approach of “I don’t care what it costs” and others saying they’re looking forward to when “things start to stabilise”.

“The opposite is true though in the luxury category…they think this is normal. They are booking.

“We cannot get over what they are spending and they are not complaining,” Bowman said.

Beth Washington, Getaway Guild (Smartflyer)
Anthony Goldman, Goldman Group

So we’re seeing two different polar opposites,” Bowman said. She added that ‘sticker shock’ was coming from her repeat clients.

“If you’ve always rented your favorite villa in the next country for a certain price and you come back and it’s 40% more, that’s when you’re getting people who don’t understand and they feel like it’s price gouging,” Bowman said.

Susan Bowman, LuxeXperts
James Turner, Private 360 Travel

“It’s really hard to explain that to a consumer that just wants to go back to their favorite villa in Tuscany and they don’t understand why,” she said, adding that car rental costs are staggering. “We just quoted somebody who was going to Sicily with the family, all booked, all paid, very happy, suddenly realised they needed a van.

“$11,000 for a van,” she said, “and they took it because they couldn’t find anything else.”

James Turner of Private 360 Travel in the UK suggested to help suppress peak season demand it may be necesary to encourage changing the booking window.

“It has changed but to make that booking window bigger is our challenge because obviously everybody’s working incredibly hard. Lets try and get back to planning earlier. Let’s do the things ahead of time,” Turner said.

“The lesson that we need to teach our clients is you do need to be planning further ahead now because if you try to plan last minute it’s going to be hard to get what you want,” Washington said.

She said that since more countries have opened up to tourism in the past year the compression on destinations such as Europe, the Caribbean and Canada will ease.

“Over a year ago, we couldn’t go to Asia, South America. But now that other destinations are opening up entry requirements are loosening. We’re starting to see demand for these other exotic destinations again.”

Goldman added that the inflated prices were likely to remain for at least the next 12 to 18 months, “driven by supply and demand.

“Moving forward, I think we’ll see a norm that is probably inflated.

“Once rates increase, they’re very hard to decrease to what they were.”

“So I think over time, they’ll probably come a little bit more normal, but I think the bubble that we’re in will probably remain,” he added.

Washington added the immediate pent-up demand will eventually slow, “but I do think that the lifestyle of travel, the concept that we’ve all learned from the pandemic that you’ve only got one life to live, if you want to take the trip, now is the time to take it.”

Turner said among trends that his office has witnessed since the pandemic has been the “deep desire to spend time with family” while African safaris were being ticked off the bucket list and are in hot demand.

On the topic of what clients are looking for, Goldman said, ironically, he is seeing interest from families wanting to spend time together after being locked up for two years.

The Virtuoso Global Member Advisory Board Chairman said multi-gen and skip-gen trips were soaring, with some grandparents missing key milestone celebrations such as 70th and 80th birthdays during the pandemic, “so they’re spending a lot of money on their grandkids.”

Goldman said there was also a trend in last-minute bookings, with some clients keen to get away within three weeks, and that’s where the value proposition of the Virtuoso alliance rings true.

“We’ve never seen that before. Our advantage is leaning on our Virtuoso relationships. We could get people into the suites and hotels that weren’t necessarily available if you just looked online. So the power of our network certainly came to the fore,” he said.

Lead image: James Turner, Misty Belles, Vice President, Global Public Relations, Virtuoso and panel host; Beth Washington, Matthew Upchurch, Virtuoso CEO; Susan Bowman and Anthony Goldman.

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