Travel industry’s ‘luxewashing’ is confusing consumers

Hurtigruten's MD APAC, Damian Perry chats exclusively with LATTE

You’ve likely heard of the term “greenwashing” used in sustainability circles. It’s the act of making false or misleading statements about the environmental benefits of a business’ product or practice. Now, an Australian travel industry expert has flagged concerns for “luxewashing” running rampant in the industry as more and more travel companies look at ways to be relevant in the luxury travel and cruise segment.

“For years we’ve seen companies fighting to use terms like luxury, luxe and ultra-luxe into the terminology of what they are doing, thinking that they are appealing to a broader audience. But they are actually missing the point of what luxury is about,” says Damian Perry, Managing Director of Hurtigruten APAC.

Speaking exclusively with LATTE in Sydney on Thursday morning, Perry says luxury isn’t necessarily about hardware and products, but the experience and encounter.

Northern Lights of Norway | Credit: Ørjan Bertelsen

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“When someone returns from a holiday to brag about their trip do they talk about the bathroom taps, their suite’s curtains or the culinary experience first, or do they focus on the highlights of the destination they visited, the scenery, the wildlife and the cultures they encountered? That’s the luxury element.”

“I feel that a lot of companies have been fighting so hard to say ‘we’re luxury’ and agents are saying ‘we sell luxury,’ when in fact that’s not their niche.”

“They don’t ultimately sell luxury. They want to sell luxury, they have the aspiration to sell luxury to their ‘luxe clients’ but 80-90% of their business is general market.”

“So there’s this luxewashing going on at the moment about being very special, very premium – but I think they’re fighting for the wrong thing.”

Is it luxury, luxe or ultra-luxury, questions Hurtigruten's Damian Perry, MD APAC

“They are fighting to say we have the nicest hardware, and that is luxury, but hardware isn’t luxury. It’s all about the experience. It’s the moment of engagement with the staff, the engagement with expedition teams, the engagement with locals, the immersion you get – that’s the true luxury.”

“I find it interesting as we’ve been going down this pathway for such a long time now, at least the past two or three years, and a travel company comes out with ‘new luxury this’ and ‘ultra-luxury that’. It just goes on and on and on.”

“But what does it mean for the market? It’s not creating any identity really because all of a sudden everyone’s luxe in some way,” Perry suggests.

“Everyone seems to have a vision or feeling that people are wanting luxe, and it’s creating a lot of confusion as people believe the luxe market if far bigger than it actually is.

“There is a great market for luxury, and people work hard and they want good value out of it, whereas most travellers want good value and great experiences, and this is where we are getting this constant churn of the word ‘luxe’.”

Dog sledding, Tromso, Norway

Perry says it has reached a point where for some companies luxe has become an obsession.

“Stay in your lane. If you’re really good at it, be really good at it. And I think a lot of companies and agents are thinking of hardware and taps and tablecloth and bedsheet thread count, when really the luxe people want to talk about is sitting around the dinner table – and that which you can’t measure – ‘bragging rights’.

Perry said Hurtigruten is heavy on experience, research, science, education, awareness, curious travellers and that’s the space it hones in on.

“We make sure our ships are beautiful, premium and comfortable. We lean that way. Our guests have a very, very comfortable journey with amazing food and great people, but every single day is focused on experiences. But to do both, and add gold taps, is not our focus.”

“We’re not making any of those claims as being luxury. If there’s any terminology of luxury thrown around by us it’s all about the uniqueness of the experience. We offer a beautifully Nordic design, premium experience, premium hardware, beautiful execution, with a real focus on the experience and the Expedition team.

“For us it’s not a battle, but it is fascinating to hear all these claims keep coming up,” Perry concluded.

Lead image: Hurtigruten’s Damian Perry, Managing Director APAC (right) with Joel Victoria, Director of Markting, APAC.

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