IN AN INTERVIEW FOR POSITIVE LUXURY, PURE CEO & FOUNDER SERGE DIVE SHARES HIS PREDICTIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF LUXURY TRAVEL
What unites people across continents, countries and cultures is the innately human desire to travel. As the experience economy takes the reigns of spending habits in the millennial generation, this consumer behaviour shift has become even more vital to understand, including the need to recognise that responsible innovation is fundamental for survival in a competitive environment.
Founded in 2011, Positive Luxury awards a first-of-its-kind interactive trust mark, the Butterfly Mark, to luxury lifestyle brands that not only take pride in their craftsmanship, service and design, but also care for their employees, suppliers, and work hard to protect our planet. The Butterfly Mark thus empowers consumers to choose those companies that embody luxury whilst not harming our world.
In their latest report,’The Future is Now: What’s Shaking Up the Travel Industry’, Positive Luxury seeks to understand how responsible innovation and the rise of technology are just two of the driving forces behind an industry in the flux of change. Along with other industry influencers, PURE Founder & CEO Serge Dive was asked to contribute to this report – here’s what he had to say…
What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the travel industry in the last year?
I think the biggest change we have seen is that there is a clearer and clearer desire for people to feel better connected and to have a more authentic experience. It’s less about trying to replicate city life in wild places and more about trying to reconnect with nature directly. Now we see more rural experiences; we see people turning back to villages in England – it’s quite a phenomenon now to revisit a farm, because people who live in cities have never been connected with cows and chickens. It’s less about the design, but more about the purpose of the trip and reconnecting with your loved ones and nature at large, because people realise they’ve totally lost their connection with nature.
Where do you think innovation in this sector is going to come from?
I think we will see two kinds of innovation: on one hand we will see a disruptive model, where the customer themselves can provide intelligence coming from the digital industry. If you look at Airbnb and Uber, whereby the periphery controls the centre, it will be something where random people become part-time guides for other people, or random people become part-time travel agents for other people – and that’s something we’re really seeing with the guiding business, but not yet with travel agents. I think that’s something that could really happen in the future, although travel agents who have a real relationship with and understanding of their customers will go from strength to strength.
“Innovation now is no longer innovation in terms of more technology and better design, but about almost burying it all and coming back to the essence of travel as it used to be.”
But the main innovation will be counterintuitive, because it will be based on the idea that less is more, fuelled by people’s growing desire to come back to nature, carry out a digital detox and connect with people on a personal level. So innovation now is no longer innovation in terms of more technology and better design, but about almost burying it all and coming back to the essence of travel as it used to be.
What do you think is the biggest threat to the industry?
Homogenisation and the creation of an artificial, tasteless kind of a world where everything is immaculate in design and aesthetically beautiful, but will have totally missed the point in terms of having a sense of place; a sense of authenticity; a sense of being rural; a sense of being different. There is too much homogenisation – whereby you can now go to Bali and experience fusional Italian cuisine, or you go to the Maldives and have Polynesian architecture – and everything becoming imported or exported from somewhere else just leaves the customer confused by what is what.
“A world where everything is homogenised has no character – we need to rediscover the world for its differences.”
A world where everything is homogenised has no character – we need to rediscover the world for its differences. We need to rediscover the fact that not all the places need to look like another beautiful place; they need to have a character of their own. We’re living in a place that has become almost characterless, because everyone has become an imitation of someone else.
Has eco-tourism been a big trend that has affected your business?
I think ‘eco-tourism’ is a bit of an over-used term today, because it just suggests doing a bit for the environment. But now it’s more about readdressing our relationship and our balance with nature and realising that travel plays a huge part in affecting people’s lives and communities and animal life. For us, we started by thinking about eco-tourism a long time ago; but now we’re no longer talking about experiential travel, we talk about transformational travel and the impact that it has on the future of our planet, by allowing people to reconnect with the world and reminding us of the balance we have with nature and the animal world.
It’s good that the idea of eco-tourism still exists and that it connects people with nature, but a new word should be found. First of all, ‘tourism’ is a very poor word because it’s about taking people on a tour, which is going back to the same place – we should talk more about an ‘eco-journey’ perhaps. We prefer finding a new word that is about transformational journeys that allow people to reconnect with the world and nature.
“Now it’s more about readdressing our relationship and our balance with nature and realising that travel plays a huge part in affecting people’s lives and communities and animal life.”
The biggest problem we have is that the people who go on those journeys usually live in cities and they have totally lost any kind of relationship with nature. They don’t know why they are eating stuff; they don’t realise that what they are eating is an animal whose life has been taken; they don’t know that water is scarce; they live a life of content consumption where there is no longer any set of beliefs. Consumerism and materialism have become the new gods of the 21st Century; people need to reboot their set of values in terms of what they owe to nature and the balance we should have with it – those journeys will allow them to understand that.
Sometimes people think of nature as this alien world and the city as the normal world, but we need to come to the conclusion that living in cities is a totally alien world and we need to reconnect to the real world on occasion, because we’ve lost our sense of purpose.
What is your views on intermediaries? i.e. Trip Advisor, e-bookers, Secret Escapes etc. Do you think that they have commoditised the industry or have added tangible value on an ongoing basis?
Intermediaries play a part as long as they add value in the value proposition and provide guidance for people, but obviously when they just sell something off the shelf with no explanation and no emotional connection they commoditise the product and actually create a race to the bottom.
“People have always played a huge part in bringing value – there is an idea that something handmade and handcrafted is more valuable than a manufactured product.”
Really those products need to be explained by a human being. People have always played a huge part in bringing value – there is an idea that something handmade and handcrafted is more valuable than a manufactured product. We know that the more human interaction you put to a product, the more value you create and the more you find value in using it or having it; whereas the more you digitise a product the more you commoditise and devalue it.
Going forward there will be two models: 1) mass-produced and 2) high-end and highly-crafted.
It is well documented that people want experiences. Have you seen this reflected in your business – and if so, how?
People no longer want fly-and-flop holidays. As they get richer and older they realise that they need to respond to the traditional questions of “Who am I?”, “Where am I going?”, and all these kinds of things – they can no longer live a life dictated by materialism and consumerism. They want to find experiences that really give them a sense of purpose and change their life.
“People are looking for journeys that will make them a better person and will offer them the thing that they have most lost in cities, which is their sense of connection with nature and with their loved ones.”
An experience is the meeting between a person and event – and it’s how this event will change that person, hopefully for the better. People are looking for journeys that will make them a better person and will offer them the thing that they have most lost in cities, which is their sense of connection with nature and with their loved ones; because we know that we all live with separation anxiety – with nature, which we no longer connect with, and with our loves ones, because most people in cities don’t even know their neighbours.
What technologies have been most disrupting to the travel and hospitality industries – Airbnb?
The real disruption for the luxury travel industry has yet to be invented. Airbnb is not considered an alternative to luxury travel because they are an alternative in the bedding business – so if what you are looking for is a place to have a good night’s sleep in a local neighbourhood, that’s fine; but it is not an alternative to the theatrical experience that a hotel can provide.
Have you seen an increase in the desire of wellness travel? If so, to which part of the world?
‘Wellness’ is very much a ubiquitous phenomenon, but it’s no longer about having a massage and a spa; it’s about finding an experience that will transform the way you treat and manage the most important capital that you will ever have apart from your loved ones, which is a healthy body. I think people are looking for a health solution: how to live a better, balanced life. They want to live longer and look younger, and they want to discover ideas about getting rid of the toxins that they are permanently exposed to and having a richer, better diet.
“Wellness is not a new thing, but now it’s more about how we can fulfil our own potential.”
Before it was ‘pamperisation’ aimed at upmarket women who wanted to be pampered; but now ‘wellness’ is totally pervasive, including men, which was totally unthinkable 15 years ago. People have realised that the world we live in, especially in the city, is a huge aggravation to our systems – they want to find a way to manage their body better and live a better, richer life. So wellness is not a new thing, but now it’s more about how we can fulfil our own potential.
We know that what you eat is what you are – if you are taught about the way you should be eating, about the way you should be dealing with your body, the way you should be exercising, how you get rid of toxins and tensions with massages, you will live a much better, more comfortable life.
Nowadays you can go around the world without leaving your living room – how do you see virtual reality affecting/enhancing your business and the travel and hospitality industry?
Virtual reality has always existed. You could say that a good novel is an example of virtual reality – it was actually probably a richer experience than virtual reality itself, because virtual reality allows you to have an illusion of the moment you are living, where as a book allows you to imagine the moment you’re living, so it’s a much richer, deeper experience. So, it has always existed. When Gutenberg started the printing business it was a phenomenon, but it didn’t replace – thank God – the experience of living a genuine and real experience. I think that we’ll definitely see a market of people who want to have the commoditised, illusionary version of the moment, but there will always be a market for people who want to see the real things and live in the moment in a real way. Virtual reality belongs to the world of entertainment and travel belongs to the world of enrichment – they are two very different propositions.
How do you reward consumers for their loyalty?
Loyalty is a word that belongs to 1990s’ marketing. If you delight your customers they will talk about you and they will send people to you; so loyalty points are a good way to influence your customer into following you, but if you want real love then your relationship should be based on a competition of generosity – the more you give your customers the more they will give you back. That’s the only way to keep your customer loyal, and it’s probably the only way to keep a good marriage loyal as well!
Extracts from Serge’s interview with Positive Luxury can be found in their report, “The Future is Now: What’s shaking up the Travel Industry”, which identifies the driving forces behind an industry in the flux of change. You can download an executive summary here.
Plus, PUREists get an exclusive 20% discount on the full report.