“While ‘trend watching’ may conjure up images of near-mystical gurus and what’s #trending online, the truth is far from that. Spotting powerful emerging consumer trends is easy, once you get in the habit.”
Back in May, the car retailer Autobahn Motors opened the world’s first ‘supercar vending machine’ in Singapore. The futuristic 15-storey glass tower displays a range of cars including Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys in 60 slots; customers on the ground floor use a touchscreen to select the car they want to see. Meanwhile, April saw on-demand helicopter service Blade partner with Delta Air Lines to launch a new helicopter pick-up service for Delta passengers at New York City’s JFK airport. The service will fly travellers from JFK to Manhattan in less than ten minutes. The same month saw the Four Seasons Milan partner with Nike to offer guests their own dedicated personal trainer, available to take them on a bespoke run through the iconic city, ending in the hotel’s gym.
Three glimpses of the unceasing merry-go-round that is consumerism in 2017. And today, we’re all used to the accelerated pace of innovation that sees new products and services appear (and disappear) at lightspeed. Along with that goes the sense that consumer behaviours and mindsets change faster, more unpredictably – chaotically, even – than ever. Put together, it’s an avalanche that can’t help but feel overwhelming. How are you supposed to make sense of it all – let alone devise your own winning response in the form of your next product, service, campaign, or something else entirely?
But what if you could turn this picture on its head? What if you could turn this avalanche of information into a tool that will help you get a handle on the future of the luxury travel industry? The (not so secret) secret is that you can: by watching consumer trends.
At TrendWatching we’re obsessed with these trends. These are the trends reshaping the expectations, behaviours and mindsets of customers around the world, including luxury travellers. And while ‘trend watching’ may conjure up images of near-mystical gurus and what’s #trending online, the truth is far from that. Spotting powerful emerging consumer trends is easy, once you get in the habit. But it’s also a deeply powerful – and empowering – activity, because it will put you where every professional wants to be: ahead of the curve when it comes to the emerging desires of your customers.
The heart of trend spotting is simple. It’s about looking across industries, markets and demographics for the new innovations that are changing what customers expect, how they behave, and how they think. These game-changing products, services and campaigns rewire consumers to think and act differently. And once those new expectations have been created, they spread. They’ll eventually spread all the way to the luxury travel industry, and all the way to your door: that’s a trend in action.
So let’s look at some trends in the wild. In particular, let’s look at two big trends transforming the expectations of luxury travellers right now. The first is one we call the Quintessential Self: it’s all about consumers combining their endless search for self-improvement with accelerating expectations of premium and luxury experiences.
Our radar started blipping way back in February 2016 when we saw the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona launch a package aimed specifically at people running the Barcelona Marathon: three nights’ accommodation, personalised coaching, a running t-shirt and two spa treatments, from €2,025 for two people sharing.
Since then, we’ve seen plenty more examples of the Quintessential Self, as consumers search for the perfect combination of self-improvement and luxury – and highly shareable – experiences. January saw Maverick Helicopters launch a $3,499 yoga package that sees travellers flown from Las Vegas to the highest peak in the Valley of Fire State Park for a 75-minute yoga class. Participants wear wireless headphones during the experience, with a playlist and instructions from a yoga teacher being transmitted throughout the class. How’s that for ‘my self-improvement is more luxurious than yours’?
Physical wellness, of course, isn’t the only domain that consumers are competing to outdo each other in: think knowledge and skills, too. Tour company Abercrombie & Kent recently partnered with the New York Times to launch Around the World by Private Jet, a global tour led by expert reporters from the newspaper that takes in nine destinations including Cuba, Colombia, Myanmar, Iran, Morocco and Iceland. Traveling in groups of 50, the trip is scheduled for February 2018 and costs from $135,000 per person, based on double occupancy.
Want to apply this trend? Remember, luxury consumption has always been about the quest for status. So how can you create an experience that combines status-fuelling self-improvement with ultimate luxury? The kind of experience that says, ‘I’m smarter, more connected, more creative than the rest’ – and also allows for a great Instagram post.
Another quest that’s always been at the heart of luxury consumption? The search for totally bespoke, personalised products and services. So what’s the future of personalisation when it comes to luxury travel? One trend we’re currently tracking, called True Self, points towards the answer.
This trend is all about brands putting new forms of personal information to work to tap into the deepest selves of consumers and deliver a perfect fit that they didn’t even know they wanted. One example? London-based travel company TÜ Elite, through their flagship product DNA Unwrapped, offers travel itineraries inspired by the traveller’s DNA: customers take a DNA swab and a unique itinerary is built for them based on the results.
Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific is using the personal travel data of its loyalty programme members to create unique artworks for them – and the Singapore tourism board is pushing this trend one step further. They are currently experimenting with measuring the brainwaves of travellers in order to deliver personalised travel recommendations.
Consumers now live in a world of data-driven, algorithmically generated recommendations and services that seem to know them better than they know themselves – think the Spotify Weekly Playlist. So ask yourself: how can you tap into this deep emerging expectation of True Self personalisation by using new forms of information to offer your customers services and experiences that they might never have asked for, but are a perfect fit?
Finally, we come to a trend that is massively disrupting the meaning of the word ‘luxury’, with huge implications for luxury travel. We live in a highly connected world, in which billions around the world have access to the same ideas and information. Meanwhile, the machine that is 21st-century techno-consumerism offers us endless choice. And in most markets around the world, there is increasing celebration of difference and diversity. Combined, these changes are weakening the forces of social expectation, habit and fixed mindset that helped shape consumer behaviour in the past and made it predictable along lines of age, gender, income bracket and other demographic determinants. It’s a trend we call Post-Demographic Consumerism, and it’s playing out in the luxury travel industry in some deeply interesting ways.
Take the Grand Ferdinand hotel in Vienna and their introduction of a new category of rooms. The five-star hotel – where a suite can cost €3,000 a night – unveiled a six-bedroom dormitory that could only be booked via Airbnb, with beds costing €30 per night. Because in a post-demographic world, even student backpackers sometimes want a taste of luxury…
Meanwhile, November 2016 saw Guatemala-based tourism company Pata de Chucho offering a dining experience at the top of the volcano Acatenango. People who booked the excursion were cooked gourmet meals prepared by chefs, before spending the night at the top of the volcano. The ultimate luxury trip is a night camping on top of a volcano? In a post-demographic world of disrupted consumer expectations, for rising numbers the answer is yes! So in this post-demographic world, ask yourself: which demographic do you typically serve? Older people? Families? Solo travellers? How can you surprise them with unexpected offerings that reflect the new complexities in their tastes and freedoms in their lifestyles?
We’ve looked at three powerful trends when it comes to the future of luxury travel. However, remember: trends are nothing if you don’t act on them. Use these trends as fuel for your next offering; and even more importantly, get into the habit of looking at the new products and services that you see flooding into the consumer arena – from any industry – in a structured way. Ask yourself: what new consumer expectations is this innovation tapping into and helping to create? How can we serve those expectations? Do that, and you’ll become your own trend watcher, empowered to spot the next wave of trends and stay permanently ahead of the curve when it comes to the expectations of luxury travellers.
David Mattin in the Global Head of Trends & Insights at TrendWatching. A sought-after keynote speaker and widely published writer, David is co-author of the book Trend-Driven Innovation and started his career at The Times newspaper.