The concept of 'luxury' has evolved from bowing waiters and bling to something just as likely to mean a depth of feeling or memorable experience. Six Senses and Kirker are among a growing number of brands who now deliberately avoid using the word 'luxury', believing it has become devalued by overuse. But what is luxury?

More than a word

Luxury has certainly become all-encompassing; a catch-all concept covering everything from a personal butler on a cruise ship to a private plunge pool and in-suite massage at an African safari lodge to an overwater villa on an exclusive Indian Ocean island.

But luxury has come to mean so much more and the time is ripe for an alternative, more all-encompassing phrase. Perhaps 'richness of product and experience', well matched to an individual’s tastes or needs, is more suitable. Here are some other life-enriching terms to consider.

Barefoot luxury

Whether your clients are the high-powered rich or the less well-heeled the right setting to unwind is key. ‘Barefoot luxury’ and ‘rustic chic’ have come to describe the pared-back settings where your Champagne cocktail could be served from a driftwood bar. This often sits well with a greater focus on eco-credentials and with the wellness trend to ‘digital detox’ – a good sell for stressed-out clients.

Six Senses once used the strapline ‘No shoes, No news’ though it now prefers to highlight its local connections and strong eco credentials.

Vice President of Marketing and Communications Julia Gajcak says: “Upscale travellers are looking for authenticity and want to immerse themselves in a destination and its culture. They don't want formal surroundings and fancy ceremonious dinners… or need to acquire objects or status symbols, but instead want to collect great memories.”

She believes rich experiences and quality content, unique settings, and innovative design, are key, along with service that is comfortable, inclusive and inviting.

Experiential travel

The latest buzz phrase is experiential travel, as clients increasingly look for greater depth to their holidays. In its 2019 Trends Report, Kuoni noted a demand for holidays with a learning focus, from cooking to photography to dance.

Those with higher disposable income are also more likely to be able to tap into some of the world’s greatest adventures.

Simon Lynch, Director of Sales and Business Development for Abercrombie & Kent, says: “Whilst our clients continue to want a certain level of luxury at night, we’ve found that during the day they value experiences. Such as, for example, gaining unique insider access to iconic attractions, learning how to make pasta with a Michelin-starred Italian chef in Naples or accessing a remote part of the Amazon to meet a local tribe.”

Safari is the classic example of an experience-rich holiday that is traditionally pegged to luxury accommodation, but not all once-in-a-lifetime journeys and bucket list ticks are in locations with five-star hotels. Don’t underestimate a client’s willingness to ‘rough it’ if the pay off is special enough.

Abercrombie & Kent features Kayapo Camp, with an opportunity to spend time with a Brazilian tribe. Its camp has exclusive access for several weeks, a private chef and many amenities, but it would not be classed as classic ‘luxury’.

Lynch adds: “Our clients want to invest their money into creating exceptional memories that the ordinary traveller just doesn’t experience. Our tip for agents would be to invest the time in understanding the client’s interests, and then tailor the perfect experience.”

Exclusivity

It’s easy enough to track down a five-star hotel, but the real value an agent can add is being able to identify and access exclusive treats and special events. Operators with concierge services or niche specialisms can prove particularly helpful.

“For today's clientele, luxury travel means authentic experiences which have been curated specifically for their individual needs,” says Kirker Director, Ted Wake. “It is finding an elegant pathway to the right experiences in a chosen destination. In particular, this often involves private guides and tailor-made itineraries, where the customer is encouraged to visit a particular museum or performance that they didn’t know existed and wouldn’t have found out about without their travel agent’s encouragement.”

Kirker’s examples of added value for the culturally-minded include dinner with a musician about to perform a concert, and linking artists’ museums and birthplaces in the same region.

“These are not necessarily expensive arrangements but they are enriching. They also help agents demonstrate that they care about providing a unique service.”

Cash rich, time poor

In this fast-moving world we live in, most people find themselves increasingly short on time. So although a fortnight in Mauritius or Namibia may well be within a client's budget, it might not fit in with their working patterns.

Even the special occasion market is experiencing the trend, with ‘minimoons’,' – whereby newlyweds take a short luxury holiday – showing a spike in recent years.

Keeping tabs on quality short-haul options will help agents. For instance, Elegant Resorts and Wellbeing Escapes note that high-profile European spa openings like Six Senses’ Kaplankaya in Turkey and Euphoria on the Peloponnese peninsula are helping meet demand for a short break immersion in wellness.

Operators’ concierge services can also save clients time by pre-booking restaurants and tickets.

They may also be able to help them queue jump at popular attractions. Private driver-guides, offered by the likes of Cox & Kings, Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Regent Holidays and Indus Experiences, can help make travel seamless and maximise clients’ time and interests.