International travel is proving resilient in the wake of the pandemic – but the trips look slightly different. Travellers are prioritising ‘bucket-list’ experiences, which tend to have a much higher price-tag.
Bucket list holidays are on the cards for more than a quarter (28.6%) of Australians in 2023, Luxury Escapes’ 2023 Travel Trends report found. In fact, the report, which surveyed 4,000 respondents, shows travellers are willing to spend more on travel experiences while on holiday than before (34% in 2022 compared to 60% in 2023).
But the rebound in travel is less about making up for a lost two years and more about remembering just how good travel can be, Luxury Escapes CEO Adam Schwab tells Forbes Australia. Experiential spending has simply made a comeback.
“The key trend has been the incredible resilience of international travel – this may be partly the ‘revenge travel’ aspect, but also the strength of the sector as a whole,” Schwab says.
“While travel remains a discretionary spend, it seems to be less discretionary than other sectors. We’re also seeing more travellers prioritise ‘bucket-list’ experiences while on holidays – wanting to embrace every moment of being back out in the world and travelling.”
The same sentiment is echoed by Flight Centre’s CEO of Leisure, James Kavanagh, who tells Forbes Australia that the business’ luxury department is ahead of pre-COVID in terms of travel sales. The mass market division is just ahead of the general market, and that’s largely due to the winnings in market share.
“You can see definitely that there’s been a real return of the more affluent traveler,” Kavanagh says. That’s singles or solo travelers, couples, or those traveling with an extended family or group of friends. “We’ve seen that actually take off as well.”
The type of travel they’re booking is, again, experiential. “They’re looking for experiences,” he says. “They’ve got a lot of material possessions already, so we’re seeing a lot of ticking off the bucket list.”
In light of the new trend, Luxury Escapes launched a new platform for customers seeking ultra-premium travel experiences called UltraLux earlier this month. The platform offers a hand-picked selection of what Luxury Escapes claims are the most luxurious travel experiences. There are 5, 6 and 7 star properties, once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list experiences, exclusive cruises and tours. Customers also get access to a dedicated Luxury Escapes concierge service 24/7.
The timing has coincided with interest rates at an all-time-high, but Schwab says the ultra-luxe customer is largely unaffected.
In fact, data shows more than half of Australians said cost-of-living pressures had no impact on their travel plans for 2023.
For Flight Centre, the same is true. “We’re not expecting luxury travel to be affected,” Kavanagh says. “Probably at the entry level of it, you might see some consumers potentially change their choice. But when you look at those who are less affected economically, you can still see they’re looking for experiences. It might be expedition cruises to the Galapagos or safaris through Africa.”
Luxury accommodation is also seeing a rebound. According to Doris Goh, VP Commercial of COMO Hotels and Resorts, says for many of the Group’s destinations, there are higher occupancy rates than compared to 2019. But the experience has changed.
“Guests are looking for fully-inclusive stays as well as sustainable holidays coupled with unique learning experiences like the Art of Relaxation with Kim Kosters, Michael Turek’s Leica Photography Retreat in Bhutan, Kitesurfing with World Champ Youri Zoon in the Maldives and our soon-to-be announced COMO Summer Space Camps with NASA Astronauts… to name a few,” Goh says.
“These transformative journeys are in high demand and bring together like-minded individuals to bond and build memorable moments.”