From the source: Mike Harlow, Scott Dunn The GM of the luxury travel business discusses consumers’ return to more meaningful trips, providing the unique experiences that people want, the meaning and appeal of the emerging transformative travel trend, and how to offer the services that appeal to high-end Asian consumers. Inside Retail: Can you discuss the revenge travel trend, and how it has impacted the luxury travel sector, especially in the Asian market? Mike Harlow: The revenge travel trend
vel trend was a result of pent-up post-pandemic demand and was characterised by the high volume of trips that were happening once borders opened, to make up for lost travel time during the pandemic, especially short-haul trips. But this has now tapered off, with guests in Asia, in particular, looking for immersive and transformative travel experiences going into 2024. We see guests spending longer in destinations, and peppering itineraries with learning experiences, signifying their desire to delve even deeper into the cultures and places that they visit; for example, in Japan, a highly popular destination for guests, we see requests to meet real experts in niche fields, such as a bonsai master. We also often get requests from guests travelling to Europe to have experiences with expert art curators and academics accompanying them to cultural sites, like museums or archeological sites, to give them keen insights into the locations that they visit. IR: As luxury travellers continue to check off their bucket-list experiences, what unique and exclusive offerings do you provide to cater to the demands of this audience? MH: Travel is deeply personal. At Scott Dunn, we know that better than anyone else. We specialise in making travel unique to each individual guest, and all our trips are tailored down to the finest details, which are often small, but highly personalised. These can range from ensuring that a guest’s favourite drink is offered on arrival, or something bigger, like co-ordinating a surprise meal to celebrate an occasion with a guest’s favourite music being played, and with handwritten messages from family members. Some of the other experiences we’ve organised for guests include exclusive opportunities to cater to their individual interests. Thanks to our relationships and connections that we’ve fostered throughout our years of close work with suppliers and industry experts, we have organised many unique experiences for our guests: For example, for a guest who loved art from a particular region, we organised a private viewing with a group of up-and-coming local artists, and for a group with a keen interest in photography, we arranged for them to be accompanied by a renowned photographer to teach them all the tricks of the trade – and to snap some memorable photos. One of the more unique and exclusive offerings that we have been able to provide is privatising key landmarks and sites around the world, giving our guests a chance to experience these truly incredible places in privacy and at their leisure. We had one guest who was very keen on ancient Egypt, and we managed to privatise an entire pyramid structure where they enjoyed breakfast at sunrise. Later, we had a world-renowned researcher join them and take them on a personal tour of the structure. The Louvre is another location that we’ve been able to privatise. We’ve done an exclusive after-hours private tour of the Louvre with an expert curator. IR: Transformative travel seems to be an emerging trend. How do you incorporate this concept into your luxury travel experiences? MH: Transformative travel is definitely a trend we see among luxury travellers for the new year. What we mean by that is that guests are increasingly seeing their trips as a time they can use to develop their own special interests – so their holiday becomes a transformative experience for themselves. We see guests incorporating this concept especially in hyper-specialised areas. That means they’re choosing to focus on different aspects of their holiday – like history, culinary arts, wildlife conservation, and even ancestry – as a means to further immerse themselves into the region to which they’re travelling. Ultimately, we always try to get to know our guests and what they want on their trip. We work closely with them to make sure that we tailor every aspect of the trip to them, to really get all the nuances of what they want to achieve – and then we make it a reality. Another key trend we see amongst luxury travellers is that when families travel, the kids are playing an even bigger part in the decision-making process – where to go, what to see and do, and so on. One family we recently planned a trip for had a child who was learning about the tribes of Africa in school and was very keen to learn more. For them, we arranged for a visit to a traditional Maasai village, where they were able to interact with the tribes people and see firsthand their way of life. Another very special experience was arranged for a guest who loved rhinos. Her safari trip happened to coincide with Rhino Conservation Week, and we successfully arranged for an incredible up-close experience for her: She got to tag along with conservation rangers as they tracked a rhino, and she was able to personally touch a rhino and tag it while monitoring its breathing. We’ve got some really positive feedback from our guests. All of them really love these personalised touches, and they’re delighted by the surprises that our travel consultants have planned for them. IR: With the increasing interest in sustainability, how are you addressing the environmental and community impact of luxury travel experiences? MH: Our goal is to leave a positive imprint on the world, to travel responsibly and to tread lightly wherever we may go – both in the workplace and the destinations where we visit and bring guests. We have a people-centred approach to sustainability: We work only with partners and suppliers who have ESG policies that align with our own commitments and values. The heart of our responsible travel strategy is community. That manifests in the form of giving back to communities in destinations where we send guests, through working with locally owned properties or businesses and offering experiences that foster inclusion and understanding, our trips aim to support local communities at every possible level. We also have several long-standing charitable partnerships through the Scott Dunn Charitable Fund. Money raised through this fund goes directly to the charity projects with which we partner. One of the partner beneficiaries we’ve worked with since 2011 is Mary’s Meals, a global charity that provides much-needed food and nutrition to about 2 million of the poorest children in the world. These children are given meals in exchange for attending school. The hope is that education will help lift them, and thus their communities, out of poverty. Another beneficiary is Tree Sisters, whose mission is to accelerate tropical reforestation. We donate directly to Tree Sisters, which plants trees on our behalf to offset emissions for every guest and staff trip. A parallel initiative that Tree Sisters runs aims to educate and empower women in local communities by working with female-led organisations. Additionally, we shortlist myriad eco-friendly hotels across the globe, showcasing that sustainability and luxury are not mutually exclusive. These hotels run the gamut, but are broadly designed, built and run with nature in mind. Lastly, we also offer carbon off-setting options to guests who are keen on such initiatives. IR: What unique aspects of the Asian luxury travel market have you observed, and how does your company tailor its services to the Asian market? MH: For the Asian luxury market, food is an especially important and integral aspect of travel experiences. Many travellers in the region are big foodies and are very keen on unique gastronomic adventures. We also observe that on long itineraries, their taste buds tend to get a little ‘homesick’. So on longer trips, our team is always sure to include the option of familiar Asian cuisine for guests. Beyond food, the Asian market also looks for personalised, highly detailed itineraries and experiential offerings that hold significant appeal. These can range from culturally immersive experiences and exclusive access to landmarks and experts, to the unique gastronomic adventures I mentioned above. Convenience is also a big factor. Asian luxury travellers prioritise convenience during their trips. We offer them seamless, high-quality transfers and vehicles. In a similar vein, they value fast and efficient on-the-ground responses and support, which we are able to provide; since Scott Dunn has headquarters all around the world, we always have teams available 24/7, so if a guest needs someone to speak to, they’ll always be able to reach one of our travel experts. This enables them to travel with full confidence and peace of mind with us. IR: How do you see the luxury travel landscape evolving in the coming years, and what trends do you anticipate will shape the industry? MH: As mentioned earlier, we see that the revenge travel trend has tapered off – travel, especially in the luxury sector, is becoming more thoughtful and measured. This means trips may be less frequent, but are more meaningful, in that travellers want to head out for longer and more immersive, in-depth trips. Driving [demand for] these trips is a greater incentive to travel, and for guests to see as much as possible. Likewise, travellers are looking to head out further afield, to far flung destinations and bucket list-type trips. This can mean long trips to Central and South America – where guests are keen to see the mysterious salt flats in Bolivia and Chile’s ethereal Atacama Desert – or even Rwanda, where gorilla trekking remains one of Scott Dunn’s most sought-after guest experiences for 2024. IR: Can you share insights into the preferences and desires of High-Net-Worth and Ultra-High-Net-Worth travellers in the Asian region? MH: As mentioned above, luxury travellers in the Asian region put a large emphasis on hyper-personalisation, seamless logistics, and attention to detail. They also value privacy and discretion. Another thing we see that they desire is unparalleled access to ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences. For example, like I mentioned above, privatising an entire pyramid structure for breakfast at sunrise, or private visits to an important shrine in Kyoto, where guests can go behind the scenes to visit areas usually off limits to the public for a private tea ceremony. These are just some of the exclusive experiences that we can arrange, thanks to our extensive relationships with suppliers and key industry experts around the globe. IR: In the context of post-pandemic travel, how has the luxury travel sector been affected, and how do you plan to navigate the ongoing challenges and opportunities? MH: We predict that costs are likely to remain high, particularly for air travel. Availability also remains an issue, and we always recommend our guests book in advance where possible, to secure the best flights, accommodation, guides and experiences. Additionally, since we always want our guests to have the best experience when they travel, we sometimes recommend they visit a destination during an alternative time if availability becomes an issue, or to pivot and visit another destination that may be able to present a better travel experience during the time frame they want.