The Luxury Travel Train Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso.

Hotel rates and air fares will remain high. Travel demand will continue. And you should book now if you want to travel to popular destinations in 2024.
A panel of experts from around the world spoke on 14AUG at Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, and none seemed to foresee a slowdown for booming luxury travel bookings.

Paul Tumpowsky, Founder and CEO of SKYLARK in the New York City area, said there’s not much inventory left in Italy for SEP and OCT.

Customers were booking last-minute trips not long ago, but now they’re booking multiple trips for high demand places for next year, said Jamsheed Pocha, co-founder of The Pelican Club in Toronto.

Panelists strongly suggested that agents book their clients now if they want to visit traditionally popular places such as Italy for the summer of 2024. With demand continuing to build, they also said they don’t expect a break in air fares any time soon.

“I don’t believe it’s going to come down,” said Sharyn Kitcher of Mosman Travel in Sydney, Australia. “So book it now, pay for it now, and it’s done.”

Misty Belles, VP Global Public Relations for Virtuoso, said Virtuoso studies show very high hotel costs around the world.

“2019 hotel rates have been completely left in the dust,” she said.

“Hotel rates have gone up,” said Masri. “My dog food has gone up. Everything is up.”

Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch spoke after the panel talk and said travel and tourism GDP “is going to grow at least twice as fast as the rest of the GDP in the world.”

With hot weather being so prevalent in southern Europe and elsewhere this year, Pocha said he’s seeing more clients asking for trips to Switzerland, Austria and Germany, where temperatures are likely to be more comfortable. They’re also booking more European trips in shoulder season, when the weather should be milder.

Rebecca Masri, Founder, Little Emperors, a London private members club, said she’s booking more summer trips than usual to places like Denmark and Norway.

“People don’t want to travel in Italy when it’s 48 degrees,” she said.

The panellists also discussed travel advisor fees.

“It’s important that we charge fees for what we do,” Pocha said. “There’s the question mark that comes in for the client; is there enough added value to pay for this service? You can go for $100 on and become a member and get perks at a hotel. But can you get the inside knowledge that we have? Can you be treated like a VIP when you arrive at a destination? Can you get all the little aspects we handle for you travel wise; whether it’s cars or spa treatments or experiences or thinking beyond just reservations?”

Belles said first half sales for Virtuoso were up 36% from 2022 levels, and 69% higher than for the first half of 2019.

She also said that, for the first half of 2023, sales for cruises one to two years in the future were up 106% over 2019 and up 44% from the first half of 2022.

“Cruise is stronger than ever,” she said.

Virtuoso research also shows travellers are seeking trips with more mental and physical exertion, and that there’s rising interest in expedition trips.

Belles said 70% of advisors are seeing an increase in culinary travel, “and people are willing to pay top dollar.”

Virtuoso says 35% of customers spend $5,000 to $10,000 per trip, while 47% spend $10,000 to $25,000. Another 15% spend $25,000 to $50,000 per trip.

Top culinary destinations are Europe, led by France and Italy, Belles said. Next comes ocean and river cruise ships, which speaks to the emphasis the cruise industry is putting on top chefs and unique culinary experiences, and then comes Mexico. Emerging food destinations include Portugal, Colombia, Croatia and Copenhagen.

Belles also said 94% of travellers are incorporating wellness and self-care into their trips. They also want to support local and indigenous culture and want to support gender equality when they travel and empower women and girls.

Travellers of course want a great experience, Upchurch said. “But they also want to give their money to somebody they feel good about.”

Virtuoso says the top countries for fall travel for global travellers are the U.S., Italy, France, UK, Mexico, Greece Spain, Canada, Ireland, and South Africa. The top countries for Canadians for the fall are the U.S., Italy, Canada, France, and the Maldives.

Top world countries for the winter festive season are the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, St. Barts, UK and France.

Jim Byers

Jim Byers is a freelance travel writer based in Toronto. He was formerly travel editor at the Toronto Star and now writes for a variety of publications in Canada and around the world. He's also a regular guest on CBC, CTV News, Global News and other television and radio networks.

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