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7 Luxury Travel Trends for 2020

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SHA Mexico will open in 2021, expanding its wellness model globally. 

Courtesy of SHA Wellness Clinic 

SHA Mexico will open in 2021, expanding its wellness model globally. 

Luxury travel will never go back to the way it was before, and the travel industry—through top travel advisors, hotels, cruise lines, and destinations—has the power to lead the way.

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This was the overarching theme I came away with after attending the International Luxury Travel Mart (ILTM) in Cannes last week. In the opening session, economist Kjell Nordström called it the “fastest business model transformation since the 1850s.”

So what exactly is changing? Luxury travelers are now, more than ever before, “conscious travelers” concerned about the well-being of themselves, others, and the planet. And brands will have to change how they run their business and market their story. The backlash against plastic straws is just the beginning. According to an ILTM report, there are 22.8 million high net worth individuals with more than $1 million around the world; they represent  only 0.3 percent of the population, but they contribute 36 percent of annual travel spending ($507.6 billion out of $1.41 trillion). The choices they make shape the entire travel industry, and advisors play a big role in shaping those choices. And guess who those advisors are starting to listen to? Gen Z. According to Marriott, that generation, whose oldest members are just entering the workforce, is heavily influencing travel decisions, even if they’re not spending the money yet, and they care deeply about the planet’s future. 

When it comes to individual wellness, the idea that got me thinking was this: Will specific destinations be prescribed for various mental and physical ailments? I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty certain the remedy for a broken heart is eating pasta in Sicily. 

Here, based on the many conversations I had at ILTM Cannes, are seven trends that your partners, clients, and peers will be talking about in 2020. 

The Future of Wellness: Life Stages, Genetics, and Nature

1. Wellness for life stages: I believe there will be further research and emphasis on travel programs for women at different life stages, such as pre- and postnatal and menopause. I also think we’ll see an increase in offerings for difficult experiences, like divorce and the death of loved ones. The Extraordinary Adventure Club specializes in helping travelers through life crises. Staffed by ex-military personnel turned therapists and coaches, the company asks for a minimum commitment of six months. During that time, clients attend a retreat in Scotland and undertake two wilderness experiences; they are then sent to an undisclosed location where they must complete a challenge. Asaya Wellness, Rosewood’s expanding wellness concept (currently at Rosewood Phuket and Hong Kong), offers psychological consultations and expressive arts therapy. SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain (soon opening in Mexico and the UAE) is a gold standard of wellness innovation and offers healthy aging programs, including medical and genetic assessments.

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2. Genetics and brain health: Canyon Ranch, a legendary name in wellness hospitality, brought Dr. Richard Carmona, a former U.S. Surgeon General who now works for the company, to ILTM. He noted that genetics and brain health science is rapidly evolving and that it informs Canyon Ranch’s programs. “Everything from what you eat, how you sleep, and the people you relate to, sends a message to your genes,” he said. And working out your brain—what he calls “the brain gym”—is more important than ever. Canyon Ranch is also investing in more virtual programs to reach more people. (Think of Peloton’s success.)

SHA Wellness Clinic has pioneered different brain stimulation therapies (developed at Harvard and with NASA), like brain phototherapy, which uses different frequencies to reach neurons; and transcranial brain stimulation, which applies a light electric pinch to the brain. Both treatments are painless and aim to treat depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, addiction, and more. SHA's brain therapies are led by Dr. Bruno Ribeiro do Couto, who spends much of his time researching new technologies to support brain health. 

3. Getting back to nature: Climate change awareness has never been higher (“climate emergency” is the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year), and travel products will highlight natural beauty more than ever through outdoor pursuits and adventure trips. Travelers are filling cruises to places that might not look the same in 20 years, such as Antarctica. But even urban hotels like the West Hollywood Edition are bringing in hundreds of plants to make steel and concrete feel more natural. I think we’ll see hotels embracing lush greenery over classic floral arrangements more and more. 

Experiential Travel: From “Me” to “Us” and Lifelong Learning

4. The phrase “experiential travel” is so overused that it has become almost meaningless. But the future of travel experiences is moving from “life-changing for me” to “life-changing for others.” (Marriott calls this “social impact travel.”) This plays into the sustainability movement, but it is also a shift in how people are thinking—they’re tired of curating their lives on social media and how self-centered everything feels. But it’s not just visiting local schools and bringing supplies. Social impact travel also means mutually beneficial programs. G Adventures was the first tour operator to sign a contract with Women on Wheels, which enables women in India to become commercial taxi and tuk-tuk drivers. The drivers earn a steady income, and travelers have a safe transportation option that also offers the chance to meet local women. Tour operator Me to We has worked in sustainable development for more than 20 years and offers two types of trips in Kenya, Ecuador, India, and more: volunteer and cultural immersion. A large percentage of proceeds from the trips goes back to its We Charity. 

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5. Not all of us can return to school, but travel gives us ways to access the power of learning. Programs through the New York Times and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Travel with the Met) have been popular for awhile, but I love how cruise line Ponant is taking it more mainstream. Its dynamic themed sailings for 2020 offer the opportunity to connect and learn from the best. They feature influential and knowledgeable speakers, such as Keith Lockhart, the conductor of the Boston Pops, on a “Celebrate American Composers” cruise through New England and Canada. You can sail with the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and a former ambassador to Russia on “World Affairs in the Baltic Sea” from Stockholm to Copenhagen, talking and learning about international relations. 

Rosewood’s “Limited Edition” program curated 12 epic journeys that let guests learn from creative forces while going all out on the experiences: scuba diving at a shipwreck in the Bahamas, working with one of the best interior designers to customize your own vintage Jaguar in Paris (priced from €255,500), or designing cowboy boots in Dallas (of course).  

The Olympic Effect: All Eyes on Japan  

6. An Olympics host country always sees a slew of new luxury hotel openings— OK, maybe that didn’t happen in Sochi, Russia—and Japan is no exception. The Aman Kyoto opened to rave reviews this year. And I came away from Cannes very excited about the 161-room Hotel Mitsui in Kyoto, the only luxury hotel there owned by a Japanese company. When it opens next summer, it will have artwork worthy of museums, a stunning thermal spring spa, Italian and Japanese teppanyaki restaurants, and the opportunity to stay in Geihin-no-ma, the restoration of the former Mitsui family residence, a powerful Japanese family for centuries. 

Japan’s ski area on the island of Hokkaido will continue to grow with the opening of Park Hyatt Niseko this January and a Ritz-Carlton nearby. It’s a two-hour flight from Tokyo. “Niseko is the ski resort du jour,” says Embark CEO Jack Ezon. “Both properties will bring luxury comforts to this Japanese mountain resort.” 

Yes, it has to be sustainable. But luxury travelers “believe in travel.” 

7. Preferred Hotels & Resorts summed up the feelings of many in Cannes—its brand promise is "Believe in Travel." It's easy to get caught up in worries of sustainability and overtourism, but the belief that travel positively impacts us as human beings is still powerful.

I came away impressed by Six Senses, a brand built on the pillars of sustainability, and CEO Neil Jacobs’s commitment to innovation, down to providing nontoxic sunscreens as part of resort amenities. Jacobs noted that if everyone stopped traveling, the impact on communities around the world would be profound; it would create hardship for millions of people. It’s something to remember as we all strive to mitigate travel’s negative impacts.

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