Luxury Travelers Start Booking Again—and It’s Not All Domestic

Have we hit rock bottom when it comes to travel bookings? Let’s hope so.

Luxury Travelers Start Booking Again—and It’s Not All Domestic

Domestic bookings are up, but travelers are looking farther away, too.

Courtesy of Capella Ubud

Borders and hotels are reopening or announcing opening dates. Daily flights increased by 30 percent globally in May, and with more flights scheduled daily, these numbers are sure to increase again in June.

Luxury travel is coming back first, as it has after every other crisis, and it’s being led by travel advisors who have a direct line to frequent travelers. “We are starting to see travel come back, though business continues to be down 95 percent,” says Jennifer Wilson Buttigieg of Valerie Wilson Travel, which is seeking bookings for summer, fall, and beyond. She points to a large buyout of Necker Island in early 2021 as a recent highlight.

Even in a devastated global economy and with all of the uncertainty created by the pandemic, wealthy travelers can still afford to travel and consider it an acceptable risk. They’re seeking destinations that offer space, beautiful landscapes, and compelling culture, mostly—but not entirely—close to home.

“The intrepid traveler is anxious to travel again, and the focus is domestic travel right now,” says Eric Maryanov, president of All-Travel. And Will Kiburz, vice president of Coronet Travel, says, “People that want to travel immediately are doing so in the United States. The rest will come according to what borders open. I have clients booked to go to the south of France in July.”

Domestic trends: Top hotels, summer camp reinvented, and . . . a comeback for New York City?

As we thought would happen, travelers are venturing out on nearby road trips. Josh Bush from Avenue Two Travel in Philadelphia is seeing the northeast drive market heat up and has had interest in the Resort at Paws Up, Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, and Four Seasons Scottsdale. Luxury travel advisors are also booking such popular resorts as Blackberry Farm, Amangiri, and Montage Palmetto Bluff. Space for weekend stays is particularly hard to find.

Even in New York City, which might not seem like an obvious choice for a first hotel stay, luxury hotels like the Mark on the Upper East Side are reopening. Guests will be welcome beginning on June 15 and will receive the Mark Safety Kit, with a branded face mask, hand sanitizer, and gloves.

The Mark will start welcoming visitors on June 15.

The Mark will start welcoming visitors on June 15.

Courtesy of the Mark

According to the Mark’s general manager, Manuel Martinez, bookings are coming from a celebrity couple who reserved suites for a small wedding after they had to cancel their big summer wedding; families that need the relief of a hotel stay after sheltering in place together for months; and couples that need a break from their kids and homeschooling. “We’re also seeing demand from families who have left the city and need to be back for a few days. They no longer have help in their city residences, and hotel living with concierge and room service—in our case, from Jean-Georges—is a very attractive choice,” says Martinez.

Summer camp has been canceled for many of those families’ kids. But Julie Danziger and her team at Embark Beyond have quickly created a new opportunity in this crisis: private family summer camps.

The vision is for clients to travel to one of 30 top resorts across the country with one or two other families. All the kids participate in planned activities like archery, pony riding, and scavenger hunts supervised by trained counselors who have been tested for COVID-19. Meanwhile, the parents can be set up with a remote office to work, if they so choose. Prices start from $8,500 a week for a family of four, and so far “Camp Embark” has 20 bookings, including one worth $150,000. Browse resort locations and sample camp programs in Embark’s Private Destination Summer Camp brochure.

Multigenerational is trending again

After a crisis, families want—and need—to come together again. And just as we saw after 9/11, multigenerational trips are some of the first trips being booked.

Judy Perl of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel is working on several multigen itineraries—one to Rosewood Miramar Beach for a family of 9, another to Hawaii, and a third for 28 people going to Arizona in August. “We also have one amazing client—a retired couple—who has tasked us with filling up their entire travel schedule for all of 2021,” Perl says. “They’ve asked for a trip to the ’Stans, a trip on the Silver Origin to the Galápagos, as well as Japan and the Douro Valley in Portugal—and they already deposited on a trip to East Africa in July.”

Families are dreaming of Italy, too: John Galante, an independent advisor with SmartFlyer, is working on a 2021 trip to Rome, the Amalfi coast, and Tuscany for a family group of 17.

Zach Rabinor, owner of Journey Mexico, says it closed a large booking for a family flying by private jet to a villa in Punta de Mita. “The desire, demand, and dream of travel is the only thing on the mind of our clients. It is a birthright to so many. But it’s all about the personal relationships—they want to call someone who knows what’s happening on the ground,” he says.

Private islands and private boats will get travelers beyond the United States and Europe

Some Americans are betting that they’ll soon be able to travel further afield, whether by private jet or commercial. Francesco Galli Zugaro, owner of Aqua Expeditions, has several full buyouts booked for his small luxury ships that sail in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Peru. “We have a family from California booked to sail in Komodo National Park in July. If flights and borders open, as we’re hearing they will, that family will come,” he says. “They don’t want to cancel.”

The Brando, a sustainable private island resort in French Polynesia, is reopening on July 15 and has booked buyouts for weddings and birthday celebrations for families in the United States and the South Pacific. The return of tourism is hugely important for employees supported by resort destinations. “Staying home is not what anyone wants,” says Silvio Bion, general manager of the Brando. “Our employees need to earn a living, but they also want to work, and they love what they do. They miss sharing our island and Tahitian way of life with guests. Interacting with guests is a big reason why they work in hospitality, and they are so proud of their resort.”

The Brando will welcome several buyout bookings this year.

The Brando will welcome several buyout bookings this year.

Courtesy of the Brando

Capella Ubud in Bali never closed, and many American, European, and Indonesian guests have taken advantage of the resort’s Solitude in Nature package, which offered completely contactless extended stays in 23 private tents, each with its own pool and deck.

“As travel resumes, hotels that provide exclusivity and seclusion will be in high demand,” says Nicholas Clayton, CEO of Capella Hotel Group Asia. An on-property health clinic and doctor provide quick access to medical care should guests need it, and most important, guests can still experience the best of Balinese culture. A Capella Culturist arranges personalized cycling adventures, visits to local villages, yoga sessions, and cooking classes.

After all, simply being open is not enough; anyone traveling right now needs to feel that the experience is worth the effort.

>> Next: ILTM Report Shows the True Value of Luxury Travel

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