Top Affluent Travel Insights From ULTRA Summit 2014

Starwood's Anthony Ingham takes the stage at Ultra to talk redefining the luxury experience.
Starwood's Anthony Ingham takes the stage at Ultra to talk redefining the luxury experience.

Our sister publication Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit 2014, which concluded last week at the Park Hyatt Chicago, brought together the world’s most elite travel advisors and suppliers for an exclusive discussion about the latest research and trends in ultra-luxury or “affluent travel.”

A hand-selected group of ultra-luxury advisors and suppliers, invited for their expertise as the world’s top purveyors of affluent travel, participated in the invitation-only, three-day program, which featured intimate, prescheduled appointments, strategic networking functions and expert presentations about high-net-worth travelers, trends and business opportunities.

Ruthanne Terrero, Questex Hospitality + Travel vice president of content and editorial director, presented the results of an exclusive survey of ultra-travel advisors. A key finding was the fact that personal contact still matters in sales, as evidenced by more than a third of respondents who said they conduct 75 percent of their business by phone and in person.

RELATED: ULTRA Luxury Summit Set for 2014 (VIDEO)

Clayton Reid, president & chief executive officer of MMGY Global, told the group that traveler intent, a measure of consumer plans to travel, is “picking up very dramatically,” to its highest point since 2004. “Eight in 10 U.S. travelers are suggesting they will take an international trip in the next two years,” he said. “That is double what it was 12 years ago.”

Kate Lorenz, content strategy director for Leo Burnett Group in Chicago, provided a primer for marketing through social media. Her advice included devoting a half hour to social media in the morning and again at the end of the day. Also, she urged advisors to focus on one or two key channels, notably Facebook and Instagram, before expanding to other channels. 

John Wallis, chief marketing officer for Hyatt Hotels Corp., joined Anthony Ingham, vice president of North American brand management for St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels Worldwide and Le Meredien, to discuss how their respective companies are redefining the luxury experience.

“Transparency is the new green,” Wallis said. “We will spend less money on advertising and more on delivering the experience.” By the same token, he predicted hotels will change their traditional hierarchical organization scheme to become less process-oriented and more focused on customer experience.

Ingham said his company’s luxury hotels are being redesigned to meet the expectations of a new generation of affluent travelers who prefer a more personal, less formal experience. That effort involves retaining the historical significance of older hotels while adding modern touches including technology, but keeping it hidden so as not to detract from the hotel’s authenticity.

Kristian Anderson, senior vice president of sales and general manager, North America, for Silversea Cruises observed that the ultra-affluent “are not easily impressed” and urged suppliers to focus on “small details that are repeated time and time again.” Meeting the needs of individual travelers is more important than providing “iPad portals in every room.”

Peter Yesawich, vice chairman of MMGY Global, provided assurance to advisors in the audience that affluent travelers value time over money and that, accordingly, 29 percent plan to use advisors to plan their next trips. Their attitude is, “If I’m going to travel, it had better be good,” he said.

Moreover, 55 percent of affluent travelers want to be treated like a VIP and 53 percent are willing to pay for luxury lodging, he said, adding that the affluent traveler’s perception of value is based less on saving money that enjoying an experience that exceeds their expectations.

The synopsis of the Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit 2014 will be published in a white paper to be distributed to all attendees.