What is experiential luxury travel?
There’s luxury travel and then there’s experiential luxury travel.
From the beginning of The Cultureur, staying true to my travel style of luxury travel and local culture, I have maintained that both facets are equally important to me and comprise my ideal way of travel. In fact, every travel experience of mine is fueled by my interest in the finer things in life, my adventurous spirit, my social awareness, and my craving to understand the disparate cultural fibers that make up our world. Well, there’s a name for that kind of travel — it’s called experiential luxury travel. It also falls under the umbrella of sustainable tourism/responsible travel.
Having traveled around the globe extensively in the past decade, The Cultureur is an organic convergence of my interests, experiences, and passions that has fueled an insatiable appetite for not only the finer things in life, but also the hidden gems of a destination’s local culture. From the grand aesthetics of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris to the aromatic flavors of street food in Mexico City, The Cultureur bridges the richness of both worlds into a redefined idea of luxury, effortlessly maneuvering through the satisfaction each brings and appealing to the millennial audience that values experiential luxury travel.
The concept of experiential luxury travel is somewhat elusive, but not new; however, it has only recently gained momentum and received its prime spot in the travel limelight. And we have millennials to thank for that. It’s no secret that millennials, from travel entrepreneurs to trendsetting tastemakers to curious consumers, have reshaped and revolutionized the sphere of travel, luxury and otherwise. We have harnessed the powers of influencer marketing, social media, and other technologies to change everything from how we choose destinations to visit to how we share information about our trips. According to The O Group, millennials are known to be the most demanding luxury consumers, and unsurprisingly so. We travel the most out of any demographic and are willing to shell out on experiences with no plans to stop in the future (MMGY Global). It is largely due to the seismic generational shift in the way expectations and preferences are managed across the different age groups. If you consider the ways in which older consumers interacted with the luxury travel market, it is remarkably different from our preferences, in that we prefer our wants to be tended to seamlessly—ideally remotely and before the need even arises—instead of expecting to be waited on by an always-present personal concierge. There is a focus on personal discovery, expression, and growth instead of an ostentatious display of wealth for others to envy as it once was. With that said, consumption of experiential luxury travel, though it resonates profoundly with the 20s and 30s crowd, is gaining strength from all age ranges.
For me, experiential luxury travel elevates luxury travel to the next level. While there’s a place for the decadent luxuries of five-star resorts, chauffeur-driven cars, high-end consumer brands, personal concierges, first-class flights, and Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s also immense value and appeal in boutique design hotels, taxi services such as Uber, crafts of local artisans, crowdsourcing itinerary suggestions, meaningful interactions with locals, learning the back stories of local brands from the creators themselves, and less-than-glamorous, but authentic culinary adventures. It’s substance with style. It allows you to take your experience beyond white-glove service and transcend the social demarcations that once created the purported divide between luxury travel and local culture, fueling a form of transformative travel.
[ictt-tweet-blockquote hashtags=”luxurytravel”]Experiential luxury travel is substance with style.[/ictt-tweet-blockquote]
We all pursue our wanderlust for different reasons, and I can only speak for myself when I say that personal growth in all its forms is the primary driver for my travels. It’s about becoming a more informed global citizen and giving back in a meaningful way. So while you might find me at the most luxurious suite at the Ritz London or Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago, you will also find me on a safari through Uganda or teaching English in the slums of New Delhi. As such, luxury to me is the ability to feed your needs in their entirety, whether physical, emotional, or intellectual. At the core of experiential luxury travel are the tenets of authenticity, exclusivity, and enrichment.
Another key component of experiential luxury travel for me is being part of the process instead of the mere result. It’s one thing to be presented with a beautifully crafted meal that’s bubbling with creativity and innovation, but it’s another thing to gain exclusive behind-the-scenes access and speak with the mastermind behind the dishes and learn about the process from start to finish. As someone who’s incredibly curious by nature, it’s far more rewarding to me to delve into the stories of the farmer who supplies the produce to the market, the local artisan who sells her hand-made jewelry to put her daughter through school, the corner shop owner who is a fourth-generation cheesemonger — it’s about humanizing experiences and brands.
No matter where you look in the digital travel sphere, new sites and apps touting the local experience are springing up like ninjas. With tag lines such as “Live like a local” and “Tourist no more,” the experiential preferences of millennials are becoming the focal point around which brands and companies are marketing their products and services. You find Instagrammers sharing not only colorful photos of their travels, but also short stories and poignant anecdotes of their experiences, be it a memorable interaction with a local or the history behind a cultural dish they’ve just tried.
Though there are plenty of other contributing factors, I attribute the rise of experiential luxury travel to one main reason: globalization and technology have led to the homogenization of cities and urban centers, so there’s a heightened craving for authenticity and a strong desire to peel back the layers of local culture that have now been shrouded by mass tourism.
The irony of it all is that our level of connectedness, that is, technologically, is unprecedented, yet we crave human intimacy and meaningful community like never before. Perhaps that’s another reason that explains why millennials love to delve deep into a destination’s local culture to uncover its hidden gems and favor experiences that involve interacting with the local populace and supporting the local economy whenever possible.
I don’t consider experiential luxury travel a trend; it’s a lifestyle. It’s an extension of your perspective on the subtleties and complexities of life. Calling it a trend also suggests that it will disappear at some point. Rather, the idea of experiential luxury travel is sure to evolve over time, and given its adaptable nature, we’ll continue to see the consumption of exclusive and enriching experiences in phases, especially as more millennials reach their earning potential in the coming years.
Instead of trying to reconcile the two spheres of luxury travel and local culture, understand that they’re not mutually exclusive.