Quick Takes on Travel: Part V


Europe’s Luxury Travelers: Outliers or Trailblazers?

As we look toward the path to recovery in the United States, there are other perspectives to consider in the UK and the EU. Amanda Hills, Partner and President of MMGY Hills Balfour, shares her insights on what the rebound will look like among high-value, high-impact travelers in the luxury market as we anticipate European borders opening up in the coming phases of recovery.

Within the European market, what predictions do you have about travel spend as we move toward recovery?

Every economic shock leaves a legacy, and we expect that COVID-19 will leave its mark across Europe and across the globe. That said, while consumer spending behaviors will change significantly and economic recovery will be slow, all of our research suggests that travel will come back quicker than many other industries. Going forward we anticipate value and safety to be paramount, but we’re also seeing an increased demand for luxury holidays.

We often talk about regional and drive-market travel, but how far are European luxury travelers willing to go?

The luxury travel sector is actually doing really well. There’s a lot of demand for things like villas, smaller hotels, chalets and lodges. Families that have been apart are booking multigenerational travel. We’re seeing private planes being chartered. While a lot of consumers are traveling within the UK and Europe, many of our African clients are getting bookings. We’re also seeing bookings for 2021 in luxury destinations such as Mauritius, the Maldives, Seychelles and also in Dubai. That’s coming through because people feel like when they go they’re going to make it count. 

Is this the time for marketers to push that trip of a lifetime?

Absolutely. I think the trip of a lifetime is going to be really important in this market. One thing we all know is that it’s not going to be cheap; it’s going to be valuable. We anticipate that prices are not going to be cheap, so people are going to make sure it’s a very special event when they go. Some really interesting research has just come out from the European Commission saying the borders are going to be lifted probably earlier than we anticipated. So people will be allowed to travel within Europe, which is important because that’s moving from domestic travel to pan-European travel.  

How do you see the luxury travel experience evolving?

People will be prepared to pay more of a premium when going on holiday. They want to feel that they’re safe and secure, and that is absolutely worth the investment.

Do you have a sense of when the resilient luxury traveler may return?

In the luxury space, I think recovery will come as soon as the borders are open. There’s pent-up demand, and people have disposable income. They’re already booking wherever they can, and we’re anticipating the demand will follow just as soon as the airlines allow that to happen. Cruise lines have already done themselves a massive service by offering people either a full refund or rebooking for additional value. A lot of luxury tour operators are also seeing a surge in bookings going into 2021. We’re anticipating that in the luxury sector we’ll have a good 2021.

How can destinations instill a sense of confidence like the cruise lines have been doing?

We’re making sure that every destination is talking about complying with government advice. We are conducting travel agent webinars across Europe, and we have never seen such takeup. They’re becoming so much more confident in selling the product that as soon as flights come back, the destinations will be ready to go.

What kind of travel content are people consuming right now?

One of the really shining examples is Brand USA’s GoUSA TV, with programs all about America. We’ve been working on various campaigns to highlight this, and we’ve had a phenomenal response. People are now sitting down with that kind of armchair experience in parts of the U.S. they never would have thought about before.

What are the most important outlets to push out this content?

We’re seeing a massive growth in social and digital marketing. Brands need to respond quickly, so this marketing can be turned on and off and weighted up and down according to prevailing marketing conditions. We’re now doing campaigns across 20 European countries and it’s never been more affordable to reach so many audiences. What we’ve noticed in everything we do to resonate is that we need to be creative; we need to be brave; and we need to stand out. Because right now people are starting to think, they’re dreaming, and they’re getting ready for the moment when they can book. As soon as the borders start opening, there will be amazing prices so there will be this incredible demand for the people who are willing to book early.