We spoke with Yvonne Verstandig, Director of Melbourne’s Executive Edge Travel + Events about what luxury travellers are seeking from their holidays. Yvonne is an expert in experiential travel – immersive experiences for travellers that enable authentic connection to a local region through its people and culture. Here, we discuss together the mindset of a luxury traveller.
They seek out experiences:
“It’s not just about the lavish hotel stays – clients want experiences. That’s where my focus is, on experiential travel.” This growing trend sees travellers desiring more from their trip. “So even for people staying in a city,” explains Yvonne, “they still want to have unique experiences and a bespoke itinerary created for them.”
They combine luxury travel with cultural immersion:
“It’s totally possible to combine a culturally immersive experience with luxury,” says Yvonne. Destinations such as Bhutan in the Himalayas featuring Aman and COMO hotels provide five-star luxury retreats by night then by day you can hike to temples and monasteries with a private guide meeting local farmers en route.
“When I stayed at Rohet Garh in rural Jodhpur, Rajasthan India, we walked the streets where local children played and one family even invited us to a wedding that day. Then after visiting a Bishnoi tribe with no electricity, we returned to the opulence and comfort of our heritage palace.”
They are open to ideas and going beyond the text-book:
For the luxury traveller, there’s a distinction between racing and touring through a place, ticking off everything from a must do list – and really taking one’s time.
“A text-book experience for many is going to see Angkor Wat in Cambodia at sunrise – but you’re there with everyone else. I’ll suggest to my clients why don’t we do it slightly differently – visit at sunset and instead spend the morning visiting one of the many orphanages or giving offerings to the local monks and receive blessings in return. Travelling is more, in my mind, about really feeling a destination and immersing yourself in a local community, getting involved and going beyond. You can go to Nizwa in Oman and see the old citadel. Sure, you might tick it off your bucket list, but if you visit on a Friday you can experience the Nizwa goat market and feel like you’re stepping back into biblical times.”
They take advantage of the benefits of booking with a specialist agent:
Any style of travel, regardless of budget, involves plans sometimes going wrong – cancelled or delayed flights, political or weather storms, to name a few.
“For the luxury traveller there’s general expectations of wanting their hand held and having accessibility to us all the time. I’ve had calls at 3am because somebody’s flight was cancelled. My personal clients have my mobile number. That’s the service – to be available 24/7. Between the three partners at Executive Edge and our Corporate Manager, we personally attend to our phones after hours. Some companies outsource that service but we do it ourselves.”
No request is too small or too large:
Customer preferences can vary widely among luxury travellers. Yvonne says that while typically her clients want to be met at the air bridge and shuffled through immigration quickly, beyond that there are different requests.
“One of my luxury clients isn’t an intrepid traveller wanting to veer off and prefers I book every spa and restaurant during the trip. I also have clients who only want to stay at a luxury brand five-star hotel with a huge gym and all the equipment. Then there are clients who still want to travel first class but stay in a hidden boutique gem. Others desire the family holiday of a lifetime and would only trust their travel advisor to design the perfect itinerary using a multitude of on-the-ground resources.”
Yvonne recalls a recent challenging (but rewarding) trip she organised for a client to Africa. It was a multi-generational three-week journey including 22 people –grandparents, their four adult children and the grandchildren ranging from 1-21 years old.
“After a year of planning, it was the trip of a lifetime with unforgettable memories for all three generations.”
They may research but they don’t rely on the internet alone:
The internet can be an important source of inspiration and practical advice for travel planning. Though when it comes to actually booking the trip, many people at the luxury travel end prefer to book with a reliable and trustworthy luxury specialist agent.
“People ask me if I find the internet to be a problem, but it’s not. The internet can be a great resource for general information but when it comes to creating bespoke itineraries, there is no comparison to a luxury travel designer’s service. Our team have travelled to every corner of the globe, so between us we can provide personalised advice. Then we go a step further – we curate experiential travel itineraries using local specialists via our connections on the ground. We know our clients’ travel needs best and they rely on that knowledge and our insider perspective. Our clients also benefit from of all our exclusive hotel memberships and the Virtuoso network which brings added amenities and upgrades, which you cannot receive via the internet.”
They seek out deeper layers:
Experiential travel at the luxury end may not always be about going somewhere entirely new to tourism or an exotic destination – it can also be about looking at favourite locations through different layers.
“People are wanting to go deeper and see more of a country. One of my favourite cycling companies, Butterfield & Robinson’s motto is “slow down to see the world” which exemplifies what I’m talking about. Instead of simply seeing the sights of the Netherlands, you can cycle through tulip fields on two wheels and meet locals along the way.”