In a post-covid world, luxury travellers seek connection & meaning

It’s a movement that is showing no signs of slowing down: travellers want more – mentally, emotionally and physically – and in 2024 travel operators are giving the people what they want

In the decade leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift began to occur in the global travel industry. More people were travelling than ever before, and more people were taking luxury holidays than ever before. But many of these travellers, both emerging and seasoned, were not particularly interested in white glove service, 13-course degustations and days spent darting from designer store to designer store. Instead, they were asking the concierge at their boutique hotel in Tokyo where they could find the best ramen in the city; or in Berlin, which route to walk to discover the most impressive graffiti art.

In 2024, it’s safe to say the days of skimming the surface of a destination are, like the pandemic, firmly in the rearview mirror, and it’s making for the most exciting time in the history of travel for jet-setters and travel operators alike.

Meaningful journeys

“[After] what everyone’s been through over the last few years, travel matters more now than ever,” Fiona Dalton, former General Manager, Australia-New Zealand of luxury travel advisor network Virtuoso, tells me. “It’s important that clients feel a sense of connection to the place that they’re visiting, that they understand the story and feel part of it,” she says. “Because it’s the story of the place that connects travellers – otherwise it’s a meaningless image.”

Fiona explains that the incredible appetite for authentic experiences, that the Virtuoso network of travel advisors is seeing among its clients, goes even deeper than you would think: these people want to expand their minds. “Our travellers are telling us that it’s extremely important to them not just to enjoy the experience but to really learn from the experience. “Learning is very sensory,” she adds, “so it’s not just seeing it, it’s hearing it, it’s touching it, it’s feeling it, it’s tasting it.” Whether it’s donning a traditional kimono and joining a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, or walking on hot coals in the Kalahari Desert, people want to push themselves out of their comfort zone.

“High value travellers want more exertion – not just physical exertion, but mental exertion. I think they genuinely want knowledge, learning, and understanding. It’s about challenging themselves to become better humans,” Fiona says.

Thankfully for travellers, there is no shortage of authentic travel experiences, now on offer around the globe, that spur on personal growth. Travel operators are responding with gusto, crafting novel (and fun) at worst and, at best, life-altering experiences to cherish for a lifetime.

Less stuff, more experience

Senior Vice President, Global Operations at Virtuoso, Michael Londregan, says the pandemic was a pivot point for many, drawing a line in the sand between a ‘product-centric luxury travel industry’ and a new one defined by experiences. “I think people reset their life planning. They thought, ‘what are the things that are really important?’ It’s the end of us being able to say to people, ‘you’re going to love this because it’s made of marble and brass’, ‘you’re going to love this because it’s got 2000 square feet of floor space.’ It’s no more about product. It’s how personalised it is.”

Indigenous immersion

Given many travellers are now choosing their holidays based on the richness of experience and sense of connection that can be gained, it’s no surprise that Indigenous tourism is on the rise. According to the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, indigenous tourism has been the fastest-growing tourism sector in the country, while Tourism Research Australia has reported that 2.5 million local and international visitors took part in an Indigenous tourism experience in 2019 – a 42% increase over 2013.

The message – states trend reports from Virtuoso, Globetrender and others – is clear: to get to truly know a place, we must look (and listen) to its Indigenous peoples. Through Indigenous tourism, travellers are given the opportunity to form a deep connection with the destination they visit, by fully immersing themselves in the way of life of its native peoples – if only for a brief time.

“High value travellers want more exertion – not just physical exertion, but mental exertion.”

In Canada, First Nations business owners and guides are partnering with tourism boards and travel advisors throughout ten Canadian provinces and three territories, directing visitors to national parks and cultural sites where they can learn about the destination from native artists, naturalists and spiritual guides. And on home turf, more than 160 tours focusing on Aboriginal culture take travellers deeper into both our cities and farther afield, to sacred sites such as Uluru, and the Pilbara in Western Australia.

In Tasmania’s Bay of Fires – a 4-day/3-night Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples) -owned-and-led guided experience called the Wukalina Walk immerses guests in cultural activities, bush tucker and traditional foods. In this small group (less than 10 people) tour, guests are led, on foot, by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander guides who possess thousands of generations of Ancestral connection to the knowledge they share. “Wukalina Walk will deepen and expand your understanding of, and appreciation for, our culture and our strong community here in Lutruwita (Tasmania),” the tour’s website reads.

As Globetrender’s Travelling with Purpose: Milestone Motivations & Luxury Travel Trends states, “Not only does [Indigenous tourism] facilitate a mind-expanding experience, but it also provides a genuine opportunity for cultural exchange that goes both ways, in a way that a one-hour shopping trip or homestead tour simply cannot.”

Wholistic sustainability

Indigenous tourism is also a natural extension of the sustainable travel movement. After all, sustainability is about protecting the planet, and a big part of that is protecting the planet’s indigenous cultures. “If you go back to that word ‘sustainability’,” says Fiona Dalton, “it’s so much more than protecting the planet. It’s about preserving the cultures. It’s about investing in those local cultures. It’s about supporting those artists to really keep their traditions and heritage.

“I think about some of the European artisans – the people making the tiles by hand in Portugal; the flamenco dancers in Spain; in Italy, some of the traditional foods that they’re making, they’re all disappearing. And unless less we go deeper from a cultural perspective, we’re at risk of losing those things, too. Outside of protecting the planet and its wildlife, those elements of a history and culture are critical… these are the things that matter.”

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