The future wanders of the conscious traveller… Decoding customer behaviour shift for long-term post-COVID-19 travel and wellbeing recovery...
The new reality, the new “new luxury”
I’ve been sharing views and ideas on the “new luxury” concept for quite a while now. Speaking at various events, we continued to adapt to the understanding of luxury within the context of travel and wellbeing.
I tend to say, that these two areas are so strongly interlinked, that moving between them becomes natural. Travel (and luxury travel in particular) has always meant enriching wellbeing, and maintaining overall wellbeing would naturally include travel for leisure and recharge.. At the end of the day, the notion of “experience” is what binds both of these together, and all travel professionals design product with wellbeing and happiness as the ultimate goal. Not just the simple, bottom-line client satisfaction, but the true fulfilment and that lasting transformational benefit felt for a long time afterwards.
Not a usual circumstance
Now, how do we talk about luxury or wellbeing in times of global crisis? We are facing unprecedented times. There is an overwhelming need for practical optimism as our marketing approach, especially within the industry. At the end of the day, we all know that we are facing a huge challenge, but challenges create opportunities and being both practical and positive about recovery planning is simply indispensable. Remember that fear, anxiety and worry have an ability to paralyse our performance and halt creativity. Focusing on those little acts of kindness around us (are you following #covidkindness ?), filtering available information, accepting uncertainty and shifting our mindset to more calm and positive are the essential tools to awake innovation. There is a necessity to look at the situation strategically and deploy long term adaptability and critical thinking – assessing the facts with cold scientist eyes. It is important to also accept that there might be no going back to the tourism business “as usual”. Not for a while. But perhaps that past-usual can be transformed into a new and better one.
This new perceived reality is changing customer behaviours, creating a new culture and calling for redefined “new luxury”. How will the new luxury trends change in the new world? What are the similarities and what are the differences from before to now? What are the immediate short-term needs of the “new normality” and what is the possible long term impact?
The new luxury
What is the new luxury and how does it translate into travel?
The “new luxury” minimizes expensive material purchases of fast cars, champagne, caviar or designer bags and focuses on those less tangible concepts responding to the notions of self-actualisation and transcendence – being beyond all things. It encompasses the power of transformation over just the experience, it implies a constant journey towards self-improvement and self-optimisation. It is about altruism, life and travel with purpose and meaning. It is about moving away from the idea of just “ME” and towards the concept of “WE”. It is moving away from just a pleasant or engaging life and right into the meaningful life concept.
Happiness, Passion, Contribution, Growth, Wellbeing, Sustainability, Community. Only some of the usually mentioned attributes. But in the new world, there are additional values becoming key for the new luxury consumer.
It’s dead simple: perception of luxury can be linked with the most basic model of needs, grounds of happiness research. Maslow’s pyramid of needs, the behavioural framework which has proven useful for marketing for more than 70 years.
We assume that the evolved high-net-worth customer moves upwards on the ladder and navigates the top levels of the pyramid, traditionally linked to self-actualisation and transcendence. If the more basic levels are not satisfied, it is more than natural that the individual feels uneasy and seeks reassurance in regards to the more bottom-line needs. The model still works and is not linear but highly contextual. Pandemic draws a new global context, out of control of all, including the usual luxury traveller.
But how these changes could possibly translate to the pandemic and post-pandemic environment? Let’s go through a mix of previously recognised trends which may have gained an even stronger meaning, and some of them completely new ones, products of the lockdown trends and the pandemic itself.
The time we all spent in lockdown, making sure that our own, our family’s and our community’s wellbeing comes first, has certainly taught us a lot. We hopefully got a bit of time to calm our fear and anxiety and look inwards, re-defining priorities. This time definitely strengthened the meaning of community but also changed it slightly.
Yes, in the first place we are still looking at the micro-level – family and those nearest and dearest. But in the face of the global pandemic, the meaning of community also went global. We saw amazing global connectivity. People all over the world facing the same threat. Humanity became united and gained a practical meaning. Finally, technologies started to be used sustainably and helped connections rather than create constant distractions. Zoom conference calls, WhatsApp groups, facetime, you name it. We all tracked the spread of the disease and governmental reaction across the globe. We created or maintained transient communities, not only local in the geographic sense and not only linked with demographic data. In fact, often what truly binds people are psychographics – set of believes, opinions, views.
Examples: During the pandemic, we’d form groups of believers, conspiracy theory followers or Samaritans. Brought together not by location, age group or household income but by one shared view. I like to bring a slightly unconventional example, the Burning Man phenomenon – a transient city of 70,000 party goers created annually in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. People coming together linked by similar cultural tastes, opinions, ideas, vision. In 2020 the event will not go ahead but the online community prevails with global audience linked by the same psychographics.
It is the same with the new luxury traveller. The overall wellbeing of their tribe is an important factor. So yes, perhaps travel will be more limited to micro-groups – household, couple, family and the destination more secluded, initially only local. But the opinion of the tribe and where the holiday remains key. In the post-pandemic world, community and correctly identifying psychographics of your niche traveller continue to be essential. With one come to the others. The recommendation means much more than any kind of non-organic ad.
Our new high-end client is certainly more awaken and more conscious about global connectivity and how micro-level actions have macro-level impact. Our simple behaviours such as staying at home can help globally – everyone has responsibility for the place we live and travel to. And this leads us very seamlessly to the next new luxury trend.
Sustainability has already been an important concern of any evolved new luxury traveller. The trend didn’t need too much of an explanation. Tourism industry’s actions such as reusing resources, recycling, becoming carbon neutral, employing local communities, implementing vegan dietary options etc. were basic requirements for quite a while… Those inspired by new luxury would always choose sustainable brands and responsible tourism in the first place. Perhaps they would add carbon offsetting to their flight or choose eco-friendly activities instead of usual mass tourism entertainment such as wildlife watching over aquariums and zoos.
In the last months, we witnessed the lowest levels of air pollution in cities across the globe. The Himalayas are now clearly seen from areas in India for the first time in tens of years and many usually highly polluted places experience the alpine quality of air. We saw wild animals taking over empty streets and towns. Thailand has seen the highest numbers of sea turtles in 20 years, flamingos returned to India and ‘invaded’ Albania, dolphins were spotted exploring Israeli rivers and canals in Venice.
Faced with this clear proof of our planet healing while some of the ‘normal’ but destructive human activities stop, perhaps many will ask themselves is the old ‘normal’ really worth fully going back to?
Many luxury seekers will put even more emphasis on destination’s sustainability and the only luxury tourism going forward will be the responsible one. When air travel is safe again, airlines will be put under significant pressure to develop sustainable fuel alternatives and re-engineer air travel.
The realisation of pure necessity of a deeper connection to nature is clear. Nature still is a medicine with no side effects. After weeks spent in city apartments, daily outdoor exercise was truly priceless.. What about spending a week in the pure wilderness?
In the short-term, there is a bit of paradox here. After years of fight with single-use plastic we suddenly realised that plastic and single-use are very much back in vogue… (think necessary PPE, disinfectant bottles etc.). But this is crisis planning and hopefully not a long-term solution.
The new luxury customer will still continue to choose guilt-free products and services and accept eco-anxiety as part of everyday life.
Mental and physical wellbeing were already top on the mind of new luxury traveller. In the post-pandemic world self-care and mindfulness will become a necessity.
Even in the midst of the lockdown online wellbeing saw an incredible boost with workouts, meditation sessions, breathwork and spiritual guidance becoming daily escape. If you never tried Kundalini yoga, gratitude practice or loving-kindness meditation before, it is quite possible that now you have at least seen it or heard about it.
It is quite natural that the pandemic and post-pandemic world increased anxiety levels within the societies. Fear, worry and helplessness were only some of the negative emotions triggered within the novel and absolutely uncertain environment. This is simply how neurobiology works… And the luxury customer is not free from the global impact.
That means that mental fitness will continue to be top of the list, especially for the luxury consumer. Wellbeing is all about prevention. Building immunity is linked to a holistic approach towards daily life and building healthy habits. The pandemic gave an even more special meaning to “healthy body=healthy mind” statement. Programmes to help de-stress, get fit, re-centre, find inner-peace and fight sleep deprivation will be sought after even more than in the previous years. Both the emotional and spiritual dimensions of wellness are to develop further. Seeing the Vatican recently having commissioned wellness-related global study certainly gives a message. It is all about prevention and leading masses to a healthier lifestyle. It is high time for leaders across the world to recognise that early education (i.e. inclusion of mindfulness or breathwork in the school curriculum) and recognition of citizen wellbeing (i.e. measuring society’s values by happiness levels) are the way to create a more efficient and sustainable world.
PASSION, GROWTH & CONTRIBUTION
It is absolutely obvious that the people who will travel first would be the ones driven by passion.
Have you ever heard about 20% Google rule? It is an employment idea applied by Google within the company. It allows all employees to use 20% of their work time to support a side project – something led by their passion. Google claims that putting their employees in the state of flow (which naturally would occur when we get fully involved in the task linked to passion), increases long term productivity and innovation. Passion makes the world go round. In order for the world to come alive, we need more people fueled by passion and coming alive doing things that allow them to wake up each day with a purpose. A meaning. They are the pioneers and innovators.
The pandemic reality has allowed many of us to rethink what drives us. I do not want to make a bold statement about the furlough scheme with 80% comparison but who knows… creativity often follows a mix of boredom & challenging environment. Future luxury travel will even more so be linked with passions, purpose, contribution. We have seen that helping those in need is key for global health – developing a vaccine has become a joint effort and goal. Being able to make a change will continue to be top of the list for the affluent, new luxury traveller. That translates into many different ideas – voluntourism, learning a new skill whilst travelling, niche hobby travel linked to favourite sport, movie or activity etc.
All of those were the standard new luxury attributes, slightly shifted and redefined. Now, let’s tackle to more short-term, immediate trend additions.
SAFETY & SECURITY
Reinstalling customer confidence in travel is strongly linked with brands – airlines, destinations, properties, agents, ground handlers – being able to assure the highest levels of safety and hygiene. The obsession with cleanliness will not go away for a significant amount of time and possibly far beyond the pandemic.
It is great to see fast adaptability and many creative projects already being tested and hopefully to be implemented as soon as possible. That includes disinfecting cabins at airports, drones disinfecting community areas in hospitality or monitoring crowding, cabin crew PPE uniforms, robots disinfecting hotel rooms, AI check-in/check-out kiosks, fully contactless payments and many others. Travellers will expect all transactions to be contactless and ideally digital.
The choice will certainly bring people more towards private, secluded accommodation options such as villas and apartments rather than hotel rooms.
But the security and safety measures do not limit to only immediate hygiene and cleanliness standards. We should also look at longer-term political and economic stability. There is no surprise that heavily internationally-focused destination and tourism businesses strategies will redevelop for domestic only. This is short term, it expresses national solidarity and need to boost local economies (especially in destinations usually heavily dependent on international tourism). Following staycations, one international travel feels safe, obviously, destinations which dealt with the pandemic successfully will top lists.
Finally, staying longer may also feel safer. If we already accept the risk of travel we may choose to stay longer. This especially applies to high end customer who may become more and more lured by the benefits of residential tourism and holiday residency in a destination which reflects confidence.
TRANSPARENCY – THE HUMAN SIDE OF BUSINESS
There is a growing need for brands to become ‘good’. Customers will expect total transparency and especially high net worth individuals will increasingly want to see a positive impact of the brand on local and global environments. Brand communications need to be compassionate, understanding and empathetic.
The pandemic reality called for all year long flexible policies, additional peace of mind, open and sympathetic customer service. That is a must in building trust and reinstalling customer confidence.
In fact, the peak pandemic time was/is certainly when such an approach was expected of anyone in travel. Connection through the offering of free online resources, the support given to healthcare, volunteering community and team initiatives – these are the actions which our empowered customers of the future will not forget.
SO WHAT’S NEXT – CONSCIOUS TRAVEL IS THE NEW “NEW LUXURY”
Travel in the post-pandemic reality becomes a luxury and a statement in itself. We may be facing an increase in costs of international travel and the cost of bringing back customer confidence following safety reassurances will also be notable.
One word could describe the new post-coronavirus world of travel best and it is CONSCIOUSNESS. The new luxury traveller will be more conscious and more aware than ever before.
- Conscious of the negative effect travel can have on the destination and the natural environment.
- Conscious about the threat of the spread of the virus and the need for the highest levels of cleanliness and hygiene.
- Conscious about the uncertainty of travel and uncertainty of everyday life – looking for reassurance, flexible policies and businesses’ understanding.
- Conscious of their tribe, their community and global humanity goals.
- Conscious of the necessity of staying fit and healthy.
- Conscious that mental health matters and self-care is not selfish.
- Conscious of their choice of a destination which offers security and stability.
These are certain.. in the long term. A lot more strongly depends on the evolution of the current crisis, vaccine development success, state of global economy and lifting of particular travel bans. It is clear that the pandemic will leave a stamp on everyone’s habits and decision-making patterns.
There is no going back to business as usual in a short term. I don’t think that we will be going back to the past reality, tourism will need reinvention and focus more on niche, adding meaning (the top of happiness contributors) and global prevention strategy. It needs to become more resilient and more hard-coded into healthy lifestyle and overall wellbeing.
But travel will return. The benefits of exploring other destinations, world wonders and cultures are far-reaching. Digital solutions cannot fully replace the multi-sensory experience. Being able to disconnect from daily reality is essential for overall wellbeing.
WHAT SHOULD BRANDS DO?
The future of travel brands will depend in the first place on being able to continue building trust, confidence and feeling of security in their services. Transparency about all areas of business is a basic requirement. It is about standing out from the crowd by being able to provide transformational experiences and added value to customers’ everyday life. Inspiration or dreaming stage continues key for destination choice with recommendations from community / tribe as top purchase driver – of course, countries with a better track record of containing the pandemic will be more privileged in the short term.
This is the topic for an entire new article.
About the Author
Magdalena Osmola, Marketing Director at Vale do Lobo
Fascinated by behavioural shifts, decision-making processes, neuroscience and the new lifestyle concepts. Author, speaker and consultant on ‘new customer’ behavioural trends and connecting those to integrated emotional brand strategies.