Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, predicts sweeping change across the luxury travel industry, but ultimately the rich just want to have fun.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and for the 17 million or so high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in the world, each with over US$1 million of liquid assets, there’s pent-up demand to travel in style again. Especially if they’re aged over 60, as missing out on a year of travel is a major deal.
But travelling will change post-lockdown, precisely because those with wealth have had plenty of time to rethink their lives and their needs. Their priorities will be different. Space and privacy will be at a premium, so it’s easy to see how journeys will change.
Airports will become “filtering centres” for the fit and healthy. Passengers on a plane will only be reassured that those around them are not contagious if they know that the airport has temperature-checked and tested everyone for evidence of coronavirus.
With medical advances, results can now be returned within 30 minutes, meaning that those showing symptoms can be kept in the terminal rather than allowed to proceed to departure gates.
With longer queues at airports, short-haul travel by private jet will be more in demand as guaranteeing one’s own safety bubble will be the ultimate luxury. Wealthy jet setters will demand more bespoke services at airports.
The buffets in premium lounges will be removed, making way for private butlers, while kerb-to-plane VIP services such as PS at Los Angeles International will be fought over.
With HNWIs’ desire for space and privacy, luxury urban hotels and resorts will suffer enormously as, like aircraft, they are not designed for social distancing. Instead, travellers will prefer rural and coastal properties with fresh air.
Villas and cottages will also benefit, although owners will need to invest in super-cleaning regimes, even ensuring 72 hours between rentals to ensure any bacteria has died out.
When it comes to dining, luxury travellers will seek out private chefs. Restaurants with fewer diners will be devoid of atmosphere, so HNWIs will choose to eat in their own surroundings with access to bespoke menus.
Yachts, of course, tick all the boxes, with clean air at sea and crew who have had to quarantine for seven days before guests come aboard. However, operators will need to plan to have more advanced medical equipment onboard – oxygen canisters and ventilators will be at a premium.
With “safety” the new buzzword in luxury travel, HNWIs will avoid destinations with poor-quality or under-resourced healthcare systems, as speed will be of the essence if anyone is infected. The adventure hotspots of the past, such as deepest South America and parts of East Africa, will look distinctly unappealing to those averse to risk. We can expect hospital-rating systems to be a new metric in determining where to go on holiday.
All this said, the one thing that won’t change is the need for trusted advice. HNWIs will want to rely on people with heaps of experience, who will easily be able to recommend the safest places to travel to and the best ways of getting there, so they can get on with enjoying themselves.