8 things to know about the future of luxury travel

Garrett Gardner

What do you mean there’s a recession on the horizon?

The world’s luxury travel sector was parked en masse this week in Cannes, France, for the International Luxury Travel Market (or ILTM) conference.

From the packed floors of the Palais des Festivals et des Cannes conference venue, you wouldn’t know the global economy is on shaky ground.

Representatives from brands like Aman and Belmond, as well as all the ultra-luxury offerings from Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Accor and IHG Hotels & Resorts, touted a promising future for the highest end of the hotel stratosphere.

A few themes were evident from this week’s line-up of presentations and meetings on the future of luxury travel. Check out the latest from Cannes.

The sustainable moment

The luxury travel sphere isn’t typically known for being best friends with Mother Nature. After all, premium seats on an airplane do translate to higher emissions per person in that higher-end cabin.

However, every major luxury hotel operator to take the press stage at ILTM this week touted their various sustainable practices.

Six Senses, one of IHG Hotels & Resorts’ ultra-luxury brands, is known for embracing sustainability. This is evident in everything from its use of local ingredients to its elimination of tiny bottles of shampoo and shower gel (and it was one of the first brands to do so).

Six Senses was ahead of the sustainability push even before IHG acquired it. Now, even global giants like Accor are moving to eliminate single-use plastics at their luxury hotels.

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The younger look of luxury

Speaking of IHG, its representatives provided an interesting statistic on the rapid demographic shift in who is filling up ultra-luxe hotels.

By 2025, 61{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} of luxury consumers will comprise Millennials and Generation Zers, Tom Rowntree, IHG’s vice president of global luxury brands, said. That might also explain why so many hotel companies are rushing to show just how sustainable they are, as polls show younger generations typically care more about climate activism.

“What we’re seeing is a democratization in buying behavior within families in as much as parents are consulting with their children, and the children [are] having an influencing factor on that parent’s purchasing behavior,” Rowntree said.

Optimism in the face of uncertainty

It seems like every day brings a new round of layoffs at major companies worldwide, but it was hard to find any nerves rattling in the convention hall.

The attendees included brands like Cheval Blanc (a room at its Paris hotel Friday night starts at $2,000). It doesn’t appear to be blind optimism, though.

An American Express and Altiant report released at the conference shows nearly 60{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} of wealthy travelers plan to spend more on travel in 2023. Only 10{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} said they planned to pull back on travel spending.

Watch your back, Hilton and Marriott

Marriott International and Hilton, the world’s largest hotel companies, both touted upcoming growth to their luxury brands like Edition and Waldorf Astoria.

However, some of the more interesting moves came from other global powerhouses like IHG and Accor. IHG focused much of its luxury growth story on brands like Six Senses and Regent, which sit above the company’s historical luxury brand of InterContinental.

Accor’s growth strategy hinges on brands like Fairmont, Sofitel and Raffles, as well as lifestyle concepts under the Ennismore banner — featuring brands like Gleneagles and The Hoxton.

Is it enough to make people ditch their Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors accounts right away? Probably not, but these are rapidly growing, formidable players worth considering next time you book a high-end getaway.

Smaller, independent and liking it that way

Points and miles devotees, like many of us, will likely stick to luxury brands within the network of a respective loyalty program. Still, it is striking to see just how many smaller collections out there are just fine with remaining smaller players with strong grips in the luxury sphere.

The Dorchester Collection — the owner of properties such as the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris, The Dorchester in London and The Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles — has nine hotels open around the world, with upcoming openings planned in Dubai and Tokyo.

Cheval Blanc operates five hotels. Belmond, one of the bigger brands of the smaller players, has 35 hotels and several luxury trains like the Venice Simplon Orient Express.

None of the leaders of these brands seemed particularly bothered by the fact they aren’t connected to a larger brand network like a Marriott or Hyatt.

Aman’s continued rise

There’s a lot of mystery to the ultra-luxurious and ultra-expensive Aman Resorts. However, a lot is happening at the company beyond its recent opening in New York City.

The company plans to launch its more affordable Janu brand next year in Tokyo. Also, there are non-hotel concepts in the works, such as a performance skincare line. The idea behind it is that you can have Aman vibes from the comfort of your own home (plus Aman already sells things like candles and fragrances).

The company is even exploring a loyalty incentive program, according to Harriet Rowlinson, Aman’s global head of marketing. Don’t get too excited by the idea of accruing Aman points, however. Rowlinson hinted whatever the result might be would lean more in the direction of experiential rewards.

The rise of Regent

There’s been a little debate in the hotel orbit about IHG’s Regent roadmap in recent years since it acquired the brand in 2018.

Some wondered how global it could become beyond its strong brand identity in Asia (though there are Regent hotels in Berlin and southwest Montenegro). IHG throttled the brand forward this week by announcing plans to reopen the Carlton Cannes next year, previously an InterContinental, as a Regent. IHG is doing a similar InterContinental-to-Regent conversion in Hong Kong.

I took a hard hat tour of the Regent construction site in Cannes earlier today and while I wasn’t allowed to take photos of what’s underway, I must say: This is going to be a major player in the luxury travel space.

Careful attention to detail in restoring the original Belle Époque design to modern glory — along with overhauling a parking lot into a lush back garden with a year-round swimming pool — will make the Carlton Cannes, a Regent Hotel, a must-stay in the south of France.

However, it should also be a sign that the broader Regent brand will be a vital asset for IHG in winning over luxury travelers. What does it do that Six Senses doesn’t? Think of Regent as the luxury brand that is going to come with much larger hotels.

“It’s luxury at scale,” Jane Mackie, senior vice president of global marketing of luxury brands at IHG, said of Regent. “Six Senses has that very much sustainability-focused design [and] a bit more minimalism. With Regent, we do have what we call unexpected harmony, some surprises in the design, and we always say that the hotel design should have 10{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} decadence.”

All aboard

The star of the entire conference was a train car from Belmond’s Venice Simplon Orient Express that was parked outside the venue.

Not only was it great for photo opportunities, but the train also comes at a time when Belmond is seeing strong growth in demand for the luxury train.

The company even plans to roll out new suites on the train next year to satisfy demand. It’s not the only one operating in the space: Accor plans to roll out its own line of Orient Express routes with restored trains in 2024.

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