Is the virus-free bubble the future of luxury tourism?

“With the possibility of renting a private yacht or a secluded chalet on a glacier, the luxury tourism market has all the assets to appeal to travelers tired by the coronavirus crisis. Will the demand for isolated places become a problem? legacy of the pandemic? And what other changes can we expect? “

For some companies, the coronavirus crisis was a gold mineeven in a hard hit sector like tourism. So, what do you think of a 300% increase in turnover during the year 2020? This was the case with Sheldon Chalet, a small hotel located on a glacier in Alaska, in the shade of the majestic Denali Peak.

3.500 $

The “virus-free” Sheldon Chalet costs $ 35,000 for three nights.

The luxurious chalet is so isolated that it was granted a waiver and was able to remain open to the few visitors able to afford helicopter transport. A chance that the wealthy travelers did not miss when the world was confined. Homeowners were able to raise prices exorbitantly and offer the ultimate luxury in this time of pandemic: a whole hotel for a bubble of customers. Renting the five rooms for three nights costs a whopping $ 35,000 for two people, but they should not be afraid of being contaminated by other visitors.

Luxury has always been synonymous with exclusivity. You pay a premium for being the sole beneficiary. Today, luxury tourism is ready for this type of traveler “, explains Alexandra Avila, founder of REYA Communication, a public relations specialist in the luxury tourism sector. or private ranches, or the Sheldon Chalet – a REYA client -, people are willing to pay a premium for a vacation in perfect privacy, continues Alexandra Avila. The Sheldon Chalet is fully booked until October. “This is the difference from the financial crisis of 2008. Today people have money, but they cannot spend it because everything is closed.” With the exception of one cabin in Alaska.

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We are adopting a more responsible mode of travel. Healthier, slower, more meditative, with the pursuit of new hobbies.

With the gradual reopening of economies and borders, the tourism sector begins to revive. The luxury segment should be the first to take advantage of this return to a form of normality and should gain market share in the long term, say the specialists. Luxury accommodation, such as private islands and private jets, allows you to respect “bubbles” and is more attractive to travel enthusiasts.

Distant destinations are becoming a new trend“predicts Alexandra Avila.” How far can you go for live an experience far from the crowds? You are not starting from the hotel offer, but from the desired experience. Like a safari, where you will have your own camp built and where you will be alone in the jeep with your family. Or a private yacht that will take you wherever you want, far from hotels and other tourists. “

Mass tourist

We are far from mass tourism, which will need more time to regain health. If it only depended on the tourism ministers of the southern European countries, mass tourism could even disappear. They took advantage of the coronavirus crisis and money from the European recovery fund to reposition their tourism offer towards a more affluent class who spends more and stays longer than a long weekend. This strategy is part of a general ambition of make tourism more sustainable and fight against “overtourism” that we meet in cities like Barcelona or Venice.

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Tent accommodation at Macatoo Camp (African Horseback Safaris) in the Okavango Delta in Botswana
© Â © Roger de la Harpe

“We move to premium tourism“, the Spanish Minister of Tourism told the Financial Times. In Italy, the government is betting on more sustainable tourism, with the first result ofban on large cruise ships in Venice. Greece’s tourism minister expects tourists to prefer less-traveled destinations for another two to four years and believes this increased focus on health will carry on for a generation.

Business model

If this transformation succeeds, it would be one of the lasting consequences of the pandemic for the tourism sector. But Jan van der Borg, professor of geography and tourism at KU Leuven, is skeptical. “Last year, I took part in a debate which postulated that the tourism sector had the necessary time to reflect on its profitability model. Everyone agreed that it had to become more sustainable, more qualitative, of longer duration and with more security. in reality, everyone has only one desire: to get the train back on track as quickly as possible and then to see if there is room for sustainability.. It’s understandable in a way, but it’s a shame that we let this momentum pass, “says Jan van der Borg.

Another new trend is to telecommute from a foreign country, while enjoying the local atmosphere.

The professor also has reservations about the ambitions of Southern Europe. “Quality and luxury tourism are two different things. You should not only look at the income, but also the total cost to society, and in this case, luxury tourism is not the most valid option. By quality tourism, I mean, for example, young travelers looking for a cultural added value, who may spend less, but who place more importance on the social structures of their destination, the local society and meaningful discussions with the population. This is very different from the bubbles that are the exclusive holiday villages, with golf course, the maintenance of which is not sustainable. “

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Luxury tourism also has a reputation for placing more importance on the local experience. Before the pandemic, the “slow travel“was already booming and would have received a boost from the crisis. This concept excludes quick” must see “visits and tends to immerse visitors in a place to capture its “authenticity” through encounters and experiences, which has as practical benefit of reduced travel – and contamination risks.

This is also explained by the change in mentality following periods of containment, indicate market observers. The pandemic made us think about our personal goalsincluding travel – and led us to take care of our physical and mental health. The reduction in CO₂ emissions during confinement prompted us to pay attention to the environment and sustainability.

All of this has yet to translate into a more conscious way of traveling. Slower, more meditative, healthier (sport, fitness, spa) by going deeper into the hobbies discovered during confinement. Hotels may offer these activities, including “local” experiences, such as a moonlit camel ride in non-contaminated areas of the hotel, such as the Ritz-Carlton near Dubai.

More hygiene

After the pandemic, luxury tourism players will have to further customize their offer and take other variables into account, explains Vicky Steylaerts, head of the tourism training program at the Thomas More Institute. “In the past, luxury was all about a chic hotel. Today, travelers want to live in their own bubble, with personalized social distancing. Customers want more privacy, hygiene, more personal experiences. Travel agents will need to listen to their customers better and prepare for travel, which is unique to the luxury segment. “

Many families, far away during the crisis, now want to make up for lost time by traveling, to celebrate the events that had to be postponed.

To meet the demand for a more hygienic – and virus-free – environment, hotels have installed contactless reception desks that allow you to “check-in” via an app, in addition to room keys using a computer. smartphone. It is also possible to create your own bubble by renting an entire floor for the family. This level is all the easier to fill as “multigenerational” travel is on the rise. “Many families, moved away during the crisis, now want to make up for lost time by traveling, to celebrate the events that had to be postponed”, continues Alexandra Avila.

A road trip in Death Valley in the USA
©Benjamin Guillot-Moueix

Another new trend: “working holidays”. A formula born thanks to teleworking which has become the norm during confinement and which could remain so, at least in part. Why not spend a month or more in a villa or hotel and work from your vacation spot while enjoying the local atmosphere? Alone or with the family. Some hotels are riding this wave by providing workspaces and a secure wifi connection.


Finally, some extend their holidays thanks to the flexibility offered by airlines and the elimination of deferral fees, explains Alexandra Avila. Car travel is also on the rise in the United States. Because of the danger associated with the coronavirus in public transport, but also because more and more consumers have bought a car after leaving the city to live in the countryside. Less frequented cities could thus find themselves on the radar of tourists to the detriment of mega-cities. and their supposed sources of contamination.

As long as the economy has not completely returned to normalcy, we will travel more locally and more slowly, by car, train, bicycle.

The sector “regenerative” tourism also expects a boost from the coronavirus. While sustainable tourism ensures that destinations are not further damaged, regenerative tourism goes one step further by ensuring that tourists leave the vacation spot in better condition than when they arrived. “Toerisme Vlaanderen is working on this, prioritizing quality over quantity”, explains Vicky Steylaerts. And this, at a time when Belgians are in a way obliged to visit their own country. “As long as the economy has not fully regained its normalcy, we will travel more locally and more slowly, by car, train, bicycle.. But will this trend continue when the borders are reopened? ”She wonders.

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