Clia Luxury Showcase: The semantics of luxury travel

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Agents must go beyond the marketing hype to deliver on what travellers in the luxury segment really want, finds Sara Macefield at the Clia Luxury Showcase


Luxury cruising has never been so popular, but it is vital that agents don’t fall into the trap of making assumptions about typical upscale customers.

This was the overriding message from October’s Clia Luxury Showcase held in Malaga, when speakers stressed the importance of understanding what makes this lucrative market sector tick.

Dnata Travel B2B Europe managing director Lisa McAuley pointed out that travellers’ perceptions of luxury often evolved in line with their holiday experiences.

“The challenge for us in the luxury space is how you get across what luxury stands for,” she added.

“Ultra-luxury can be difficult to define and premium-plus is constantly chipping away at the luxury market.”

While luxury can increasingly be seen as experiential and immersive, McAuley warned that such terms could become overused and, regardless, it isn’t necessarily what luxury customers are looking for.

“These travellers can generally see through marketing hype,” she warned.

In an age of austerity and world poverty, McAuley also cautioned against being ostentatious, as top-flight service and understated elegance was more appropriate.

But, most importantly, she advised: “Don’t make assumptions about what people want or what they can afford. Communication is key and can make or break a relationship.

“Your ideal customers are cash-rich and time-rich. Listen to them; make recommendations, but don’t do the hard sell, extol the virtues.

“Don’t over-elaborate or feel you have to justify the price point with too much information, as this can lead to confusion.”

Debbie Marshall, managing director of travel review and advice site Silver Travel Advisor, targeted at the 50-plus market, pointed out that this is the era of “platinum pensioners” who are relishing the golden times of final salary pensions.

“There are 100,000 of them spending money on cruises, but there are lots of other choices,” she revealed.

“Retirement could mean a cruise or a facelift … funding children or grandchildren’s school fees and childcare.”

Marshall stressed the key was understanding the differences between luxury customers. Those in their 50s relish space, peace and relaxation, while 60-somethings, the “young-old”, tend to be empty-nesters ticking off destinations.

Those in their 70s are actively cruising, but may not like the challenge of negotiating airports and like aspects such as gratuities included in the price. They also dislike being patronised.

Travellers of 80-plus who have known post-war austerity dislike great displays of luxury and opulence and, with potentially failing health and frailty, also look for thoughtful service and familiarity, and want
to feel valued.

Expedition cruising is now a growing part of the luxury cruise scene, thanks to a raft of new launches, which Aurora Expeditions managing director Robert Halfpenny put at 28 between now and 2022.

“This is going to revolutionise the expedition industry,” he said. “Luxury is changing this market and it’s becoming more comfortable.”

As a result, Clia has already announced this sector will be one of its key focus areas in 2019, with its first expedition cruise event on March 28, organised with its new expedition working group chaired by Silversea UK managing director Peter Shanks.

Speaking at the Showcase, the Silversea boss pointed out that consumers were moving from buying material items to buying experiences.

“Please don’t underestimate the power of an Antarctic voyage,” he stressed. “We are all watching David Attenborough, but when you cruise with Silversea you can be like Attenborough.”

With the main Six Star lines providing approximately 13,000 berths, he pointed out that Silversea accounts for 22 per cent of this and has the fastest-growing fleet of ultra-luxury ships thanks to its recent acquisition by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, which has bolstered future ship orders to five.

Aurora Expeditions’ Halfpenny also extolled the virtues of the Australian company’s new vessel, Greg Mortimer, which arrives in November next year with a radical new X-Bow design that promises to enable higher speeds and cut seasickness.

“We see the UK and North America as a big opportunity,” Halfpenny  added. “We have been around for 25 years, but I think we will see great growth.”

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