Luxury redefined: the new face of travel
The last year has fundamentally changed the way we travel, and now, as we return to the skies, we want every trip to count. To help you make up for lost time, High Life speaks to the experts to discover the new luxury trends influencing our bookings – and highlights the trips to inspire your next great escape
Be ready for change
By Noo Saro-Wiwa
Author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (£9.99, Granta)
One year before Covid, I was observing gorillas in the wonderful Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. It was mind-blowing: the beauty of the scenery, the absolute privilege of viewing our primate relatives up close and the chance to learn about their ecosystem. I adore travel. It moves me and teaches me about the world in ways I can never predict. It makes me grateful for life.
Then, like most, I spent a year sitting at home. I filled my Instagram feed with nostalgic travel photos, marvelling at the ease of pre-Covid movement, and wondering what possessed me to put off that dream trip to Colombia.
But during this period, there has been a reckoning over the environment and social justice. As wildfires raged in Australia, Brazil and Russia, and global protesters demanded that Black Lives Matter, we felt a renewed appreciation for the fragility of Earth and our lives on it, and we vowed to accept higher standards once normal life resumes.
Covid has brought home to us the brevity of life. There is a greater urgency to make the most of it in a world that might be changed forever by viruses (which, let’s not forget, are spread by our high levels of interconnectedness). That’s why many of us are reassessing our values, using this period as a time to create the best version of ourselves, including as globetrotters.
Though we are desperate to get back on airplanes, the art of travel is changing. Travel trends are changing: travellers crave solitude after the cheek-by-jowl existence in lockdown; revisit places that they enjoyed in their youth; or those wanting to put their money where their values lie, combining their vacations with philanthropy and valuing marginalised cultures that might have been previously overlooked. Things are evolving, and we are ready for change.
Have a bucket-list wildlife experience responsibly
By Steve McIvor
CEO of World Animal Protection
The vast majority of new infectious diseases such as Covid are harboured in wild animals, so when we encroach on their territory, cut down their forests, move into their spaces and capture them, we’re not only exposing the animals to cruelty but also ourselves to risks of diseases. Covid has made many people reflect that better welfare for animals means better and safer places for people. We need to reforest, rewild, clean up oceans and protect wildlife. The net result of that is a richer, more diverse world and a safer experience for us as humans, which is what all of us seek when we travel.
The big picture is that climate change is happening, and animals and their habitats are interlinked with that. But we are making positive steps. Since I started at World Animal Protection seven years ago, our Global Ghost Gear Initiative – focused on ending the dumping of fishing nets and gear in the oceans – has gone from nothing to a huge international coalition.
Plus, we’ve seen more than 220 travel businesses take action to stop promoting things such as elephant riding, which is harmful to them. Customers, particularly the younger generation, are increasingly demanding a sustainable product or experience, which means businesses are taking action.
In South Africa, ‘lion farms’ advertise the chance to walk with lions, but they’re primarily about breeding them for the bone trade or hunting. The South African government has just said it will ban them going forward, so we’re waiting for legislation to come in.
There are plenty of places to see wildlife that have welfare at the forefront. In Romania’s Libearty Bear Sanctuary, brown bears have space to roam, and you can go on a guided tour up into the trees. There are Whale Heritage Sites around the world where you can see whales and dolphins in a way that doesn’t harm them. There are sites in South Africa, Canada, the USA and recently one announced in Tenerife.
For elephants, places such as BLES in Thailand are fantastic because you are in their natural space. I went pre-Covid and saw a couple of elephants down near the water. The owner said to us, “They’re just having a gossip, so wait here.” We did and they came up. One inspected me, then off she went. It was marvellous.
For safaris, there are many responsible companies in Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania, but you need to do your research – some elephant venues describe themselves as ‘a sanctuary’ or ‘hospitals’ and they’re not. Check elephants aren’t ridden and animal welfare policies. If any wildlife experience lets you touch, feed or take photographs in an artificial way with animals, that’s an indication that you should avoid it.”
Rediscover an old favourite
By Tina Edmundson
Global brand and marketing officer, Marriott
Right now, there’s huge pent-up demand; people feel as if they’ve missed out and want to make up for the last 18 months. Travel is such a part of who we are and, having been deprived of it, part of human nature is wanting to go back to the things that they have enjoyed in the past.
Part of it is, “I had an amazing time at, for example, the JW Venice, which is on a private island in Isola delle Rose, and I know what that experience is because I’ve been there.” We’ve seen it with the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programme in our guests. They want to return to places with a brand they trust.
The other thing we’re seeing is that the travelling parties are larger – the idea of reconnection and going with extended family, where one person who knows a place is the conduit for the trip. That person knows what to expect, and is the centre of a group, so it’s repeat guests, but coming with different or extended groups. We’ve seen that at Pine Cliffs, A Luxury Collection Resort in the Algarve, as well as The Blue Palace in Crete.
Many hotels have also renovated or refreshed, taking advantage of the low occupancy. The JW Marriott in Cannes did a full renovation during Covid, right in time for summer travel, and the Ritz-Carlton Moscow will complete its renovation later this year. In the US, the Ritz-Carlton Naples did a complete redesign.
Some people are understandably still a little nervous about travelling and communication is the key to making people feel reassured. On our website, we have a page for every hotel that’s called ‘what to expect’ so guests going to a hotel can understand which of the restaurants are open, if there’s outdoor seating, if the pool is open, as well as making sure the guests know the local Covid regulations.
Covid has accelerated things that were going to happen but would probably have taken several years to take hold – such as using your device to check in or as a mobile key. That also includes hotels reconfiguring outdoor spaces to make them more conducive to relax or eat in. In the past it’s been an amenity and now it’s a necessity.
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