luxury eco-tourism

As I mentioned in an earlier post specific to Latin America, I attended the Luxury Travel Expo last week and got to hear what people in the industry had to say about the state of upscale travel in late 2009.

They were more upbeat than I expected, especially since travel to Europe has fallen off a cliff and the convention/incentive market is having a terrible year. And of course there are too many new hotels and too many new cruise ships for any of them to be much more than half full without major discounting. (Tough for them, good for you. There are some amazing deals on sites like LuxuryLink.com.)

Besides the obvious search for value though, lots of other interesting luxury travel trends came out that I thought were newsworthy.

1) More family travel
It used to be that “luxury” and “family travel” didn’t mix much, but that has changed in a big way. People are having kids later, they’re having fewer of them, and the grandparents often have more money than the parents do. I started noticing this shift a couple years ago when I’d go to a Four Seasons and find the pool packed with kids, but this has extended to safaris, soft adventure trips, and nature excursions. African safari operator Micato said in a panel discussion that their family travel bookings had gone from 10% to 35% in eight years. This bodes well for villa rental places and small-ship cruises, but not so well for cookie-cutter hotels that think connecting rooms are going to be enough to serve this demand.

2) Deeper travel experiences
It used to be that bragging about shopping in Paris or Milan was what you did to impress the neighbors. Now it’s more likely to be that you visited some place they’ve never even heard of or you did something worth talking about on your vacation. Adventure travel is way up, volunteer travel is way up, and travel to former pariah destinations is way up—to places like Colombia, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Luxury travelers are becoming more like backpackers—wanting to mingle with real people and get authentic experiences instead of just being sheltered away in an artificial world.

3) Rising influence of green hotels and travel
Have you been paying more attention to the environmental practices of the hotels where you stay? If so you’re not alone. Tour operators are finding that guests are becoming steadily more demanding about how “green” the hotels are where they stay and are no longer looking at “luxury” and “eco-friendly” as being different things. Since Costa Rica is considered the birthplace of eco-tourism and a large portion of trips to Latin America are by nature lovers, parts of the Americas are perceived as being in better shape than many other parts of the world in this regard.

What has changed in what you are looking for when you travel now? What are you willing to pay more for…and not?