Downturn or upturn, never say no to luxury travel

sydneySYDNEY: Impresarios of luxury and high style have an uncanny talent for beating the recession blues. Unfazed by the festering global downturn, Sydney hosted an uber luxury travel show this week.   The second edition of Luxperience, an exclusive fair for high-end experiential travel houses with inspiring suppliers, was held in great style September 1 in a venue carefully chosen by Helen Logas, CEO, Luxperience.

At the Overseas Passenger Terminal – Sydney’s most unique venue located in the city’s historic Rocks Circular Quay, that overlooks the stunning Opera House, participating members of the travel fraternity from around the world soaked themselves in the fading winter sun, doing business as usual.

The congregation of over 302 buyers and 140 exhibitors from 47 countries from all continents, except North and South Pole, at the Sydney Town Hall at the inaugural function, was more than just an occasion to hobnob over wine and cheese. In fact, it signified a deeper connotation, a positive reaffirmation of sorts that such a medley of nationalities would choose to gather at an economically bleak time as this, to rekindle hope that the travel industry is determined to take on its business to another height. So, far from the gloom and doom mood of many of their respective home countries, the discussion at the Thought Leaders Forum veered around many pertinent issues of the industry. There was much animated discussion on how destinations like Australia, the UK and America can get a better handle on how to service the premium traveller from China, home to about 2.7 million US dollar millionaires.

sydney-luxOne of the speakers, David Thomas, a consultant for Think Global consulting, dwelled at length on the need to understand how to service premium traveller market like China, where, according to him, “elite Chinese travellers need to experience better human ‘software’ when they visit the West.” Interestingly, a Chinese travel industry CEO provided her own spin on how the Chinese community travels.  “The Chinese traveller wants to be handled by people who understand their culture, not just language,” said Lin Xu, founder of China Luxury Travel Network.  She also waxed eloquent on how millionaires, the rising middle class and brand-conscious aspirational travellers from the mainland China account for about 25 per cent of all international luxury brand consumption. Xu told the audience the total spend on travel by China worked out to a whopping US$102 billion in 2012, with online spend alone worth around US$57 billion. Clearly, China is rising and its rise should be good news for the luxury travel industry.

Looking at the broader canvas, what emerged clearly was that a dynamic industry like travel will always be relevant despite the tumultuous and uncertain times it is passing through. And that fairs such as this would only grow with time.

Logas, who founded Luxperience in 2011, for one, always knew there was a need for an intimate forum for serious operators who cater to a very niche segment to connect at a deeper level to generate more business. Although the model and concept of Luxperience is reminiscent of Pure, a successful travel fair for high-end experiential travel firms, held in November every year in Marrakech, Luxperience is more targeted towards Antarctica and Asia while Pure is more of Europe. In fact, what got Logas started was “a gap that exists in the market for high-end tour operators to “meet in a more informal yet intimate manner to make it more meaningful.” Even the number of buyers has doubled from last year that saw only 250 buyers.

This year, among others, it is counties like Bhutan that is taking part for the first time. Thinley Wangdi, assistant marketing officer,  Tourism Council of Bhutan, in Thimphu will single-handedly manage over 65 appointments during the three-day fair. Bhutan, a country that prefers to measure its wealth in terms of Gross National Happiness, seldom takes part in a fair like this. This year, the tourism board is also keen to explore the Australian market. “We want to see the potential market of Bhutan in Australia,” says Wangdi. Last year 1,926 tourists from Australia visited Bhutan. And when Wangdi says there’s room for more, he means it.

As for Logas, there’s more up her sleeve. A popup travel event is what she plans to introduce as a value added service to participating members. Popup events as the name suggests are informal, spontaneous and somewhat impromptu events to create a buzz around a particular theme. Last year, a travel popup event was held in New York with 50 agents and 18 exhibitors that evidently boosted Logas’ confidence to recreate such popups in Beijing, New York, London and Sao Paulo between March and April next year.  In those places, there would be 20-30 popups for those who want to gauge the market of those host countries. “Those operators wishing to reach out any of the markets where we will have popup events can benefit a lot,” she says. For instance, a tour operator who is keen to explore Chinese market can take part in the popup event of Beijing, as many domestic agents of China are guaranteed to be present.  This segment of the industry is clearly in the mood to prosper. Come what may!

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Hoihnu Hauzel
Hoihnu Hauzel is a Delhi-based freelance writer. She writes on travel, food and lifestyle.