The world of travel is constantly changing, what with trends, new hotels, just-launched flight routes, and emerging destinations. But perhaps the biggest change the travel industry has witnessed over the past few decades is the redefining of the word “luxury.” Whereas thirty years ago, a luxury vacation might have conjured up images up Home Alone-style hotel decadence — think: a massive suite with obsequious butler service and a minibar overflowing with goodies— the meaning of the word has now shifted to reflect changing times and values.
The biggest difference between luxury travel then and now? According the global integrated design firm WATG, whose paper, “’New Luxury’ Hotels: A New Set of Priorities,” does a deep-dive on the subject, it all boils down to the increasing importance of experiences over “things.”
That is to say, travelers care less about fancy in-room toiletries and hotel gyms with cutting-edge cardio equipment, for example, and more about experiences that immerse them in new environments and inspire personal growth and transformation. It’s not that the aforementioned amenities are not appreciated — on the contrary, they are thoughtful and helpful add-ons — they’re just not as elusive and as thus, prized, as offerings that resonate on emotional and even spiritual levels.
An example of one such hospitality offering is the forthcoming Nayara Tented Camp in Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano National Park. Instead of having to hop in a 4×4 to experience the area’s rich wildlife and stunning scenery, guests of Nayara Tented Camp will be surrounded by this awe-inspiring landscape at all times in their high-ended tented accommodations, which will incorporate outdoor showers and private plunge pools fed by natural hot springs.
WATG argues that the new brand of luxury is “rebellious” in nature, as “the ‘New Luxury’ hotel guest is value conscious, but not necessarily price sensitive.” What this means is that modern-day travelers are willing to pay handsomely for vacation experiences, but only those they deem to be consistent with their priorities, whether those be environmentally-, community-, or design-oriented.
As far as the latter is concerned, travelers are eschewing “uniform hotels with similar designs,” WATG writes, for accommodations whose designs allow for complete immersion in beautiful surroundings. Again, four-poster beds and Egyptian cotton sheets are indeed luxe touches, but not as crucial to the ‘New Luxury’ traveler as physical product that throws, as it were, said traveler into an exotic setting. This could be an animal viewing hide overlooking a watering hole in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, as is the case at Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge, or a treetop suite wrapped around the trunk of a 200-year-old pine tree, like at La Piantata.
As bars and restaurants are often a hotel’s social heart, the masterful design of these spaces is of the highest importance — hence why WATG stresses F&B concepts that “create an authentic and localized experience.” While a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant is indeed a memorable and certainly luxurious affair, the experience of dining, for example, inside the two-story tented building at Musangu River Camp, which is set in the bush of Zambezi National Park and looks out to the Zambezi River, could be considered even more luxurious by the ‘New Luxury’ travelers’ standards.
WATG cites “eco-credentials” as another pillar of modern luxury travel. They write, “sustainable construction methods and materials, eco operating policies and engagement with the local community are all highly regarded by guests.” Since our genesis in 2011, Luxury Frontiers has employed sustainable, eco-friendly materials and practices not only as a way of elevating guests’ experiences, but also to protect our fragile natural environments, and construct tented accommodations that are built to last. Or as Luxury Frontiers’ Chief Design & Development Officer, Graeme Labe, puts it, “There’s no choice but to employ materials, fittings, and methodologies that are sustainable. The whole world has to go that way.”