Trendspotting in high-end travel

Industry professionals gathered in Turks and Caicos to share insights on where luxury travel is now and where it is going.

Panelists standing by pool

Travel Weekly’s Luxury Roundtable this year included, from left, Josh Alexander, Protravel International; Angie Licea, president, Global Travel Collection; Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief, Travel Weekly; Vasco Borges, CEO, Beach Enclave; Katherine Scott, corporate travel advisor, Travel Hub 365; Stephen Scott, CEO Travel Hub 365 and Odyssey Travel App; and Mark Ellwood, editor at large, the Robb Report. (Photos by LeMens Welch / Visual Storytelling, Courtesy of Beach Enclave)

Travel Weekly’s Luxury Roundtable this year included, from left, Josh Alexander, Protravel International; Angie Licea, president, Global Travel Collection; Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief, Travel Weekly; Vasco Borges, CEO, Beach Enclave; Katherine Scott, corporate travel advisor, Travel Hub 365; Stephen Scott, CEO Travel Hub 365 and Odyssey Travel App; and Mark Ellwood, editor at large, the Robb Report. (Photos by LeMens Welch / Visual Storytelling, Courtesy of Beach Enclave)

Travel’s recovery is moving ahead at full throttle but down a bumpy road. Operational challenges keep aviation in consumer headlines, staffing shortages plague hospitality, and inflation, geopolitical conflicts and lingering pandemic concerns disrupt transport and procurement.

But the luxury sector is looking beyond current events to assess long-term trends as it prepares to receive the next wave of affluent guests. To gain insight into where luxury travel is going, six industry professionals — advisors, suppliers and media — gathered in Turks and Caicos to discuss shifting trends and attitudes.

Joining the roundtable were Angie Licea of Internova’s Global Travel Collection, Stephen Scott of Travel Hub 365 and the Odyssey Travel App, Mark Ellwood of the Robb Report, Josh Alexander of Protravel International, Katherine Scott of Travel Hub 365 and Vasco Borges of Beach Enclave. Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann moderated the discussion.

The group was hosted by Beach Enclave on the island of Providenciales. The original transcript has been edited for length, and the chronology has been altered to keep dialogue about specific topics together, though the topic might have recurred at intervals during the course of the conversation.

Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief, Travel Weekly: During the lockdowns, many luxury hotels renovated extensively, rethought their brands, reconsidered their positioning. Have you seen any examples that you thought really hit or really missed the mark?

Josh Alexander, Protravel International: I was in St. Barts less than a month ago. The whole island had been destroyed by Hurricane Irma, rebuilt and then after a few months was shut down again by Covid. But that entire island is incredible now. Almost every hotel feels brand new. And restaurants, with incredible service.

Stephen Scott, CEO Travel Hub 365 and Odyssey travel app: On the other hand, I think Las Vegas has done themselves a disservice by not renovating hotels the way they needed to, reducing services, reducing staff and simultaneously increasing prices. The Mirage, for example, needed a lot of work, and they’ve chosen to sell it. But for a period of time now, guests have received a lesser product.

Mark Ellwood, editor at large, the Robb Report: I love Las Vegas. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. If Cher were a place, she would be Las Vegas.

But Vegas and Venice, in Italy, have an attitude problem that they’re both going to learn is problematic. They always assume someone else will arrive if you don’t come back. Never pay for an expensive hotel in Venice, because it’s always terrible. And if you complain, they shrug their shoulders, because someone else will take the room. And I think Vegas has that same attitude.

Alexander: I disagree, big time. There are incredible luxury hotels in Venice. The feedback I’ve gotten from clients who’ve gone to Venice, especially since Covid, has been incredible.

Ellwood: Oh, you mean Venice has finally gotten a little bit of humility? Maybe sometimes there won’t be people in the room, so they might have to be nice to them? I used to be a tour guide in Italy. I’ve stayed at so many five-star hotels in Venice, and I can tell you a ton of stories.

Alexander: Which ones?

Ellwood: When I stayed at the Ca’ Sagredo, the check-in clerks referred to me using a derogatory Italian term, thinking I didn’t understand Italian. When I stayed at the Danieli, they bolted the door at 9 o’clock and when I tried to get in, they wouldn’t let me in. When I asked for the staff member’s full name, because it wasn’t on his nametag, he refused to give it to me.

Alexander: I’ve had nothing but great experiences in Venice. So, maybe I just was lucky.

Ellwood: I want to travel with you next time.

Alexander: Well, the Danieli has become a Four Seasons. And Ca’ Sagredo has traditionally been very problematic within the travel industry, not respecting commissions. The two hotels you mentioned were problems for us.

Ellwood: Venice is a place where I always feel hoteliers hold the Magic 8 Ball of excuses. When something goes wrong, they just shake it and say whatever excuse bubbles up. You say, “Where’s the Internet?” and they’ll say, “We are a 16th-century palazzo.”

Alexander: To get back to other hotels that were renovated: Yeah, there’s been some awesome renovations by hotels that had the vision and funds, kept employees and invested in renovation. Right before the pandemic, Amangiri [in Canyon Point, Utah] was finishing Camp Sarika, these luxury tents. And coming out of Covid, they ended up selling those even more than the main hotel.

Weissmann: Speaking of domestic resorts, the ones in drive markets — say, within 200 miles of urban centers — really thrived over the past few years. Will that continue?

Alexander: We still get a lot of demand for the drive market. And a lot of brands are going into, for instance, the Hudson Valley [of New York]. But for them to maintain quality service, that’s going to be a challenge.

Ellwood: Very specifically about Hudson Valley, I spoke to Claire de Boer, a chef who’s got a restaurant in Pine Plains, a little town near where I have a house. And she said part of the problem is staff. You’re paying overtime because the commuting distances are longer. Creating that luxury experience in upstate New York has more challenges than you might think.

Vasco Borges, CEO, Beach Enclave: The other thing I would say about resorts is that it has become acceptable to work from a different location. To “work from anywhere” for 10 days or a month. I’m finding it interesting to see how the industry adapts to that. In the Caribbean, a lot of resorts are adding amenities to make it easier to work there and keep people entertained for a longer time. We’ve done that with additional water-sports.

Something I wanted to ask is, what about private clubs like Soho House?

Ellwood: I just wrote a story about the hybrid hotel. Gleneagles Townhouse in Edinburgh [Scotland] is selling memberships as well as having guests. There’s a passel of them.

To me, what is really clever is they’re trying to hedge against relying only on people who have to fly or drive in. They’re trying to create two revenue streams.

Angie Licea, president, Global Travel Collection: Well, I think one thing the pandemic did for the industry and for people in general is prove that you can work anywhere and be effective. I don’t think that’s going to go away. The workcation piece will stay, but I also think people will start coming back into communities to work, and the whole virtual thing will start to dissipate.

Weissmann: I took a workcation and will admit I hated it. My family and friends were having fun all day and I would just … work. And then join them for dinner.

Ellwood: I don’t think you’re wrong. I think there’s a really interesting tension. When you are in a vacation destination and not doing vacation-y things, it can grate.

Licea: I’m the opposite. Because I travel so much for work, when I can bring my family with me and they can enjoy it, I get pleasure out of going and working.

Weissmann: You’re a nicer person than I am.

Stephen Scott: But, you know, it’s the before and the after, right? If you’re working from home, you don’t get to run into the water two minutes after you close your laptop. My most-liked image on LinkedIn right now is of us working, with the pool and beach steps away in the background. There’s the romance of, “Wow, I wish I could be there right now instead of looking at the wall or at the co-worker sitting next to me.”

Weissmann: During the pandemic, people also took a greater interest in their kitchen, baking bread and stretching themselves as cooks. Is that having an impact on the types of trips people are taking today? Are they more adventurous about trying new cuisines? Taking gastronomy-themed tours or cooking classes when traveling?

Alexander: During the pandemic, food was a great way for hotels and destinations to stay in contact with advisors and clients. We were receiving food boxes so we could prepare a meal somehow tied to the resort or destination. And that was a great marketing tool to stay top of mind until we were ready to start planning travel. But I don’t think it’s translated into greater demand for food-focused travel. I think hotels that were great at offering cooking classes before the pandemic are still great at it, but I haven’t seen any kind of transition.

Katherine Scott, corporate travel advisor, Travel Hub 365: We have a niche client who’s looking for a farm-to-table experience, but it’s a niche. Cooking classes are more typically an add-on, an experience that they’re looking for when they’re traveling.

Ellwood: I’m sorry, but I’ve never stood in a hotel cooking class and not not wished to be there. I can’t think of anything ghastlier. I have been put through them endlessly, and they are joyless, performative things which result in food that is not as good as a professional would have done. I think it’s a really weird affectation for lots of high-end hotels to say, “Why don’t you come and have a cooking class?” Of course I don’t want a cooking class — I’m on vacation. I’ve cooked all through the pandemic, and I want your staff to cook a beautiful meal for me. I think cooking classes are one of those weird things that if I could ban them from hotels, I would ban them. I would like to avoid having to do any more of them.


‘Vegas and Venice have an attitude problem. They always assume someone else will arrive if you don’t come back.’

Mark Ellwood,
the Robb Report

Mark Ellwood speaking

‘I disagree, big time. I’ve had nothing but great experiences
in Venice.’

Josh Alexander,
Protravel International

Josh Alexander speaking

Alexander: The Four Seasons in Chiang Mai [Thailand] offers the whole experience of going to a local market and then cooking either in private or with your family. It’s definitely not authentic, but I enjoyed it. I did something similar in one of the Amans, in Bali and also with my young children in Puglia, in Italy.

Weissmann: Down the road from the Aman in Bali, in Ubud, there’s a Four Seasons that allows guests, should they want, to work in their rice paddy. Do any of you advisors have a client who would sign up for that?

Alexander: Most people, no. Perhaps someone with young children, as a cultural activity. Maybe it’s a Four Seasons thing; they do the same thing in Chiang Mai.

Stephen Scott: There is an element of, “Is this a vacation or am I doing manual labor?”

Ellwood: And not only unpaid; I am paying for the right to do this.

I’m not a professional chef. I come to a hotel for a professional chef to do what they do for me. And I’m thrilled when they make me an amazing meal. I think all of this is so counterintuitive. It’s so bizarre.

Stephen Scott: I have enjoyed cooking — a cooking class was my favorite part of Morocco. But the last thing I wanted to do was to eat the food I or anyone else cooked. It was more about the joy and laughter that came from, “I just totally burned that.”

Ellwood: I’ve never been lucky enough to be put through that boot camp of an experience and not been forced to eat the food we made. And I certainly don’t want to do it when there’s an amazing chef out back who’s 10 times as good as I am.

Weissmann: During the pandemic, Silversea launched its SALT program, Sea and Land Taste. It’s a 360-degree focus on gastronomy, with a kitchen for cooking classes, food-themed lectures, a SALT bar and a SALT restaurant. It’s all tied to the ports of call — the restaurant serves local food and the waitstaff is trained to explain the ties between the menu and local culture. And there are shore excursion tie-ins — in Santorini, they bring guests to a hot new restaurant with incredible views or, elsewhere in Greece, to an ouzo distillery to see how ouzo is made.

Mark, would this appeal to you?

Ellwood: I think SALT is a very interesting program. Silversea has obviously devoted a lot of resources to it, has sort of repositioned itself around this.

And I’m really only interested when a lot of resources are devoted to it. Every hotel says, “Our food is gastronomically excellent.” They’re not all. Food is often a really lazy slap-on. It’s sort of, you know, like when you put a pair of sunglasses on and think, “Now my outfit is amazing.”

That’s what food is at so many properties; it’s the pair of sunglasses. And you’re like, “Honestly, I’d just start again.” I’m very cynical about food offerings. Most of the experiences I’ve had have been workmanlike.

Borges: Maybe we can expand this discussion to include other interactive experiences. I do think there’s a trend toward that. People want to touch things and do things. Here in the Caribbean, it used to be you’d come here and just bake in the sun. People are doing more sports. Arnie, you and your wife went snorkeling, kayaking and took a stand-up paddleboard ecotour through the mangroves [on this trip]. That’s definitely a trend that got boosted with Covid.

But, that said, the majority of the market is just going back to what they were doing in 2019, in 2018.

Licea: We are seeing more consumers find interest in the local communities and environment, the architecture, the agriculture, the environment. People are really trying to understand more about the world. Connecting.

Stephen Scott: Right. I don’t want to go to a destination, have my vacation, leave the destination and know nothing about it. And I like knowing that a cruise line or hotel brand has put work into bridging that gap for me so I don’t have to do the hard manual labor. That’s a wonderful thing. As Arnie explained SALT, it sounds fantastic. But it’s up to marketing departments and sales teams to communicate that and help us understand the message. If we’re simply relying on brochures or emails, the connection can get lost.

Alexander: My team books tons of Dorchesters around the world, especially in Paris at Le Meurice and Plaza Athenee. A little similar to the SALT program, Le Meurice called to specifically tell me about a new art program that they were starting which brings you to sites all over Paris that were the visual inspiration for famous works of art. As she’s telling me this, I was thinking, “This sounds cool and unique. But I don’t really know how many people would make a decision to stay at one of their hotels based on this.” We can talk about it in theory, but how much will this sway someone to stay there?

Borges: I think I have an answer to that. Obviously, people come to the Caribbean mostly for sun and the beach, right? But the answer to “How do we sell this property over that one?” is storytelling. We find that if we have interesting storytelling about the destination, we see people coming back. We started a program about the reef in front of one of our properties and how we conserve it. We’re mapping it. There are turtles, and you can go and see them. It can transform an experience into something they’ll remember, and return more often.

Weissmann: During the worst of the pandemic, some cruise lines went to great lengths to maintain relations with travel advisors — they gave loans, they gave double commissions, they kept communicating. Clearly, it was in their self-interest to keep the advisor channel healthy and maintain goodwill. Do you think, now that they’re sailing again, those efforts were, in a sense, sticky? Are you advisors rewarding those who looked after you for their behavior then?

Licea: I think, certainly, the ones who did not support advisors have lost the support of advisors. They’ll be sold only if the consumer forces it, not because they want to. So it did create loyalty. It’s like, you have our back, we have your back. I mean, there are some cruise lines who did not.

Stephen Scott: And the thought process on the consumer and advisor side was, “If they’re not doing everything they can to support us, they might be in financial trouble.” Those who supported us were really saying, “We want you to come back, and we will be here.”

Alexander: I know this was a cruise-specific question, but there are a bunch of hotels in hot summer destinations like Italy and Greece that also got creative. They said, “Listen, we’ll refund if that’s what the client wants. However, here’s Option B: Keep the deposit that’s already on the books, we’ll pay you your commission now, and we’ll reward your client with an upgrade or an extra $300 in hotel credits.”

It was a sweet deal, and a lot of clients were appreciative of that. A lot are finally redeeming it this summer and are benefiting from that now.

Ellwood: Going back to cruises, I think something very interesting has happened. For a long time, the residential cruise ship concept was synonymous with one ship, the World. It had a very difficult beginning, which put a lot of people off. But we are seeing about five companies launching at the moment to sell you the chance to live on a cruise ship, at different price points.

There’s Storylines, which is like a condo in Miami kind of prices. There’s Blue World, which is more like, you know, a house in the Hudson Valley kind of prices. There’s Somnio, which is a house in the Hamptons kind of prices. They’re the natural progression from the growth of round-the-world cruises, which are selling really well. They’re selling out fast, and to younger people.

I think the World scared everyone away from real estate on the high seas, but now a whole load of people have left their jobs at the World and have gone to different companies.

Stephen Scott: One thing cruise lines absolutely innovated on is the check-in process. You’ve gone from hourslong waits, checking in at different desks, to doing the check-in process at home. You’re taking your photo at home, you’re presenting your documents at home and now you can get through that port and on that ship within five minutes in some instances.

It used to be that half the guests would show up at the cruise port early because they wanted to get on the ship and eat right away. So, you’d have this massive crowd of people. But now, just about every cruise line designates a time. “You need to show up at 11 o’clock. If you show up earlier, we won’t board you. And you’re at 2. And you’re at 4.” And that has helped create a smooth experience.

Licea: The buffet will wait.

Stephen Scott: The buffet will wait, yes. If there’s still a buffet.

Borges: On the other hand, it’s so easy, right? If you’re a city hotel, you never know when the guest is going to arrive. But we, resorts and cruise ships, know exactly when they’re coming. Why any cruise ship or resort would have traditional reception is beyond my understanding. Because it’s never fun.

Alexander: You would have information about guest arrival times if the guest is booked by a travel advisor. You would have that information 100% of the time. Even in cities, I’ll tell the hotel, “Your guest is landing at Heathrow at 10 a.m.” But if it’s booked direct with the property, you’re not going to have that information.


‘I took a workation and hated it. My family and friends had fun all day and I would just … work.’

Arnie Weissmann,
Travel Weekly

Arnie Weissmann speaking

‘I’m the opposite. When I can bring
my family and they enjoy it, I get pleasure out of it.’

Angie Licea,
Global Travel Collection

Angie Licea speaking

Weissmann: A new topic: Before the pandemic, younger people were not picking up golf and skiing as quickly as older people were dropping them. But during the pandemic, both got a huge lift. Skiing had its best year since 2002 last year, and golf, as an allowable outdoor activity, rebounded. Is this going to last?

Alexander: 100%.

Weissmann: Why do you say that?

Alexander: Just seeing the number of people. I skied a little bit during the pandemic, in Pennsylvania in 2021 and in Utah this past March. Ski trips tend to be family vacations. That’s here to stay, for sure. And hotels are building more around mountains, purchasing more and more land. I personally love it, and we see tons of demand for ski trips.

Licea: I think a lot of people pulled away from skiing because it became less predictable. It used to be that in December, you were guaranteed X feet of snow. That’s not the case anymore. So, people don’t want their vacation ruined by planning to go skiing and then there’s no snow or not enough snow. I think that’s still going to be an issue, despite the resurgence.

Ellwood: One thing related to skiing, but which we haven’t discussed, is that there are big chunks of the world’s luxury travelers who are not present at the moment. The Chinese are not present. Nor the Japanese. The Russians are present; most wealthy Russians hedged and have multiple passports.

Licea: They’re all in the U.K. now.

Ellwood: Russian travelers may be able to travel, but there is a social stigma. One of my sources in Monaco said, “Russians don’t want to be here because they worry about how people will react to Russian voices.” They feel self-conscious just by being Russian as an abstract idea representing the Russian regime. A hotelier in Europe said to me, “This summer, Americans are the new Russians. Americans are the big spenders. They dominate everything.” But there is a bigger picture. What happens when the Chinese come back?

Weissmann: On to another topic: Space travel took off over the past two years -- Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin. Axiom is building a private space station that's going to have a dedicated room for a space tourist. And now there are two high-altitude balloon companies, Space Perspective and World View. So, after decades of promises, can we finally get excited about space travel? And do you individually have a desire to do that?

Licea: It’s something I've been working on for a year. I've spent time with the atmosphere travel companies, World View and Space Perspective. Do I think going outside the atmosphere in a Virgin Galactic-type vehicle is going to be for everybody soon? I don't. But I do think the atmosphere travel is. You don't have to go through long training. Just a couple of days on the ground, make sure the weather is correct and you can ascend into the atmosphere and look down on the Earth. I believe this is something that will be for our consumer type. 

Is it for everybody right now? No, it's just like the airlines in the ‘50s; not everybody could fly, right? Because you couldn't afford to. And this is not inexpensive. It's $100,000 to $150,000 per seat. But that is doable for our consumer type. With Space Perspective, the first year is already sold out and the second year is almost sold out, as is much of the third and fourth year. Same with World View. The pods have about eight seats in them, and we absolutely have consumers who will buy a pod or a capsule, and take their family, their friends, or whatever, up into space.

Ellwood: Do you think they're going to buy it for year three? Because I don't. I think everyone wants to have the Instagram picture first.

We've covered space travel a lot. Our readers have the money and are interested. What I don't know is whether this has staying power. You want to be the first astronaut, not the hundredth.

Licea: To your point, it will have to evolve. Space Perspective is only launching from Cape Canaveral at first but plans for locations around the world. Consumers will want to see what it looks like from Australia, from Hawaii, from wherever.

Ellwood: That’s interesting.

Stephen Scott: We’ve been working this, as well, and it’s one of the highest viewed pages on our website. The activity and viewership is there. It’s a very different experience from Virgin Galactic, where you’re shot into space on a rocket. With Space Perspective and other balloon experiences, it's a slow rise until you get to the top. Two hours up, two hours in space, two hours back down. It has a bathroom, you can drink, you can put your logo on the side. When the first Instagram shots go up, it’ll be 7 million views, and that'll be fuel to the fire. What we saw with William Shatner, for example, was cool, but we were looking at it from the outside. Wait until somebody does an interview from space, Tom Cruise up there, sitting, doing an interview in space. It’s going to become global.

Ellwood: Battleface, which is such a great insurance company for extreme adventures, now has a commercial space product. Obviously, it's very canny and great PR, designed to make us do exactly this -- talk about it. But it does tell you that there is a business opportunity there right now, for sure.

Weissmann: Who here wants to go?

Licea: I’m going.

Stephen Scott: I’m going to go!

Katherine Scott: Personally, I hate heights. It's a big no. At least, not now. I'm not the pioneer type. I'm going to let other people try first. And then, if I say see it’s safe, why not? It’s affordable. I know for a fact that my clients will put it on their bucket lists. But for me, not yet.

Borges: And that's why it's going to last for more than a few years. I would do it, absolutely, especially now that I hear the word “atmosphere.” I'm sold on that.

To your point, it’s kind of scary still, but there are pioneers. And the price will go down. But even for 150 grand -- you know, you fly transatlantic on a private jet -- it’s not that different, the cost.

Alexander: You could get a yacht on the Amalfi Coast for that.

Borges: Exactly. It's not stupidly priced.

Alexander: For now, there's a lot more people who would rather take that yacht for a week.

Ellwood: I'm not saying people can't afford it. I guess this is a chicken-and-the-egg question. Jim Kitchen went up in Blue Origin, and he talked me through it. Yeah, he had a great time, but he's an adventurer.

Licea: There’s a million adventurers in this world and there's only limited seats right now. 

Alexander:I think there's going to be greater opportunity -- Stephen mentioned something for corporates, for businesses.

Weissmann: Take your six best clients up …

Licea: Exactly.

Alexander: With your company logo on the side. After they get past the pioneers, I think that’s where we're going to be.

Borges: The pricing is achievable. Maybe it's your 50th birthday, maybe it's your wedding. There's going to be a celebration that you can match.

Weissmann: Bachelor parties, bachelorette parties.

Licea: I could see people renting a capsule and proposing in space. I mean, in the atmosphere.

Stephen Scott: She’d better say yes for that price!

Licea: I think a big piece that's missing now that is a huge opportunity for the industry is the “before and after.” The weather has to be ideal. So, you go there and get your training, but there has to be a ground-before and a ground-after, right? There's also an opportunity to create an environment around the event that is on-the-ground luxury, immersing them in the culture of the specific location. So, let's say balloon launches from Rio. You can build a cultural experience around that location, because if that balloon is delayed three days, what are they going to do? Sit in their hotel room for three days? No. Build the experience. So, I think we as an industry have an opportunity and probably a responsibility to build that need around on the ground.

Ellwood: I'm waiting, though. You know, all of these airlines are sitting on vast piles of loyalty points that they want to get rid of. And just like the Ritz Carlton yacht offers a wonderful way to get those Bonvoy points purged from the bottom line, I'm waiting for the first announcement that you can use your Sky Miles on a spaceflight, and it'll cost you 10 million points. 

Alexander: Wait a minute. The Ritz Carlton yacht needs to exist though before they can do that.

Weissmann: Mark, it’s funny you should say that about Bonvoy. I moderated a panel at CES this year that had Space Perspective’s Jane Poynter and Marriott president Stephanie Linnartz, and I asked Linnartz if she would accept Bonvoy points for space travel. She looked at Poynter and said, “We should talk.”

Licea: If I were an airline, I would do be looking into that right away.

Stephen Scott: To Angie’s other point, as an advisor, I think it would be to a consumer’s advantage to call us rather than book direct. There's so much more to what that experience could be besides the journey. You speak to an advisor, and you can build an itinerary around it. That's going to make it even more special.

Alexander: There’s going to be a gazillion questions beyond even the experience -- around insurance, liability. To do a great job, there will probably have to be certified specialists in the advisor community. And a client who's interested might not even think to come to a traditional travel advisor. There should be partnerships that will educate, certify and even license people to see it.


‘We have a client looking for a
farm-to-table experience, but
it’s a niche.’

Katherine Scott,
Travel Hub 365

Katherine Scott speaking

Ellwood: I’ve written a lot about the idea that the bucket list has moved to the everyday. Instead of saying, “I’ll do it in 10 years,” they’ll do it now. I don't know if advisors are seeing that.

Licea: What we’re seeing is that it’s moving from the bucket list to the to-do list.

Ellwood: A checklist! That’s so insightful. And there’s something important about the change in mindset, especially at the high, high end. Instead of “I might do it,” “Help me make sure I work my way through it.”

Stephen Scott: And we have to factor in what Covid has done to us collectively at the same exact time. Our mortality hit us, so we don’t think, “I hope I can take that safari at some point in time,” because “some point in time” may never arrive, and that changed our perspective on bucket lists. Is it something that has a time stamp or something we need to address now?

Borges: But are people doing that? I wonder. Yes, people may be talking more about this list of crazy things they want to do, but are they actually going the other way around. It sounds like everyone now is traveling to the exact same places. Who do we know that hasn't been to either London or Portugal or Greece this year? Rather than “Let's trek the Andes,” it’s “We're all going to Mykonos.”

Ellwood: I think bucket list isn't solely about unique destinations or experiences. It's about trading up, it’s about “I'll have the penthouse suite. I go to that hotel, and I always take a suite, but not the penthouse suite.” Yes, rates are up. We know everything is more expensive, but everyone I've spoken to in my network of sources says, “My clients are coming to me with budgets that are 30% to 50% higher per capita.”

Alexander: Correct.

Borges: I hear you, but isn’t that transitional? People awash in money because they didn't travel in the last two years. It might be that people will look back to these years and say, “These were the Roaring ‘20s again.”

Ellwood: You know when you’ve gone on a date with someone and they lie about their age and you meet them and the light is nice and low, and they can just about get away with it? And then you go for lunch with them on a second date and you're like, “Gosh, in the daylight you're definitely 20 years older than you told me you were.” 2022 is the low-lit sexy cocktail date. 2023 is going to be date number two in daylight.

Weissmann: Before we completely leave the bucket-list discussion, let’s replace the B in that term with an F. What is the one experience that everybody else seems to want to do, and that you absolutely do not?

Katherine Scott: I know it’s a big to-do, but you will not see me on a safari. Not for me. I'm not an animal person. I don't like heat. It’s too dry. I’m not a nature person. I’ll take the beach.

Ellwood: I loathe hardship masquerading as luxury. You know, it's like the Spanx of vacations. You’re being put through your paces but you're being told, “Gosh, what an indulgence this is.” Either charge me a hundred bucks a day and, sure, I'll run 100 miles and then I'll cook over an open fire. Or charge me $1,000 a day and I want you to carry me that 100 miles, and I want someone else to cook. There are incredible margins in some of these operations where you're essentially selling hardship at a premium.

Borges: You’ll never see me on a cruise ship. Do I have to explain why?

Alexander: I share that, as well. I personally don't have a desire to go on a cruise any time soon, maybe ever, but we sell it. And my parents love cruising, my in-laws love cruising, we have tons of clients that love it. I think in our business we kind of have a responsibility to be open-minded.

Borges: Expedition cruises are getting more and more interesting, but the concept of the cruise ship is in the exact opposite of how I see traveling.

Ellwood:I take lots of cruises. I'm very different. I love cruises so much. I don't think the most compelling things about cruise ships have anything to do with what's on the inside. It’s about how many people are on that ship, how much does it cost? If a ship is small enough, it can do things that big ships can't. That is the decision-making for me. Everything else onboard is a nice-to-have. The size of the ship, the price and the itinerary are the must-haves.

Stephen Scott: There are so many varying layers to what a cruise can be. A SeaDream yacht -- the size of a superyacht -- that’s also cruising. And the destinations they might touch would be something you would do with your superyacht.

Weissmann: There are certainly incredible destinations that are not only best seen by cruising but can almost only seen by cruising -- the Galapagos, Antarctica, the Inside Passage, Norway’s fjords. But in defense of larger ships for a moment -- when I first went on an Oasis-class ship, I found it surprisingly intimate. Instead of one bar that held 150 people, in the same space there were three bars for 50 people.

Changing subjects again. Among the issue that arose after the murder of George Floyd was that Black travelers are not well understood and that they're not pursued by travel brands relative to their spend. A subsequent study sized the Black travel market at $130 billion. That was two years ago. Have any of you seen any change in the way that marketing is done as a result of these issues coming to the fore?

Licea: From a purely marketing visual standpoint, there's a lot of shift in how our company markets. We do a lot more with LGBTQ on covers. We have a lot more people of color. But I still don't believe that the understanding of the needs of minority travelers is where it needs to be. We've tried as an industry to understand it, but have we put in the effort to accommodate it, to grow it, to embrace all people who want to travel? I don't know. I can't say that I think the industry has done a great job in that space.

Alexander: When hotels specifically target, for instance, gay travel -- I never understood. To me, a human’s a human. I always thought, “Why do you need to do this? You're almost segregating.” But I’ve come to understand, in a conversation we had just last night, that there is a need to promote minority travel. Clearly, I have a lot to learn for those types of needs.

Stephen Scott: You’ve got a large amount of folks that are right in the middle, right where you are. And unfortunately, we've got people making decisions, whether it's the head of companies or head of marketing departments, who are actually working their hardest to ensure that they don't have people of color coming to their establishment. And so it has been for hundreds of years.

Alexander: I get hundreds of years, sure, but do you think it’s happening now?

Stephen Scott: Absolutely. It is absolutely happening right now.

Alexander: Wow.

Stephen Scott: They work to ensure that the type of client they want in that resort is portrayed in their promotional material.

Borges: I fully agree with you. It's very evident here sometimes, even in the Caribbean.

Alexander: In terms of marketing?

Borges: Yes. At the last roundtable, we had Evita Robinson from Nomadness Travel Tribe, and I ended up talking a lot with her. I had exactly the same perspective as you. “Well, we don't discriminate. Everyone is welcome. And, you know, travel is travel. Why do I have to do anything?” And I just came out of those conversations thinking, “We have to do way more.”

Weissmann: What was it that she said that made you change your perspective?

Borges: We work in places that are not as sophisticated as New York. We work with employees that are not exposed to a wide range of people and principles. And they may not have the same approach to discrimination if, for example, a family is a gay family. Will they treat them the same? There's a lot of training that you need to give to your team. That, to me, was the main message. There’s also the superficial diversification of marketing. Okay, fine, but …

Licea: … but it's disingenuous to put an LGBTQ cover on a magazine and then not be accepting of them coming in.

Ellwood: It’s interesting what you say about the magazine. I had a great conversation with a friend who runs a very high-end safari outfit. I said to her, “I don't understand why all the photographs I get from safari companies are always gorgeous little blond, white boys receiving a drink from a Black person in traditional dress, bent over to serve them.” I'd never get a safari photograph where the guests aren't white.

But within a week she had a photo shoot done and sent me new photographs.

Stephen Scott: So, are companies showing that there is diversity among people traveling on a safari, or are they trying to ensure that they don’t lose what they regard as their market if they show diversity? There is a thought process that if you show diversity, you're either going to encourage the person on the cover of the brochure to come or you're going to alienate everybody who is already coming.

I think that, often, from a marketing standpoint, it's been about worrying that you’re going to alienate a certain swath of people rather than attract a more diverse group of travelers. If we show too many Black people in our brochure, will customers who have been coming for decades say, “What’s going on? I can't go there anymore.”

But still, good things are happening. People are starting to think about it. But we still have such a long way to go. And if the baseline is simply, “Take this image out and put this other image in,” well, that's not all that needs to be done.

I recently put together an ad and promoted it on Facebook and Twitter. It showed a Black female excited about traveling, and under it was my own marketing message. In response, I got a lot of vitriol and racism all through my comments: “Why is this on my feed?” “Why is there a Black person on my feed?” It was just vitriol.


‘I don’t want to go to a destination, have my vacation, leave the destination, and know nothing about it.’

Stephen Scott,
Travel Hub 365 and
Odyssey travel app

Stephen Scott speaking

Ellwood: As a cruise person I'm fascinated by what Hurtigruten Group has done by establishing a Black traveler advisory board. Cruise is a bit like safari, at a particularly white end of travel. So, for a cruise line to say, “How do we make our offering more appealing to a Black audience?” and bringing in [Blacks and Travel and Tourism founder] Stephanie Jones was amazing.

Was that a first for a cruise line?

Weissmann: Well, the first to send out a press release.

Stephen Scott: I worked at Royal Caribbean, and I was in multiple meetings years ago at Royal Caribbean when they were starting to make those changes, and they didn't need an advisory board because there were very influential people who understood what needed to happen, and they could direct. If you don't have someone at the high end of an organization who can actually make the right moves happen, it will not happen.

Hurtigruten creating a board -- that’s not just about painting over something and thinking everything is okay. It's about getting below the paint, below the surface of how an operation addresses the needs of different groups.

I think every cruise line needs to take those steps. Advisory boards start to get into the nitty gritty. What are we actually doing with our consumers? Are we marketing to them correctly? Are we taking care of them correctly?

Licea: It's interesting. When Evita started Nomadness, it was focused on Black travelers and their travel needs and desires. But she said it very quickly evolved into “Let's focus on the needs of all minority travelers.” She didn't choose to do it; it happened organically.

Stephen Scott: So, Arnie and I are on the Northstar Travel Group’s Black Travel Advisory Board, and that question was brought up very early on. We understand that other travelers are having issues, but if you dilute it too much, then there’s no longer focus on the specific issue, and it thins, and it thins, and it thins.

Licea: I think she's found a good balance.

Stephen Scott: That's great to hear.

Weissmann: When the Northstar board was being created, there were some voices at Northstar who advocated for a diversity advisory board rather than, specifically, a Black advisory board. So, we polled some of the Black travel professionals we thought would be essential and asked, “How do you feel? Should it be Black or should it be diversity?” To a person, the response was that it should be Black, for the very reasons you cited, Stephen.

I heard an analogy used by the Black Lives Matter’s founders when they were asked why there was reaction against people saying, “All lives matter” in response to “Black lives matter.” They said, “Well, if you’re talking about climate change and say that we need to save the Earth, would it be an appropriate response to say, ‘Well, all planets matter’? There is a specific problem affecting Earth that needs to be addressed.”

Borges: The are so many issues affecting so many people. We hired someone; she's gay and brought her wife. Here, you’ve got to get a work permit to be in the country, and then you can endorse your partner. But by law here, you cannot have same-sex marriages, even though U.K. law demands it, and Turks and Caicos is a British Overseas Territory. We started a fight with the government because of that. Obviously, they’re going to lose – U.K. law overrides local law. But it's going to cost. It's just a question of how much we have to spend.

Ellwood: I have a friend who’s a general manager of a great five-star hotel in Chengdu, one of my favorite places in the world, and he left because there was no way to get his husband any kind of permit to work straightforwardly. So, that destination lost someone -- yes, he was a white European -- because he was tired of flying to Singapore every three weeks to see his husband. And now he works in London, where his husband got a visa straight away.

Stephen Scott: And how do you even advertise for LGBTQ in a country that doesn't accept it? You just can't do it. There are so many layers to all of this.

Licea: We’re only on the cusp of understanding. And you have to understand before you can grow. We have to push the envelope.


‘The answer to “How do we sell this property over that one?” is storytelling.’

Vasco Borges,
Beach Enclave

Vasco Borges speaking

Weissmann: Another change of topic: The pandemic put a lot of focus on health concerns. Even prior to the pandemic, wellness in the travel industry had already included medical wellness to some extent. Do you think the balance between the traditional self-improvement and self-indulgence of spas and wellness programs and medical wellness will remain the same, or will the medical side get a boost?

Stephen Scott: In my experience, it’s basically the same as it was. There are always different people with different needs.

Alexander: I don’t think there’s greater demand for medical coming out of the pandemic. The brands that focus on wellness -- Canyon Ranch, Miraval -- are on the track they were on prepandemic. The medical side is always going to be a niche. The term “wellness,” like “glamping,” is overused. It means something different to different folks.

Ellwood: I'm looking at Chenot partnering with One&Only. Chenot is not just bougie wellness, “Let me sort of stroke your back and pamper you.” Chenot is medi-spa-ish. And I think there's going to be a much more. I’m waiting for luxury brands to partner with the Lanserhof Lans, the Buchinger Wilhelmi, those kind of properties, and say, “We don't have a spa. We have an outpost of the Buchinger Wilhelmi Wellness Clinic.” Sure, you can have a massage in your room. Or you can come here every morning and get your vitals taken.

And sign me up!

Alexander: To Mark’s point, the Ranch at Malibu was so popular and always sold out, so they started doing the Ranch in the Dolomites. And they were partnering with Rose Alpina to be the lodging. Once they figured it out, the Ranch is building out their whole pipeline of sales and marketing folks because they're developing their own Ranches all over the world. And they’re charging a lot to serve you about four almonds and six carrot sticks a day. But there are people that just need it, and I’m probably one of them. All of this to say that there are niche brands that do it really, really well.

Stephen Scott: You guys talk about having those niche brands adding on with the hotel. If that were something to motivate you to go to a hotel, well, Celebrity Cruises has for years partnered with Canyon Ranch. Would that motivate you to say, “Let me take a cruise”?

Borges: Has it worked for Celebrity Cruises?

Alexander: I think it might help someone who decides to cruise to differentiate amongst ships, but I think there's only a small minority of people that it would induce to cruise.

Borges: I don't know. I think those things can move the needle. You know, you're talking about the margin, right? So, if I have a 60% percent occupancy, and I’ve got an amazing spa, and I move to 65%, that makes a huge difference, right?

I think it's the differentiation. It's back to the storytelling. I think a lot of these things can pay off if you start thinking about how much more will you bring in on the room-side.

Weissmann: Last night, Vasco arranged a presentation by the local Reef Foundation, which was very interesting, and kudos to you, Vasco, for supporting the organization. But I have seen multiple surveys that say only a small percentage of travelers will actually pay extra in order to stay at a resort that focuses on sustainability. It could be that people want, when they're on vacation, to just be on vacation, away from responsibilities and obligations. And price sensitivity is an issue. So, is it perhaps up to the suppliers to simply build good sustainable practices into their pricing and not have an obvious pass-along to guests?

Borges: Yes. I strongly believe in this one. It's absolutely the supplier.

Alexander: I don't know that there's a responsibility, but I do think it's great. You just want to do it for the right reasons, but you could also market it. I think that the hotels that do market energy saving -- the Brando comes to mind -- are attractive.

Ellwood: I remember once being in L.A. There was a little sign by my bed. It was a California-shaped sign, and it said, “Yes, I know there is a drought in California, but please still wash and change my sheets.”

I was given the option of putting the sign onto my bed. And I wish I had a staple to staple it onto my bed, because that kind of passive-aggressive, “It's on you. We want to save the environment and you, as the guest, are going to have to just eat it.”

Licea: Guest shaming.

Ellwood: Exactly. And I thought, of course, it's nothing to do with the environment. Laundry is expensive. It's really useful for hotels that, suddenly, changing sheets every day is a really ecofriendly gesture, and it really cuts some overhead. But, also, at $2,000 a night, I expect you to be taking care of the environment. And it's not on me. Responsible behavior is part of the contract you enter into with a premium brand. I don't expect you to be like some awful cartoonish mother-in-law making me feel bad about doing or not doing something.

I remember I was at a luxury conference and the guy who used to run Tiffany said, “We were the first people to stop using red coral. We have 80% post-consumer recycled boxes. But we don't market that because, as a luxury brand, we should be doing that. If you, as a consumer, want to check what we do, there's a detailed section on our website. I don't consider that’s something we should look for accolades from.”

Licea: I just did just a brief survey across about 200 advisors asking, “If we as an agency plant a tree for every trip you book, would that attract clients.?” And the advisors say, “It sounds good, but ….” When it comes down to it, they won’t.

Borges: And that's why I say it is our responsibility. But Mark, the one thing I don't even necessarily agree with you is that, yeah, if I'm doing it, I'm going to talk about it. It's my responsibility, and I'm going to do the right thing, but I’m going to tell you.

Ellwood: The tipping point is saying that part of what a luxury brand is supposed to do is behave responsibly and train people. But this idea that the green responsibility is sort of shunted onto me and if I want to be an environmental vandal, I can, well, I took that passive-aggressive sign home and it's one of my favorite travel souvenirs.

Stephen Scott: I was talking with the person from the Reef Foundation, and she said that travelers aren’t really worried about damage to the coral reef, the damage to the conch population, but once it's gone, those same people are going to say, “Why is it gone? Why didn't you tell me about it?”

Alexander: We do a decent amount of travel for corporations, and our corporate clients actually do care more about corporate responsibility.

Licea: I agree. Individuals, not so much, but businesses, yes.

Weissmann: Geoffrey Kent [of Ambercrombie & Kent] told me, in regard to poaching in Africa, that countries often don’t see conservation efforts as protecting natural resources. If you were in a Middle Eastern country, and an individual just started digging a well and pumping out oil, the government would never allow it. But as economically important as tourism is in East Africa, and Turks and Caicos, governments don’t protect these natural resources as aggressively.

Borges: That's a fantastic way of saying it. I’m going to start using it every day. The bigger watersports companies here, they will go and get conch where they are not supposed to get it, because it pleases tourists. And they let people feed the iguanas, which is killing a lot of iguanas. And those are some of the bigger companies. We partner with Big Blue precisely because they don't do that. They do ecotours and have biologists on their team. We depend upon very fragile ecosystems.