Every December, top hotels, cruise lines, tour operators, travel agents, and members of the media descend upon Cannes, France, for the annual International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM), the travel industry’s version of the Cannes Film Festival.
The gorgeous hotels there—the Hotel Barrière le Majestic, the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hôtel Martinez, and more—feel like movie sets, their lobbies bubbling with travel gossip and champagne. Each time I walked into the lobby of the InterContinental’s Carlton, I imagined bumping into Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, who filmed the great French Riviera caper To Catch a Thief there.
Here, plucked from Cannes’ sands like so many rare shells, are seven luxurious trends and favorite finds to inspire your 2017 travel plans:
Backlash Against Luxury
Luxury, one of travel’s most overused declarations, can feel like a dirty word. (I stayed at a hotel once where my shower cap was labeled as luxury.) But 2017’s not about solid marble suites or gold-leaf interiors. Many at Cannes talked about returning luxury to its roots—something precious, rare, and most important, invested in emotional value.
Defining your own luxury, says Gary Murphy of AmaWaterways, could be a surfing camp with no electricity or a five-star river cruise with plenty of bikes onboard for shore excursions. Grace Hotels takes personalization even further; with Bespoke by Grace, guests can pick their room fragrance and bath products but also choose from insider experiences like blending your own wine in Argentina or a guided hike in Connecticut.
Experience Over Ownership
Luxurians no longer want souvenirs. The elite traveler now thirsts for access over acquisition, and experiences over owning stuff. This is “good news for travel, bad news for handbags,” Chris Sanderson, co-founder of the Future Laboratory, a trend-forecasting agency, said at a Ritz-Carlton hotels breakfast. Owning specific, expensive products like the Hermès Kelly bag doesn’t mean as much anymore. Travel experiences—and posting about them—matter more.
Anne Scully, president at McCabe World Travel, recently posted about her adventures in Paris and booked several clients because of it. “It’s all about being a storyteller,” she says. “We are all storytellers and we trust other travelers. I plan to tell the story of Istanbul this year—I will visit and help promote one of my favorite cities.”
The Next Travel Buzz Word: Simplicity
Words like “curated,” “artisanal,” and “authentic” fill press releases, but at ILTM, the bonniest bon mot was “simplicity.” True luxury is slowing down—that moment of decompression when you see a phenomenal view—and feeling completely unburdened.
“[There are] too many options,” says Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations. “People are overwhelmed with apps, blogs, reviews, aggregator sites, social media channels, and news feeds.”
Travel advisors are now information navigators and matchmakers, pairing people with experiences. For Ezon, the right answer is not which is better, but which is best for them. “Computers cannot yet dig beneath the surface,” Ezon explains. “We don’t take orders for destinations. We listen and give them what they perhaps had not considered. One client spent hours deciding if they should go to the Four Seasons or the St. Regis in Bora Bora for Christmas. But they didn’t know it was monsoon season and when they called us, we asked why they wanted to go and learned they wanted cultural immersion with a beach and some nightlife. Bora Bora wasn’t a great match. They ended up going to Phuket, which was exactly what they wanted, but didn’t know it.”
Other hotels are also serving this trend. The Park Hyatt St. Kitts (opening summer 2017) will offer personalized experiences focusing on the island’s adventure, cultural, and historic offerings.
There's an App for That
I consider most apps to be like vitamins -- they're nice to have but not life-changing. The technology is easier, but it doesn't replace personal service. The Four Seasons Hotels And Resorts app is different. Guests use it primarily for two reasons: to check-in on the way to the hotel and to order room service. I recently used the app at Four Seasons properties in Geneva and Cairo, and loved it. I ordered dessert to my room without talking to anyone, and even retrieved a forgotten razor from housekeeping. TripIt is a stand-out travel app, where you can manage your travel plans, points, mileage, and reservations seamlessly—though the best benefits come when you pay $49 annually for TripIt Pro. But many travel and hotel apps still need work—and I expect by year's end we'll have many new ones to love.
'Small Has Never Been Bigger’
Small Luxury Hotels of the World coined this phrase, perhaps fighting back at large chain hotels and resorts. The average size across the brand is 48 rooms. InterContinental Hotels will open a hotel in Venice in 2018 with just 55 rooms, unusual for a larger luxury chain. Guests staying in small hotels tend to want ultra-immersive experiences. “Clients are asking us to create experiences for them that will help them grow as people and as a family,” Ezon says of the trend. “A beach resort is no longer just about pampering yourself; it’s about connecting.”
Family-owned properties, capitalizing on the travelers’ desire to make deep, local connections, will become an even bigger draw in the upcoming year. In Alaska, Winterlake and Tutka Bay Lodges (both are National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World) are owned and operated by renowned chef Kirsten Dixon, her outdoorsman husband Carl, and their grown children. In Sorrento, Italy, the beloved Grand Excelsior Vittoria, surrounded by lush gardens and Bay of Naples views, has been run by the Fiorentino family since 1834. The Beau-Rivage in Geneva is adding 17 show-stopping top-floor suites to its historic building this spring, and is still run by the Mayer family as it has for the past five generations.
Destinations to Watch
Yes, Cuba still sizzles, and Rwanda might just be Africa's next hot destination, but look out for these destinations, too. InterContinental Hotels announced 2017 openings in Sofia, Bulgaria; Ljubljana, Slovenia (Melania Trump’s old stomping grounds); and Tbilisi, Georgia. Eastern Europe, with underrated cities and good value for the money, will continue to grow in popularity.