Existential Travel - A Luxury Journey Within

Markets have changed, consumers have changed and ways of traveling have changed. But what is that one core that will help define the many travel trends moving about?

By: Jesus Parrilla, Partner, Luxury Frontiers

Posted on: February 23, 2015

Markets have changed, consumers have changed and ways of traveling have changed. But what is that one core that will help define the many travel trends moving about?
snowcapped mountains luxury travel experiencesOver the past several years, there has been a noticeable shift in consumer behavior, particularly in market segments featuring luxury goods and services. In large part attributed to the aftermath of the 2008 global economic crisis, the wealthy can no longer be stereotyped by their superfluous buying patterns. Rather, as stated in the 2014 MasterCard Affluent Report, there has been “a shifting tendency among the affluent to seek and discover authentic experiences as opposed to purchasing and owning physical luxury items.”
All indications are that this is a fundamental shift in consumer behavior rather than simply a temporary trend. It is no surprise, then, that the travel press has written extensively about the different ways or forms in which affluent (sophisticated, savvy, well-travelled) travelers now consume travel. Similarly, many travel companies, both hotels and tour operators alike, have (rightly) rushed to capitalize on the opportunities created by this structural change in the market.
Many industry experts would argue that designing travel experiences is the key to attracting affluent consumers to their travel programs and/or hotels. Others would say that it is how the destination or itinerary is packaged. Finally, some others would argue that the exclusivity (perceived uniqueness rather than necessarily how much it costs) of the experience is the main driver for attracting affluent travelers.
The debate on what is the right approach to best capitalize on this market shift has been both intense and engaging. However, whatever argument one may support, the most potent underlining common element in high-end travel, even before the 2008 global crisis, has been the consumer’s indefatigable (yet often subconscious) desire to escape. In other words, they are particularly seeking travel experiences that allow them to reach beyond the boundaries of their every day world.
This has little to do with the “outbound” experience many companies seek to craft, but rather with the “inbound” journey travelers are willing to take as they get away from excess consumption of material things. As such, the traveler’s quest is for an existential journey, a primal pillar in travel evolution and a deeply rooted sentiment, which deals with a return to humanity, a distancing of self from all preconceptions, and an eagerness to embrace new places with all ones' senses. 

limestone slope unique luxury travel experiences

Existential travel is travel that occurs at the conjunction of emotions, sensations, relationships, understandings and awareness of time and space. It is traveling for the sake of feeling alive and traveling to be reborn. It is a life free of filters and misrepresentations. It is the type of travel that ultimately replenishes the soul and that is itself pure luxury: where value is not attributed to cost, but rather to an individualized and deeply personal (spiritual) experience.
The days of opulent excess may return, but the changes that have occurred to the travel industry are structural and long lasting. Experiential, active, adventure, nature-based, cultural/heritage travel, and their variations are all derivatives of existential travel. Companies that can grasp this will be able to create a conducive environment in which sophisticated travelers encounter life-defining moments, launching them into that much sought after journey of self-discovery that continues far beyond the time boundaries of the actual trip. 
jesus parrilla portrait luxury frontiersJesús Parrilla is a cross-functional executive with broad experience in management, operations, sales, marketing, communications, and business development. He was the CEO and Commercial VP of Explora Lodges in South America for several years. Under his leadership Explora enjoyed its most successful run in 20 years of operations, garnering multiples awards and recognitions. He has held Board of Directors positions at Metropolitan Touring in Argentina, Chile and Peru where he played a key role in the regional expansion and global distribution strategy. As a partner at Luxury Frontiers, he is responsible for helping land owners and hotel operators design travel programs that engage and inspire guests, based on the unique natural and cultural attributes that the destination has to offer. You can follow him at @parrilla_jesus

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