DUBAI-The evolving dynamics of the luxury segment of the hospitality and leisure industry was discussed in a seminar held during the second day of the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2014 with a panel of experts agreeing that the high number of millionaires in the region has created a tiered set of expectations when it comes to all things luxury.
The focused seminar was part of ATM’s newly launched Spotlight on Luxury theme for 2014 with hosted buyers representing this valuable market segment, luxury destinations and high-end hospitality companies also taking part.
Given the scale of the number of millionaires in the region, the panel agreed that the expectations of individual HNWIs from across the GCC play a significant part in the travel decision-making process, which has led to the evolution of a tier system when booking anything from a first class airplane ticket to a private island stay.
“The luxury travel market is unique on different levels, but it works on a tier system where, for example, an individual will ask: ‘How much am I willing to pay for privacy’, but does this mean the individual is happy sharing [space] with two people or maybe more. It varies from person to person,” said Scott Booth, Associate Research Director at YouGov MENA.
“According to a 2012 Credit Suisse report, the number of millionaires in the UAE is set to grow by 12% by 2017, reaching 48,000 individuals. GCC nationals also spend 260% more on airfares against other nationalities, with between 40-60% booking business class travel, and also spending 430% more on accommodation and 558% more on dining; so the opportunity to develop highly specialised offerings for the upper luxury bracket presents a unique challenge,” said Mark Walsh, Portfolio Director, Reed Travel Exhibitions.
The rising tide of younger millionaires coming on the scene is also changing the landscape of the GCC luxury market and the challenge for the hospitality and leisure industry serving this market is the ability to evolve to meet new expectations and demands.
“The demographics are changing and luxury needs vary and need to be considered, with the older generation expecting larger rooms and the younger generation looking to get out quickly and enjoy themselves,” said Jacqueline Campbell, MD, The Travel Collection.
Haitham Mattar, Regional VP of Sales, Hilton Worldwide, Middle East, Africa & Eastern Europe agreed with this outlook, adding that the new luxury hotels coming online are more understated than the ones historically used by the older generation.
“The luxury experience the younger generation in the GCC look for is different too,” Mattar added. “It has to be memorable, and isn’t necessarily about money; it’s about what’s different, and about individuality.”
Luxury tourism, both inbound and outbound, is also heavily allied with high-end retail and a UK tourism report published by transaction company Global Blue noted that Middle East travellers made up 26% of the total spend by international visitors between January and July 2013, with a focus on luxury goods.
However, transactions aren’t limited to luxury goods, unique holidays and individual experiences are becoming increasingly popular.
“We need to offer experiences other people can’t, and to do this we need to have dedicated teams on the ground. Local families from the GCC want to know how you plan to fill up their day from breakfast onwards; and we had one family, for example, who we took to Japan to train to become ninja warriors,” said Debbie Duncan-Studart, Travel Counsellor, Abercombie & Kent
High-end exhibitors at ATM 2014 include including well-known hospitality brands including Anantara Resorts & Spas, Mandarin Oriental, Kerzner International, Fairmont Hotel & Resorts, Raffles Hotels & Resorts and Swissotel Hotels & Resorts, Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces, Oberoi Resorts & Resorts, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts and The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company; along with luxury destinations such as Monaco, Mauritius, Maldives and the Seychelles.