This article was shared with Luxury Travel Editors by our contributor, Tom Fels of Animarem.

“What transformational travel means for sustainability in the luxury destination economy.” – Tom Fels

As a luxury travel awakening looms, the greatest opportunity presented to destinations in decades could also be the origin of their greatest mistake. A surge of newly enlightened post COVID-19 travellers is fast approaching, necessitating the reimagining of guest experience, a sustainable operating ethos and delicate customer service.

Destinations, hotels and resorts anticipating a return to the paradigm-of-old may soon find themselves detached from the hearts and minds of a clientele they once knew so well.

What has become clear to all after months of low-to-no travel, is that the great pause must be followed by a great reset.

The transformed traveller
Travel priorities and behaviours have changed dramatically during the year, in part due to restricted movement, but also thanks to the effect that the lockdowns have had on the luxury travel psyche.

From duration to destination choice, the factors influencing travel decisions are changing. Indeed, the inner journey of personal (re)discovery is high up on the bucket list of the conscious traveller, now seeking appropriate locations for meaning-making, connecting and simply ‘being’. Patterned behaviours of material wealth accumulation are set to be replaced with the allure of collected experiences, emotionally deeper and more valued than short-lived retail therapy.

The alignment of this ‘inner journey’ with the immersive physical practice of travel is therefore of paramount importance for destinations and operators. Together these inform a new operating model, particularly in the high-end space, that places a far more emotive focus at the heart of the travel experience and requires that sustainability be brought to the fore.

Blueprinting the implication of this in real-time will require a strong dose of empathy, along with visionary foresight.

Luxury hosting, reimagined
Bespoke, mindful destinations that embrace sustainability as a necessary foundation for transformative travel experiences could enjoy positions of unparallel relevance, contrasting their holistic philosophies against a stark backdrop of big-brand hotel chains that struggle to make the leap because of their sunk equity in property and product.

Sympathetic to environmental impact and cognizant of planetary boundaries, we are bound to see an evolution of both supply chain and business operations, reflecting a lighter touch on the earth, while making guests a part of one’s mission. Whether it be through the sourcing of food and supplies through local cooperatives, the slow extraction of bathtubs in favour of water-saving showers or simply a stronger alignment between the energetic flow of the day’s itinerary and the body’s natural circadian rhythm, a more compassionate approach to the business of luxe travel is upon us.

Of course, large or small, owners and managers of hotel groups have also been called to think beyond environmental sustainability, toward ‘place-making’ through active community citizenship and the promotion and protection of their own people.

Furthermore, given heightened pressure on global economic and social systems, we see a constant evolution of expectations and standards. According to the Transformational Travel Council co-founder Jake Haupert, “It is vital that we continue to challenge the status quo, moving from being simply sustainable to being regenerative. A regenerative system behaves like any living system, with healing occurring from within, adapting, evolving, and improving conditions, not simply sustaining, but regenerating.

Complacency has no place in this new paradigm, and purpose-driven intent must be matched by nimble implementation.

The in-between
Billed as ‘the worst year for the travel industry in modern history’ by Telegraph newspaper, projections place the decline in international travel between 60-80% in 2020.

While now operable, many luxury hotels, lodges and resorts remain cut-off from their main source markets by both travel embargos and unwilling adventurers. Thus, destinations have an imposed reprieve from typical operating thinking that invites introspection and an opportunity to reshape ‘life beyond’ 2020.

Those with foresight have already mapped an evolved philosophy that matches deeper empathy for the traveller with a conscious approach to the privilege of stewarding operational stakeholders responsibly into the future. For those playing catch-up, a holistic and deep-rooted view on sustainability must form the cornerstone of this ideal, balancing vulnerability with optimistic, long-term thinking.

As for right now, we are experiencing the moment of in-between. There is still time to shape what comes next, but make no mistake, the transformation of luxury travel is upon us.