The luxury travel demands driving growth in a post-pandemic world

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Travel demands have changed since the pandemic and young, affluent travellers emerge as a key target audience – here’s how travel brands need to respond.

The travel industry is finally experiencing a full rebound from the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. By all meaningful metrics, travel has returned to pre-Covid levels and the industry can, once again, look forward to growth – not simply recovery.

However, travel companies can’t expect the same marketing strategies to work in the post-pandemic world. The latest insights from YouGov reveal how travel priorities are different and why luxury travellers are a more important target audience than ever.

Key insights: Travel is back with a bang

YouGov’s latest travel insights report, Global travel & tourism whitepaper 2023: Luxury travel post-pandemic, assesses travel demands and expectations as the industry recovers from Covid disruption.

The luxury travel segment looks very different in the post-pandemic world and brands need to respond accordingly. This segment will be increasingly important for travel brands, too, as people across the board spend more money on travelling. More importantly, this segment is the most resistant to economic strains, including the ongoing cost of living crisis.

The key takeaway from the survey is that “travel is back with a bang” as travellers in all segments try to make up for lost time.

“In the last 12 months, consumers across the globe strived to make up for lost time, spending more on vacations, and catching up on the time missed with their loved ones through travelling with wider groups of friends and family. They also had a desire to fulfil their travel dreams by ticking a location, or experience off their bucket list, taking more vacations, and longer vacations than ever before.”

The good news for luxury travel brands is that affluent consumers are the most active travellers. In fact, travel demand (and spending) is highest among younger affluents and this trend will shape the marketing landscape for luxury travel brands for many years to come.

Many travel brands will need to rethink their campaign messages and targeting strategies. If you’re used to creating luxury travel campaigns for older affluents, now is the time to add campaigns for younger demographics.

Travel demand is higher than ever

According to insights from YouGov, more than a third of travellers feel travel is more important to them since the pandemic. The report explains that “the pandemic has fueled the appetite for travel across the globe”.

“Our research shows that global consumers are spending more on travel, booking longer trips, taking more vacations than before, travelling with wider groups and ticking more locations off the bucket list.”

YouGov asked thousands of travellers across global markets whether travel is no more important to them.

level of agreement with the statement 'travel has become more important since the pandemic'

More than a third of respondents (35%) agreed that travel is more important now than it was before the pandemic. Only 27% of respondents disagreed with the statement while a slight majority (38%) said they neither agree nor disagree. Either way, travellers across the board are planning and booking trips in greater volumes.

YouGov data finds that 67% of travellers are planning a leisure trip in the next 12 months. Travellers are also taking more trips, more often with 27% of global travellers planning to take three or more trips in the next 12 months.

Travel most important to affluent youngers

Multiple studies are showing that travel is a priority for Millennials and Gen Z. As Millennials start turning 40, they’re becoming one of the most important travel audiences while Gen Z is also making big travel moves, despite having less disposable income.

YouGov’s insights support these findings with 44% of travellers aged 18 to 34 saying travel is more important post-pandemic – up from the 35% global average.

Index of those agreeing with the statement 'travel has become more important since the pandemic'

Interestingly, it’s the young, affluent travellers who are most likely to agree that travel is a bigger priority now. 54% of high earners under the age of 35 say travel is more important since the pandemic.

UK travellers less likely to agree travel more important

If we segment the global data by nations, travellers in the UAE are most likely to agree that travel is more important since the pandemic (58%). However, travellers in the UK are less likely to agree with this statement (26%), falling below the global average – along with many of its European neighbours.

Net agreement by country of those agreeing with the statement 'travel has become more important since the pandemic'

In fact, Italy and Spain are the only European nations posting responses above the global average of 35% with 41% and 40% respectively.

After the UAE, travellers in India were most likely to agree with this sentiment (57%), followed by Hong Kong (47%) and Singapore (41%).

Travel spending is up – and so is group travel

We’ve also seen plenty of studies over the past year reveal that people plan to spend more on travel and travel more often after Covid. Again, YouGov’s insights back this up, finding that increased spending is the joint-biggest change in travel habits.

YouGov asked global travellers how their travel activities have changed over the last 12 months. Increased spending tied with travelling in groups of family members and/or friends as the two biggest changes to travel habits since the pandemic

13% of global travellers are spending more on trips while another 13% are taking more trips with family members and friends.

travel activity changes in the last 12 months

Aside from spending more money and taking more trips with loved ones, travellers are also ticking dream locations off their bucket lists (11%). They’re also taking longer trips (10%), taking more trips than usual (9%) and working remotely while travelling more often (8%).

Keep in mind that these insights are global so you’ll need to adapt your campaign strategies for different markets. For example, travellers in Europe once again buck the global trend of working remotely while they travel.

“Comparing the data by countries, the appetite for mixing work with leisure and workations (working remotely whilst on vacation) is stronger in the UAE (18%), India and Mexico (17%) and Indonesia (15%), and less pronounced in the European markets (GB 4%, France and Germany both 3%).”

This is an important reminder to always contextualise the data you use to inform decisions. Always be careful of blanket statements and delve deeper into the data to find out what the numbers are really telling you about your target audiences.

Young affluents are going big on travel

If we segment the data for travel activities to see how affluent travellers compare with global averages, the numbers are telling. Affluents are more active than the global average in every travel activity and young affluents are even more active in every instance – sometimes, by a large margin.

The strongest example of this is travelling with a wider group of family and/or friends. Almost a quarter (24%) of affluents aged 18 to 35 are travelling more often with family and/or friends, compared to 18% of all affluents and the 13% global average.

travel activities in the last 12 months amongst global total and affluents

Unsurprisingly, a much higher percentage of affluents are spending more money on travel than the global average of 13%, but the gap is much narrower.

21% of all affluents are spending more on travel post-Covid while 23% of younger affluents are spending more on trips.

In many categories, roughly twice as many younger affluents have increased travel activities than the global average. This includes ticking locations off bucket lists, taking longer holidays and travelling more frequently.

Affluents plan to keep spending big & travelling with loved ones

Travel brands need to be aware that certain travel activities could suddenly rebound. For example, we’re currently seeing increased travel activity with groups of loved ones and remote working while on leisure and business trips – as well as a mixture of leisure and business (bleisure).

Potential rebounds could include a surge in solo travel replacing trips with loved ones or a stronger separation of business and leisure travel. Brands need to keep a keen eye on consumer demand data so they can anticipate swings in travel activities.

Interestingly, YouGov’s survey suggests that travel with friends and family will be even more important for affluent travellers over the next 12 months. 23% of affluent travellers plan to take a trip with friends/family over the next 12 months, compared to the 18% who did so during the previous year.

Comparison of travel activities undertaken in the last 12 months and the next 12 months among affluent consumers

Likewise, it seems even more affluent travellers will be ticking locations/experiences off their bucket lists over the next 12 months (19% up from 14%) and taking more trips than usual (17% up from 14%).

However, the data suggests interest in taking business trips and working remotely while on holiday could be on the decline among affluent travellers – something to keep an eye on.

Meaningful experiences matter – especially to affluent travellers

One of the biggest travel trends in recent years is that travellers are increasingly seeking unique experiences. Research from Tripadvisor in 2022 found travellers were seeking out new destinations and experiences. In fact, previous YouGov insights have found unique experiences topping the list of priorities for luxury travellers.

The top luxury travel experiences affluent consumers would pay more for

Again, we’re seeing this trend across the board with all travellers, but it’s strongest with affluent and young affluent travellers, in particular.

At the global average, 42% of travellers place a high value on unique experiences but this increases to 58% for affluent travellers and 68% for young affluent travellers.

In general, younger travellers are more likely to seek out new and unique experiences while affluent travellers have more funds available to afford luxury in remote locations. So, it’s no surprise that young affluent travellers are the most prepared to spend extra for “meaningful travel”.

The top luxury travel experiences affluent consumers would pay more for

Of course, “meaningful” travel is an ambiguous term that could mean any number of things. For some travellers, it could mean experiencing different cultures, while others might want to create unforgettable memories with their loved ones.

So let’s take a look at some objective figures:

  • Unique experiences: This is a top priority 58% for affluents and 63% for younger affluents.
  • Meaningful travel: 59% of younger affluents say they want “meaningful” travel experiences and 51% of all affluents agree.
  • Responsible travel: 57% of young affluents say they want to book with travel companies that have a strong sustainability policy.
  • Eco accommodation: Demand for eco-luxury accommodation is on the rise with 50% of younger affluents seeking out greener stays in the past three years.
  • Secluded luxury: 31% of young affluents are willing to pay more for villas/chalets in secluded or private locations and 25% for luxury stays on private islands.
  • First class travel & food: 25% of younger affluents are willing to pay more for first-class transport and gourmet experiences but this no longer tops the list of priorities for luxury travellers.

Travel brands don’t need to define “meaningful” experiences for their target audiences. Travel is one of the most emotionally-charged buying experiences and people don’t make bookings with objective rationale.

Your campaigns need to make luxury travellers feel like they’re going to get meaningful experiences by making the booking. Lead with the emotional angle of meaningful, unique and authentic travel experiences. Reinforce this with the touches of luxury and comfort they’ll get from booking with you.

Then, back this all up with the logical rationale of your sustainability measures, financial protections and other reassurances.

Who are affluent travellers?

YouGov’s travel report defines affluent travellers demographically as follows:

“Demographically, affluents skew slightly male (57%) and slightly older than the global total, almost seven in ten (68%) are aged over 35 with 45% aged 45+. They are more likely to be graduates (65% vs 46% global total) and more than eight in ten are working (82% vs 62% global total) with almost three quarters working full time (72% vs 48% global total).”

affluent demographics

Always put the data into context, though. Slightly more than half of affluents are male but we’re still talking about 43% of this demographic being female. Likewise, although 68% of affluents are over 35 years old, younger affluents are the most active segment – and they’re also spending the most.

So make sure your luxury travel marketing strategy includes segments for key audiences like younger female affluents – among others.

Crucially, travel interest is higher among affluents across every category compared to the global averages. 75% of affluents say they’re passionate about travel, compared to the 64% average, while 52% say it’s their #1 topic of interest.

affluents priority audience

Affluents are also the most frequent travellers with 38% planning to take three or more trips over the next 12 months, compared to 28% of all travellers.

How to win affluent travel audiences

One of the most telling insights from YouGov’s survey is how much affluents enjoy planning their travels. According to the study, 72% of affluents enjoy researching and coming up with travel plans, compared to 57% of all travellers.

winning affluent travellers

That’s a huge difference and a big win for luxury travel brands because this planning stage is where you’re going to capture all of your leads. The passion affluents have for planning trips means they’re more responsive to marketing messages than your typical traveller. Use this to your advantage.

As YouGov’s study puts it:

“While they are happy to organise and book their vacation themselves, they are more open to expert advice and the convenience of letting someone else curate their itinerary or offer them something unique and personalised that is off the beaten track.”

To pull this off, you need to understand the priorities of affluent travellers. We’ve already explored many of these priorities individually, but it always helps to see how different booking motivations compare.

Thankfully, YouGov has compiled this data for us.

Factors looked for in next travel destination by global affluents

When asked what they’re looking for in their next travel destination, affluent travellers want to experience different cultures in a safe environment.

From these responses, you can start to see what kind of package affluent travellers are looking for. They want to feel like they’re getting unique and meaningful travel experiences but not at the expense of safety or the convenience of having local amenities and attractions – even when they’re booking more remote getaways.

Luxury travel is in good hands

Obviously, luxury travel has been something of a niche in recent decades – mostly as a result of cheaper flights. However, the age of budget travel could be coming to an end as prices increase and environmental pressures require greener, more expensive alternatives.

The hard reality for many is that travel could become a luxury pass time once again – certainly when it comes to travelling overseas.

For travel brands, the good news is luxury travel is likely to expand as a result of market trends. Those who can afford it will continue to travel but they’ll probably have to spend more, less often to remain within budget.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, affluents are more prepared than ever to increase their travel spending. Crucially, younger affluents are the hungriest travel segment and this demographic could drive decades worth of growth in the luxury travel sector.

However, brands need to react now because younger affluents are already spending big and forging relationships with travel brands they can trust.

If you need help adapting your campaigns to target affluent travellers, our specialist travel marketing team can help. Call us on 023 9283 0281 or send us your details and we’ll get right back to you.

Michelle Hill profile picture
Michelle Hill

Michelle joined Vertical Leap in 2011 as Marketing Manager, having spent the previous 15 years of her marketing career in the recruitment, leisure and printing industries. Her passions include dogs, yoga, walking, cycling, the beach, mountains and tapas.

More articles by Michelle
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