Against a backdrop where anticipating future trends in travel is more important than ever for the tourism industry, Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts attempts to paint a picture of how different sectors of the travel and tourism industry are likely to evolve in the short to medium term, through a series of webinars focusing on the future of tourism.
The third edition of the Cinnamon Future of Tourism webinar series by Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts took place on 14 July and featured an eminent panel of travel and tourism professionals including Steppes Travel Luxury Holidays Managing Director Justin Wateridge; Conde Nast Traveller Editor Divia Thani; Sri Lanka In Style Chief Experience Officer Miguel Cunat; The Asia Collective, Luxe Magazine, and Boutique Booking Agency Co-Founder and Director Kelly Beckwith; and International Luxury Travel Mart Sales Manager (Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa) Harry Fowles. The webinar was moderated by Dileep Mudadeniya who serves as Head of Brand Marketing for Cinnamon Hotels and Resorts and Vice President of John Keells Holdings.
The panel first addressed what luxury travel meant, explaining that it is more than simply a stay in a top hotel. Luxury travel is more experience based, with luxury travellers looking for unique, curated experiences that can be heavily customised. Cunat explained that luxury is often spoken of as a segment with specific price tags in mind, but that this is often not the case; luxury is a state of mind and can come through different price points. It is not always luxury hotels, private planes, butlers, and concierges.
Cunat also commented that Sri Lanka’s most in-demand luxury experiences are safari related, with culinary experiences and shopping following close behind.
In terms of what to expect from the luxury traveller post pandemic, Thani commented that the value of experiences offered will become more important than the price tag attached. Across the board, travellers will have developed a newfound appreciation for nature and the environment and wellness, which will come through in the experiences they seek. Wateridge echoed this, explaining that the experience is less hedonistic, and while people will travel less, they will likely travel longer and spend more on their travel.
Commenting on trends, the panel noted that there will likely be a bigger focus on unique sustainability, wellness, and eco-friendly-driven experiences. This trend is one that can be seen across all forms of travel. Travellers want to go home revitalised, and eco-friendliness, sustainability, and wellness will become big keywords.
The panel also discussed the role of innovation in offering experiences for luxury travel, with Cunat commenting that innovation on the part of the State, to allow exclusive and private tours of museums and archaeological sites and other similar strategies, are potential ways of being able to cater more effectively to the luxury traveller.
Thani also commented on the need for innovation in terms of marketing and positioning, explaining that across the world, people have begun focusing on domestic international travellers and offering experiences catered to them. Digital and content marketing and social media presence is also an important way to reach and engage with travellers, both old and new.
Beckwith stressed on the importance of “search engine optimisation” and defining keywords that luxury travellers will be using to search for travel-related content, and building this into how you appear online.
Fowles commented on the need for personalisation, explaining that the bespoke feeling of experiences will become more important than ever. In terms of pricing and economic crisis, Fowles shared that this will not affect the luxury travel client significantly as their disposable incomes will, for the most part, not be impacted. What will be important is offering value.
On positioning Sri Lanka as a luxury travel destination, the panel noted that there was great potential for Sri Lanka to become a luxury travel destination if it wasn’t already. There are issues that would need attention for Sri Lanka to truly own itself as a luxury destination like congestion and sustainability issues at parks and moving beyond standard access to tourist sites. The cultural authenticity of Sri Lanka is what makes it strong as a luxury destination, and Sri Lanka should focus on that without allowing international brands to cloud their definition of what luxury is.
On dealing with luxury travellers within the context of the pandemic, Fowles explained that this will need to be done intelligently, as some travellers will be more concerned about others in terms of health, safety, and the risk of Covid-19. Thani cited the example of the Oberoi Group, having the information on hand on their website in great detail of how they hope to practise health and safety. However, it is positioned in a way where travellers who are not as interested in travel are not bombarded with the information, while travellers who are interested can find it easily.
On the best ways to find and engage with luxury travellers, the panel noted that the most effective ways would be considering closer markets like India, making sure the products and experiences offered are unique and provide value, and maximising on Sri Lanka from a storytelling perspective while being active digitally and on social media so that luxury travellers can find you.