Sophie Toh reflects on a new travel mood that has been spurred by the pandemic – namely, discreet accommodation and increasingly advanced forms of aviation which allow travellers to quietly go off-grid.
As the pandemic drags us wearily into a new year, communications experts are taking a moment to reflect on the luxury travel habits adopted in 2020 and predict what will be prevalent in 2021. If we allow ourselves a moment of hope, there is talk of a renaissance on the horizon, as pent-up demand prompts a resurgence in travel and the return of the ‘roaring twenties’.
However, in the first uncertain quarter of the year, whilst the vaccine roll-out gathers pace, it is safe to assume that the theme of extreme caution will continue. An enduring theme within this tentative era is that of privacy, as pent-up wanderlust, coupled with a pragmatic need to travel safely and discreetly, puts a premium on exclusive and rare experiences. In this article, we look at how all sectors of the travel industry are embracing this solitary mood, from traditional hoteliers to radical market disruptors, allowing us to gently glide off-grid, away from the chaos and conflict defining our times.
The luxury hospitality brand Ultima Collection prides itself on delivering the utmost privacy and discretion to its client base of celebrities and the discerning elite. Launched in 2016, the ethos is to combine five-star hotel amenities with the seclusion of home, allowing guests to tailor their itineraries from a seemingly limitless cast of chefs, wellness therapists, ski instructors and more. Beating the odds, Ultima has just completed a stellar year, owed to its canny ability to offer guests a supreme sense of retreat and restoration from the challenges of the day-to-day. Interestingly, across its five (soon to be seven) properties, 95 per cent of guests reached Ultima’s properties by private aviation in 2020, showing just how strong the appetite for hermetically sealed travel is becoming.
Iconic staples in the luxury hospitality industry are also picking up on this demand and continue to pivot towards the private residential model. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, which debuted its first residence in 1985, and then introduced Private Retreats, whereby guests can privately rent those residences, continues to increase the development of residential projects. In 2020, two out of the brand’s four new openings, Four Seasons Hotel and Residences Madrid and Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Praya River, launched with private residences, and in 2021, both Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans and Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley will do the same.
Elsewhere, hospitality leaders are pioneering the notion of remote tranquillity in a number of ultra-luxe new additions to existing hotels. A newsworthy addition is the opening of the Private Island at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, or Pearl Island, this month. The largest in the country and the crown jewel of Hilton’s luxury portfolio in the Asia Pacific, this inspirational island is for the super-wealthy only, priced at a cool US$92,000 per night, excluding taxes. Reflecting the current need for isolation, at the time of writing the island was fully booked until March.
Remarkable experiences have always been a prerequisite of luxury travel, a trend that experts sense will evolve into the idea of personal fulfilment in 2021; with itineraries acting as manifestations of individual passions.
In China, this theme is reflected in the philosophy of the naked Castle brand, whose flagship property is on the hot list for those in the know. This sought-after sanctuary is found in a bamboo forest on a secluded mountain outside Shanghai and was converted from a castle built by a Scottish missionary in 1910. Here, guests are encouraged to develop a deep connection with nature, opening the door to moments of self-reflection and enlightenment. Owing to its popularity, the brand is currently planning two new properties for 2021; naked Hill and naked Valley.
One&Only achieved the impressive feat of debuting two new properties in 2020, demonstrating a skilful ability to redefine the domestic travel experience whilst allowing those with a serious need to escape access to new levels of indigenous experiences. In its new Desaru Coast Resort in Malaysia, guests can master the ancient martial art of Silat Malayu, with a highly trained Silat Master, or take part in the Call of the Gibbons trek through the Patni Forest Reserve, the home of dusky leaf monkeys, pig-tailed macaques and oriental pied hornbills.
Private aviation had a jumbo year in 2020, with a historic uptick in private jet charters and the beta-launch of Boom Supersonic, representing the next era in supersonic travel, injecting the industry with much needed new technology and progress.
As such innovation continues to take place in the sky, experts are wondering whether the final frontier is Space Tourism; a new industry currently being led by Nasa, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, who are all vying to offer truly revolutionary extra-terrestrial journeys. Analysts are keenly monitoring this possible stratospheric economy, that UBS predicts will be valued at US$3 billion by 2030.
Perhaps, only by floating thousands of miles on the edge of space, can we truly find the philosophical perspective needed to navigate the current troubled state of human existence.