Been there, done that. Huge hotel rooms, expensive marble tiles and gold-plated water taps, plus 24-hour-a-day butler service, are starting to bore the well-heeled traveller.
Those amenities are no longer enough to make travel memorable.
That is the conclusion of Stefan Kraemer, head of Airtours, the luxury holidays division of the German travel company TUI.
Travellers want to return home with different, very special experiences to talk about – for example, sleeping among elephants or having a romantic dinner for two in the middle of a rice paddy.
In an interview, Kraemer used the term “immaterial luxury” to describe what travellers with deep pockets seek.
Ten years ago, the size of a room or the hotel’s facilities were the decisive factors, he says.
“But today we notice that a holiday experience is the result of the interplay with the surroundings. That special moment is awaiting outside the hotel.”
Of course, a hotel is still necessary, he adds. “But now it’s all about experiencing something special, something unique, in a breathtaking natural setting, and not about the gold-plated bath-taps.”
So the question is, how to define the unique, the special, the breathtaking? Kraemer can offer one example.
“There’s a lodge in Botswana where you can sleep in a bed atop stilts under the open skies, directly among a herd of elephants. You can hear them snoring at night. This will be the first story you tell when you get back home.”
Kraemer, who has been head of the luxury travel segment at TUI for about a year now, says it is safe to speak of a “trend” with travellers seeking something different, but also with a “critical mass” having been reached at the hotels with something new to offer.
So far, leading the way in the new trend is Africa, he says, but there are also some “great offers” coming from Asia.
“For example, there is the one offering a waitered dinner in a rice paddy in China. Now, the first of the Alpine hotels are joining the wave.”
A key component of his job is to determine who the new trend travel customers are, with Kraemer observing that “as a rule, they are not neophytes. They have a certain amount of experience.”
But he adds that this does not mean only an older clientele.
“For us, it’s a chance to appeal to a younger audience.”
Whether older or younger, another aspect is price, with Kraemer conceding that room prices will be even higher than at a city palace, because the rural lodges involved are clearly smaller.
“And naturally, the additional experiences are going to cost something extra. But it may be a really special experience, say, of observing a huge bird migration from the air. Some people are willing to pay for the cost of chartering an aeroplane to do that.”