Imagine these experiences: Latin Escape – a 16-day private jet experiences adventure in Central and South America.
Andean Explorer – a ride along one of the highest rail routes in the world and through the Peruvian Andes to over 4,000 metres above sea level.
Dim Sum Making Journey – once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn how to make dim sum with our gifted chef from our Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant, Spring Moon.
At first scrutiny, these may sound like bespoke experiences offered by a luxury travel agency. Instead, these are offered by high-end hotel chains, aimed at the discerning wealthy traveller, who can afford to enjoy a jet-setting itinerary above Costa Rica, Buenos Aires, Bogotá and Galápagos Islands, or a hands-on cooking session with a celebrated chef in a Michelin-starred restaurant’s kitchen. Increasingly, a growing number of boutique hotel chains are pushing the proverbial envelope on luxury travel by offering experience-led packages. Although the global experiential luxury trend has been in the making for a few years, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Belmond and Peninsula Hotels are joining the fray to keep their clients happy.
These luxury packages are selling out fast. Though Ritz-Carlton’s luxury cruise liners will only start sailing in 2020, there has been an enthusiastic response; Four Seasons’ Private Jet journeys sold out quickly; Peninsula Academy, Peninsula Hotels’ curated experiences wing, is adding more curated experiences; and Belmond’s Andean Explorer luxury train that offers exclusive access to guests along one of the highest rail routes in the world and through the Peruvian Andes to over 4,000 metres above sea level, has been flooded with inquiries.
While these packages are targeted at the wealthy few, the demand for them offers some insight into why there is plenty of room for such niche offerings in the market.
“We began with two Four Seasons Private Jet journeys a year, and in 2017, due to popular demand, added a third itinerary to operate in 2018. Due to the quick sale of our 2018 journeys, we added a third World of Adventures itinerary, which has been the quickest sell-out since the launch announcement in 2015,” says Vivian Koh, director, public relations and content, Asia-Pacific at Four Seasons.
According to Koh, from itinerary planning and car transfers, to luggage services and visas, Four Seasons staff will pay careful attention to every detail. “Passengers on-board the jet are joined by an elite Four Seasons team, including a Four Seasons concierge, executive chef, director of guest experience, doctor, and Four Seasons-trained in-flight crew,” she says.
The result is a special version of each journey, tailored with personal recommendations for every guest on-board. The itineraries themselves are flexible, allowing legs to be diverted and accommodation adjusted should there be a need to do so. “This is what makes Four Seasons Private Jet journeys so popular and is the reason many of our guests have returned to book another journey,” Koh adds.
Luxury hotel brands leverage their own experience gleaned from years of hospitality. Each of Peninsula’s 10 hotels around the world curates its own The Peninsula Academy programmes to identify unique opportunities that help “bring their particular destination to life”.
“We leverage our connections in each city to find the appropriate partners and experts, in turn providing exclusive experiences that go beyond the everyday sights and sounds of a destination [with the added Peninsula attention to detail],” says Carson Glover, global director, marketing and communications, The Peninsula Hotels. Guests can enjoy after-hours visits to celebrated museums, private visits to an artist’s studio, cooking classes, one-on-one martial arts classes or private-guided food tours.
“To make the programmes even more special, guests can enjoy our bespoke transport offerings – from a private helicopter and chauffeured Rolls-Royce, to a Mini Cooper S Clubman – to explore the destination in true Peninsula style,” he adds.
Laurent Carrasset, divisional vice-president South America, Belmond, agrees. “An important part of our train journeys is the curated experiences off board that are bespoke to Belmond and allow guests to connect with nature and culture,” he says.
Belmond’s Andean Explorer luxury train, launched in 2017, takes guests along one of the highest rail routes in the world – the Peruvian Andes to over 4,000 metres above sea level. On Belmond Andean Explorer, guests can sip Champagne on the remote shores of Collata private beach on Taquile Island and take a yoga class by the shores of Lake Titicaca at first light.
Though it is hard to peg the demographic of the clientele, Belmond claims, on its Hiram Bingham, a vintage-style luxury day train which takes guests to Machu Picchu, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of Chinese travellers since 2017.
For some, like Deanna Ting, senior hospitality editor at Skift, a travel industry intelligence platform, the experiential luxury trend provided by hotels is an obvious extension of their brand.
“As experiences have become even more valued and marketed to consumers than ever before, it makes perfect sense that luxury hotels would want to differentiate themselves even further by offering truly unique experiences,” she says.
According to Ting, “luxury hotels branching out into experiences that they haven’t traditionally offered to guests is also one way for these brands to deepen their relationship with their guests – to have more engagement with them even when they’re not staying with them, or actually within the four walls of their hotels”.
In effect, luxury brands branch out into travel business by providing hand-picked experiences to sustain brand loyalty among their clientele. “Luxury brands are hoping that not only are they delivering transformational, unique, or exclusive experiences to their guests, but also strengthening the sense of loyalty their guest have for their brands,” Ting adds.
TRAVEL IN STYLE
Four Seasons says its 2019 private jet itinerary “Latin Escape” will cost US$98,000 per person for double occupancy. The 16-day adventurous voyage across Central and South America takes travellers to Miami, Costa Rica, Buenos Aires, Bogotá and even includes a visit to the Galápagos Islands. The trip includes numerous unique experiences such as “an exclusive stargazing party that blends gastronomy and astronomy”, according to the brochure. Bookings at www.fourseasons.com
A two-night, all-inclusive luxury train package for Belmond’s “Andean Plains and Islands of Discovery” starts at Arequipa, Peru and chugs along open plains towards Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, all for US$3,245. The package includes a boat ride and a private lunch on the lake’s Taquile Island. Bookings can be made at www.belmond.com
For the Red Carpet Glamour experience, the Peninsula Academy will dress up its guests with the help of a Hollywood stylist in the Champagne comfort of their suite to prepare them for a glamorous red-carpet photo shoot by Hollywood photographer Ryan Forbes. Pearl and diamond jewellery for ladies and tuxedo studs and cufflinks gentlemen can be borrowed from a noted Beverly Hills boutique, Mikimoto, for the shoot (Cost: US$1,860 for men, US$3,100 for women). All bookings require advance reservations (more details at www.peninsula.com).
Aman Resorts’ round-the-world private jet expedition on an Airbus ACJ 318 will take 16 guests on a worldwide tour via Tokyo, Shanghai, Vietnam, Phuket, Butan, Rajasthan, Montenegro and Greece and provide exclusive experiences at each destination. The trip ends at Aman’s Venice palazzo. Cost per person: US$126,888 (more information at www.aman.com)