How luxury travel will change for 2021

From the desire for extreme isolation to a renewed focus on wellness, here are some of the emerging trends in the world of luxury travel as it adjusts to the new normal.

Published 4 Feb 2021, 12:00 GMT
View from a vessel in the Arctic Ocean in Greenland.

View from a vessel in the Arctic Ocean in Greenland.

Photograph by Getty Images

The past 12 months have proven to be difficult worldwide, with many of us coming face to face with the fragility of life and reflecting on what we used to take for granted, including the ability to travel freely. Many of us stayed closer to home and focused on our communities. Travel plans were squashed as the travel industry and its future were put on hold. Despite all this, many new trends are optimistically beginning to emerge.

In a world slowly taking steps away from a pandemic, there’s the strong desire to return to what we had to delay in 2020, what we missed while remaining cautious and responsible in our approach to travelling. While many have had time to take stock and consider their ‘bucket list’ of travel plans and now aim to make a start on them, others are gaining comfort from familiarity and staying closer to home, focusing on the importance of slowing down. According to luxury travel companies Abercrombie & Kent, Carrier and Untold Story Travel, an increasing number of travellers are showing interest in tailor-made trips, focusing more on distinct needs and the desire for a clear purpose for travel.

Drifting through the backwaters of Munroe Island in the Kollam District of Kerala, India. 

Photograph by Getty Images

Thinking ahead

With the ripples of the pandemic likely to continue into 2021, we expect to see fewer flights, with lengthier boarding procedures and limited capacities. Luxury airport lounges have settled into adapted systems with increased hygiene, providing more space between seats, as well as more personal service. According to Skyscanner and Responsible Travel, travellers themselves are looking to fly less — always a more sustainable option — but to stay for longer on trips. They are seeing a higher demand for slow travel, where people are slowing down and visiting just one place, taking their time to get familiar with the destination and its surroundings and culture, rather than paying a fleeting visit.

There’s also been a significant rise in the number of digital nomads. With working from home still the norm for many of us, more people than ever have the option to work from anywhere in the world. This gives them the chance to combine work with time for exploration — an option that many hotels and villas are catering to, with longer stays available as well as improved wi-fi services and workspaces.

Options for breaks in more remote locations such as French Polynesia and the Maldives are on the rise, too, allowing for social distancing and fresh air without taking away a sense of adventure. Private jet bookings have increased and more private island resorts are offering the opportunity for guests to go one step further by renting the entire island, with people opting to travel exclusively in their social bubbles or for more meaningful trips with the people closest
to them.

According to CV Villas and Boo Ibiza, more people are choosing villas over hotels for increased privacy, seclusion and freedom, with a greater number of tour operators and resorts catering to this. Furthermore, hygiene standards have been improved across the industry. Small ship cruising is seeing an increase, with river cruises and yachts in the luxury travel world again catering to the desire for downsizing — Scenic Eclipse has just launched the world’s first discovery yacht, Scenic Eclipse, while the more remote and wild polar regions are popular among UK guests, too.

A luxurious room overlooking a lake in Western Cape, South Africa. 

Photograph by Getty Images

Health and wealth

During 2020, there was a renewed focus on the health of body, mind and soul. Trips that focus on self-care, relaxation and wellness are set to be in high demand for 2021, no doubt as part of an effort to ease the impact of lockdown while maintaining a focus on health and wellbeing. Fitness and switching off from digital devices are also key priorities for many in 2021. Many retreats are now catering to the need to continue the positive lifestyle habits such as mindfulness and meditation practices some of us started during lockdown.

More options are becoming available for travellers who want to further skills or hobbies they learnt during lockdown, too, as well as pick up new ones. Retreats that focus on learning or activities are branching into the luxury world of travel, from expeditions in the Scottish Highlands to organic cooking classes in Bali, as people choose to learn more through experiences.

While the world is opening up again, there’s an ever-increasing appeal to explore closer to home. Luxury car rental service THE OUT has seen a 200% increase in interest, with some not only wanting to stay in the UK, but to treat their staycation as more of a considered luxury after saving up during 2020.

Whether luxury travel comes in the form of a castle stay in Exmoor or renting an entire private island in the Maldives, this year, themes of conscious travel, privacy and wellness are top of the list for many travellers.

As featured in the 2021 edition of National Geographic Traveller The Luxury Collection

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