By Cdr. Bud Slabbaert
THERE is no universal definition for luxury tourism. One person’s luxury is another’s ordinary.
Even if there was a definition of a tweet length, what purpose does it serve? Why hide behind an academic fabricated definition that is no better than an astrological horoscope profile that one can read in a boulevard magazine?
Everyone has his own perception of what luxury tourism is, according to his own needs, desires or commercial interests. All the perceptions have wild variations. The perspectives are also multi-layered. There is already a distinction between ultra-luxury and affordable luxury. For those who like the idea of developing luxury tourism for the benefit of a destination, how about a straight talk three-word definition like “Big Spender Tourism”?
The first thing that may come to mind for the development of such tourism segment is five-star-plus hotels. I would consider such naïve thinking. My primary thoughts would be about what this clientele is really looking for, how does it fit in their lifestyle, and what might meet their expectations.
Here are the ten things that they expect:
Secluded pristine white sandy beachfront with crystal clear and turquoise waters
Lush tropical emerald greenery with palm trees and flower bursting landscaped gardens
Boutique properties styled after traditional island architecture
Harmonious sense of place that blends masterfully into the natural surroundings
Private utopia to unwind, lifetimes away from the hustle and bustle
Daily life adorned with elegance, intimacy and serenity
Savouring the spice-of-life in a heaven like paradise
Impeccable personalized, detail-oriented service delivered by a passionate team
Unmatched sophisticated amenities in style with contemporary comforts
Cultural authenticity and genuine conviviality of the Caribbean
These are the development benchmarks that need to be considered. If one cannot meet eight of the ten on this list, the advice would be to try harder or start re-thinking. Mind that this listing nowhere includes the two words that you might have expected: ‘luxury’ or even ‘hotel’. Commonly recognized as the Caribbean hub for exclusive guests like celebrities and tycoons, St. Barts, apparently, has twice as many villas that are rented out than it has hotel rooms.
The next thing that may come to mind as essential to develop this exclusive tourism segment is to have a big international airport to receive these guests. Again, naïve thinking. If we use a bit more class and elegance to replace the crude definition “Big Spender Tourism”, this category of people is usually known as high net worth individuals (HNWI) and ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWI). Most of these affluent people arrive on private jets. Many of these jets only need a runway of about 5,000ft./1500 metres even when they come from far away.
Some of the most beloved island destinations worldwide can only be reached via a hub airport. The one claim that can be made with high accuracy is that ‘Big Spenders’ typically don’t arrive from abroad with cheap airlines or low-cost carriers.
Surveys and research in the Caribbean have indicated that private flyers spend an average of US$ 69,000 on that destination. Furthermore, these visitors do have the means to invest in a destination, if they like the location. It underlines the thesis that depending on ‘headcount statistics’ is one of the worst mistakes made in tourism development. How much each ‘head’ actually spends is a better indicator for what concept should be advanced.
To top it all off, High Net Worth Individuals are more loyal visitors to return to a particular destination and in many cases more than once per year. Destinations that offer more authenticity and are less commercialized are more to their liking. These people may not be considered vacationers anymore.
The multiple visits can make them integrated part-time members of the community and they may become valued friends. There is not only a positive economic impact coming from this visitor segment but has a positive social impact also. The affluent individuals are usually successful individuals. The saying goes that success breeds success. It may be a bit of exaggeration but it could rub off on a community that has to adapt to the expectations and demands of their guests who are actually raising the bar.
The upscale guests who have personal preferences that combine enrichment, enjoyment, but also education, can encourage communities to maintain their culture and society. They appreciate access to the local people, places and experiences that represent all that is authentic about a destination. Becoming more affected to a community and destination may result in an increased willingness to assist in improving the quality of life of the members of a community. These visitors, who often wish to immerse into local culture than ever before, will protect the natural resources and the culture of a destination for future generations.
A fact is that on the international tourist market, there is one segment that keeps expanding regardless of any setbacks — be it recession, increased full prices, currency fluctuations; it is the upscale or luxury market that remains on top like oil on water. I’m not advocating that luxury tourism is something all could or should pursue. In cases where destinations put more emphasis on mass tourism, it is hardly feasible because the two segments are like the oil of the affluent and the water of the masses, and they just don’t mix.
While others see the minimum standard of luxury tourism as the development of five-star hotels, I have tried to give you a different exclusive boutique perspective. You can believe and do what you want, but if all of the above is appealing for destination tourism development, the clear text advice is: “If you really want it, get your back up off the wall and get down it”.
(Cdr. Bud Slabbaert is the initiator and coordinator of the annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference. The international results and solution-oriented event brings airlift stakeholders from both the aviation and tourism industry, as well as government authorities together (www.caribavia.com). His background is accentuated by Business Development, Strategic Communication, and Journalism.)