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#CNILux: The Rise Of Non-Material Luxury

Luxury travel has to become more authentic and more immersive if it is to engage with the luxury consumer, said editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, Rhea Saran.


Rhea Saran, editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, speaking at the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Oman.

“They don’t want to be sold something any more, they want to be a part of something.” That was the message from editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Traveller Middle East, Rhea Saran, this afternoon on the shift in the behaviour of the luxury consumer towards non-material luxury, and she had stats to back it up.

A recent American Express survey showed that 72 per cent of people prefer experiences to ‘hard’ luxury items, and of that percentage, 88 per cent said they would prefer to spend their money on travel, Saran showed. As to more localised spending habits in the GCC region, 52 per cent of people surveyed said they prefer to spend on experience, compared to 48 per cent who would like to spend on goods.

Drill it down further and not only are they spending on experiences, but they want immersive ones at that. “Today’s traveller doesn’t want the same undisrupted travel as before,” explained Saran. “They want unique experiences and to be immersed in local culture… they want the concierge to go beyond booking theatre tickets and take them out into the community outside.”


At the Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Oman. Photo:

This new wave of travellers look for an experience to be rare, immersive, customised, sustainable, shareable and authentic. Of that list of criteria, Saran singled out the immersive 360-degree experience of a place and the authenticity that it offers as areas to focus on, pointing to Airbnb that “has had to kick it up to the next level” recently to meet demand with “Airbnb Trips, meaning you no longer stay locally, you live locally”.

There are, of course, fashion hotels and restaurants that offer this heightened experience of authentic brand engagement and also immerse clients into their worlds, but there’s a catch. When adopting this 360 approach, all things much be considered and feel genuine to the consumer, said Saran who singled out the Fendi Hotel in Rome and the Shanghai Tang restaurant in Shanghai as good examples of places that exude a sense of indigenous and authentic place as well as a rewarding experience (naturally, read lucrative for Fendi and Shanghai Tang).

Speaking of the luxury traveller as the luxury product consumer, Saran also highlighted additional ways to connect with them,including offering shared experiences (such as a cruise on the Amazon) and sustainable experiences. The latter is a growing trend which the editor-in-chief said is a state of mind: “It’s about customers feeling more connected with the world.”

And in order to connect? Brands must create immersive worlds that feel authentic, creative and “make people feel good about themselves.”

Check out Giambattista Valli’s exclusive video for the CNI Luxury Conference.

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