There has been a shift in the meaning of luxury. A couple of decades ago, a luxury travel experience was defined by airport shuttles in Jaguar XL, piles of fluffy snow white towels, butler on call and a high pressure massage shower with colour therapy. This has changed. Travel companies, hotel booking websites and independent itinerary designers are all reporting a distinct shift towards sustainable trends.
"In the last ten years, an increasing number of luxury travellers have shown growing awareness about the implication of travel and its impact on the environment," says Shoba Mohan, the founder of Rare India, a collection of boutique luxury hotels across the country. A 2019 Booking.com report says "over 73 per cent global travellers intend to stay at least once in an eco-friendly or green accommodation."
Travellers are seeking destinations which have more to offer than a tick off their bucket list. High on their list are places and activities that mean something to them, experiences that they can connect with. The term "transformative travel" figures often in conversations. The top takeaways for the new conscious traveller are exploration of the unknown and complete immersion in the culture of their destination.
travellers are also discarding the idea of more is better. "Lack of choice is also seen as a luxury when you have an expert curating the journey for you. It is interesting how many seasoned travellers would rather have a tight, well-constructed menu with five dishes to choose from rather than an overly elaborate one. Simplicity is the buzzword and almost everyone wants to pare things down and return to a time when life, in all its craziness, was simpler. This desire to pare down is underlined by a fight-or-flight instinct to escape overstimulation and eventual burnout," says Taruna Seth, the founder of Encompass Experiences, a luxury travel curation company.
While luxury has been traditionally synonymous with excess, in the age of information and sensory overload, the choices offered need to be exceptional. With a large affluent middle class becoming increasingly aspirational, the more mature markets are displaying signs of craving an evolved, more personal luxury. According to an Amadeus's report, Shaping the Future of Luxury Travel, over the next 10 years, the growth rate in outbound luxury trips is projected at 6.2 per cent, almost a third higher than the rise in overall travel (4.8 per cent). "Some of our guests recently interacted with Sonam Wangchuk, a world-renowned innovator and education reformist based in Ladakh. They learnt about his life journey and his work in the local community. A truly great way to be inspired and forge a deeper connection with a place being visited," says Seth.
Hotels are also making changes to make their guests' stay a more sustainable and memorable experience. Some are changing the very definition of luxury - for instance, the Sleeping Around hotel in Antwerp is essentially 20-feet containers transformed into luxury rooms; their location is shifted frequently. Travellers enjoy the surprise, all the while lowering their carbon footprint. The Eco-Resort Pedras Salgadas in Portugal is designed to have minimal impact on the environment. The cabins have been built in varying sizes to fit between the gaps of the trees dotting the landscape.
The Postcard Hotels, ex-Oberoi Chairman Kapil Chopra's brainchild, understands the needs of conscious leisure seekers. "Each hotel offers a unique experiences that is true to its surroundings, giving guests a sense of the neighbourhood and destination in a way never seen before," says Chopra. The hotel has no fixed breakfast timings, and no check-in or check-out timings.
The traveller - looking for 'un-Google-able' options, seeking out experiences that enrich him and the community and aid personal growth - is also taking steps to ensure a more wholesome experience. "I see a lot of guests carrying reusable water bottles and cutting down on internal flights. The conscious traveller is not intent on saving time or hurriedly reaching from destination A to B. They want to take local transport, talk to co-passengers and learn more on the journey. Holiday makers are also increasingly carrying their own toiletries in an attempt to cut on consumption of single use plastic in hotels," says Deepak Arora, CEO, India, Leading Hotels of the World. "These are people who will check into a luxury hotel but walk out and hop on to the nearest public transport," he says.
"Conscious luxury does not mean over 20 rooms stacked haphazardly, uninspiring views, thoughtless amenities like pool in a place with water scarcity and indifferent owners," says Shoba Mohan, the founder of Rare India. "Boutique has to work in tandem with nature, with local culture, and be sustainable. This is what the educated Indian traveller is looking for. He has picked trash out of the ocean while snorkelling in Bali and hiked four miles to a luxury cottage in the middle of the Amazonian forest. Why would he settle for any less?," asks Mohan.