There is a sense of optimism in the travel industry, and we couldn’t be more excited. In a time when it’s easy to turn our thoughts to the dark side, may we suggest you go Dark Sky, and stargaze instead. There are dark-sky preserves across Canada (Jasper comes to mind) and the U.S. (Arizona, too). The desert, in its remoteness, is also drawing the curious traveller, from the Red Sea (where hotels such as Six Senses and St. Regis are opening), to Dubai (where Air Canada is now flying direct from Toronto and Vancouver), to Qatar (ranked the safest country in the region on the Global Peace Index and where LXR just opened The Plaza Doha), and The Kimberley in northwestern Australia, where Scenic’s boutique ship, Eclipse II, will hug its rugged, arid coastline.
New places and destinations that you may not have on your radar right away, but should definitely think about: Finland (the Saimaa region is 2024’s European region of Gastronomy), or the Miranda region of Brazil (where you can experience safari – jaguars! – without suffering major jet lag). That said, the tried-and-true are still top of mind: Mexico continues to be on the rise as brands such as Belmond, Grand Velas and Chablé double down on properties there; Italy, too, continues to surprise and delight with The Dolomites a hot topic, the location of Como’s first ski resort, Como Alpina.
Experts in the travel sphere tell us that we Canadians are sentimental: according to Virtuoso, the luxury global network of travel advisors, celebrating a milestone and spending time with loved ones both make the top-5 list of travel motivations. We are also really, really nice. Greece, Morocco and Hawaii all scored highly for travellers who wish to support the economy of destinations impacted by disasters, while remaining respectful of these countries’ recoveries. We are also equally excited to explore new destinations as we are to revisit our favourites. A new change scenery for us includes Japan, Iceland and Egypt, while Italy, Greece, France, Australia and England are the constants around the globe we continue to book.
At the annual ILTM conference in Cannes in December 2023, a gathering of the world’s top luxury destinations, hotels, suppliers, buyers and media (including BOLD Traveller), “experiential” continued to be the buzz word. According to one of the event’s speakers, James Wallman, the CEO of World Experience Organization, we’re now in the beginnings of an “experience revolution,” with a marked move away from materialism and toward experientialism. It’s now more about quality of life than standard of living. Travel, in its inherent transformative nature, will take the lead. “Just as our ancestors created this amazing idea with materialism and the consumer revolution that have made us so wealthy, it’s our opportunity – your opportunity – to create experientialism.”
“New luxury is all about meaning and expression,” said Aaron Lau, the founder and CEO of Gusto Collective, and particularly, he notes, for the Gen-Z set. “It’s about social capital, but it’s also about storytelling. They’re looking for experiences, and there’s no better way to get that experience than luxury travel.”
But it was The Dorchester’s London GM, Luca Virgilio, who said it best while describing the London property’s rebrand, but applicable to the overarching theme of what luxury means now. “We want to show a lighter mood that reflects the London of today,” he said. “It’s about elegance, without snobbery.” We couldn’t agree more.
Cities are on everyone’s radar, with Singapore (Conrad, Como), and Rome (Corinthia – NYC and Brussels will open later in 2024, as well), expecting major hotel openings, while London and Istanbul welcomed Hong Kong-based The Peninsula. Raffles has made its mark in both Boston and London, and Capella will open its first outpost in Taipei, Taiwan. And there was no stopping hotels from opening in Tokyo and Kyoto (Hilton), even in the pandemic, while the rebirth of cities like Detroit, designated the only UNESCO city of design in the U.S., or Athens, where the Hilton, too, will be reborn as a Conrad in 2024, is far from over. Anantara, the Minor Hotel luxury brand, will open Palais Hansen in Vienna in a historic palace that was formerly a Kempinski.
A rethink of special places. Meliá, a Spanish-based brand known for its urban properties in Europe and resorts in the Caribbean, is going to Africa. Ngorongoro Lodge Meliá is part of the four-property portfolio the company has in Tanzania. Langham brings luxe to Murano, with a design that’s estimated to cost 1.2 million euros per room to build – a short public water bus ride to Venice, then escape the crowds at your leisure. And, Nobu Hotels (yes, that Nobu of the lauded chef and partners with Robert de Niro fame) is opening its doors in Toronto.
Sleep and well-being are also on everyone’s radar but it’s not yesterday’s medi-tourism. Sure there are pillow menus and spa treatments you can book to help you fall into dreamland more easily, but many hotels are prioritizing rest. Zedwell London features windowless rooms to avoid light pollution, along with soundproofing and air-purification systems to keep the bustle of Piccadilly Circus on the outside. Six Senses, part of the IHG Luxury Group, puts a focus on circadian rhythms with its Timeshifter app. And Soneva Resorts, perhaps the origins of “barefoot luxury” at its three properties in the Maldives and one in Thailand, have even developed an alternative medical program staffed with top doctors and practitioners for people in recovery from illness or who’ve been diagnosed with illnesses to help them with a powerful combination of the best Western medicine and Eastern medicine holistic practices.
The juggernaut that is sports and event tourism – think the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Beyoncé’s world tour or Taylor Swift’s Era Tour everywhere – is now in the top five reasons to travel. And travel companies are catching on. MSC Cruises just announced two sponsorships with the Formula 1 Grand Prix races, in Japan and in Italy. Germany will play host to the UEFA Euro Cup in June, and did we mention the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris?
But we want to slow down, as well. Train travel is on track, and brands such as Accor’s Orient Express, and Belmond’s Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (we know, it’s a bit confusing). Belmond is putting the Eastern & Oriental Express back on line, with two itineraries out of Singapore, travelling through Malaysia, while the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will ride the rails from Paris to Portofino. The Orient Express La Dolce Vita will traverse Italy with six itineraries ranging from one to 6 days, out of Rome, Venice or Palermo (Taormina, of White Lotus fame, is on this route), in 2024. It’s not just the rails, it’s also the rivers. The more casual atmosphere, proximity to major cities and wide-ranging itineraries, say the experts at Virtuoso, are all incentives. AmaWaterways will be taking the waters in Colombia in the fall of 2024, putting its AmaMagdalena in the Magdalena River, with its abundant wildlife, unique culture and welcoming community all within a traveller’s reach.
Flip the script: It’s called Set-Jetting. Speaking of White Lotus, we mustn’t forget its effect. Hawaii and Sicily experienced a huge boost from the HBO hit. Next up, Thailand, a wonderfully welcoming Southeast Asian country that is still recovering from the pandemic’s fallout. The Bear has people seeking out food in Chicago, the phenomena that are The Crown and Bridgerton make Great Britain, from Bath to Windsor to Edinburgh and beyond, and the cowboy saga of the Dutton Family in Yellowstone has us booking ranch holidays on the Prairies and the Midwest of our great continent, North America.