With no universally accepted definition of what luxury travel is, and the subject being a topic of discussion at the 2014 Arabian Travel Market, YouGov conducted an online survey to delve into the minds of 1,084 luxury travellers across MENA to discover who they are, what they’re looking for from travel providers and how they define luxury travel.
When asked what first comes to mind when they think of luxury travel, the overriding spontaneous reaction from respondents was first class air travel, 5 star accommodation, cruise holidays and high expense. When prompted, half of online respondents (51%) said one of the best words to describe luxury travel was 'exclusivity', followed by 'differentiation' (41%). The next instinctive responses amongst respondents were 'uniqueness' (30%), 'experience' (28%), and 'discovery' (24%).
Respondents were asked how appropriate staying in a 5 star hotel or better is as a definition for luxury travel. In response, 69% agreed it is, of which 38% strongly agreed with the definition. However, with over 30% of travellers not associating luxury with 5 star hotels, it is clear the definition of luxury is broad and a good proportion of travellers feel a luxury experience cannot be defined simply by staying in a 5 star hotel or better.
Commenting on the findings, YouGov’s Travel & Leisure Research Director, Scott Booth said, "Today luxury travel is an amorphous concept strongly dependent on the perspective of the traveller. Those with the means, pursue exclusive, differentiated itineraries that cater to their desires. In this age of ubiquitous digital destination information, some find luxury simply in the pursuit and experience of places and exploits which are unattainable for the majority, without regard for travel class or the star rating of their accommodation."
Based on the definition of a luxury holiday as one which does involve a 5 star hotel stay, respondents said they had taken an average of 1.9 luxury holidays over the past 12 months. These holidays were typically enjoyed with a spouse (61%), and the mean spend per trip was $8,310 over an average of 5.1 nights.
When asked about their favourite luxury holiday destinations, unsurprisingly responses across MENA were extremely varied. Reflecting luxury travellers' desire for enriching experiences, one-third (29%) of respondents said they do not have a favourite luxury holiday destination and instead place importance on visiting new places.
Amongst those who have traveled for luxury in the past 12 months, three in five (60%) agreed they typically rely on recommendations from friends/family for information when deciding which destination to visit next. A similar proportion (58%) rely on internet recommendations from websites such as TripAdvisor, while one-third (32%) favour newspaper and magazine reviews for ideas.
Although luxury is often associated with full service, those surveyed favour a hands-on approach to booking 5 star travel. 53% said they personally book all aspects of their travel themselves, whilst only 15% said they use a third party. Interestingly, 64% of respondents in the highest income band prefer to invest their own time to book luxury travel. 77% of respondents said they are likely to book an all-inclusive luxury holiday package.
When booking air tickets, first and business class are not a priority for luxury travellers in the region, with 40% always choosing economy class. When looking at nationality groups – 11% of Emiratis stated that they always fly first class followed by 5% of other Arab nationals and 2% of Westerners.
Relaxation is the strongest driver for luxury travel, with four out of five luxury travellers choosing it as their main reason for a luxury holiday. This is followed by interest in discovery (58%) and adventure (43%). When asked about the types of activities they like to engage in on luxury holidays, respondents typically like visiting museums/cultural exhibitions (56%), shopping in both malls and traditional markets (both 56%), sightseeing (55%) and going to the beach/pool (52%).
"Luxury travel as a concept is no longer limited to agent-facilitated tours in opulent resorts and first-class cabins", continues Booth. "Travellers throughout MENA display a careful, calculated approach - fully customising trips on their own to get exactly what they want with, often, considerable budgets. Our survey demonstrates the self-determination of today’s high-spend travellers, who are no longer content with pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all luxury."