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Meaningful luxury: It goes beyond the tangible

The term Luxury especially as it is understood in the travel and tourism sector has changed meanings and evolved through the years.

The term Luxury especially as it is understood in the travel and tourism sector has changed meanings and evolved through the years. The real luxury makers and those who understand the word with all its intangible facets cringe when the refined word is used loosely and irresponsibility. For many luxury is still opulence but for the real luxury takers its a world that goes beyond the opulence. It is all about meaningful luxury that touches the core, it’s all about felling time rich and not cash rich, its not about buying tangible but its about cherishing the intangible It’s all about ornate experiences coupled with lasting memories, when time, place and space is valued not by the wealth that’s apparent but the wealth that is felt within. The Indian outbound luxury scene has witnessed all these changes over the years. Luxury today is highly subjective and so is its definition. Reema Lokesh gets views from four industry industry professionals who also believe that the word has witnessed some serious transformation.

Kanan Fotedar, founder and CEO TravelnLiving

Kanan Fotedar

Outbound travel from India is growing rapidly not just from the leading metros but also from India’s Tier II and III cities. With Indian low-cost airlines like Go Air and Spice Jet flying overseas and Air Asia offering low fares, overseas travel is more affordable. Number of countries offering Indians visa on arrival has increased the outbound travel immensely. People now save mainly to travel, this change in mindset replicates the first and second world countries. However, what has evolved with this change is the way the word luxury has transformed. Luxury travel need not necessarily mean expensive. Luxury travel is rather defined as affordable quality travel where niche experience is the criteria. Biking around on foothills of Dolomites is luxury travel, not necessarily in an Alpha Romeo convertible. Opting for a simple experience of a cooking class in Tokyo is luxury, similarly, kayaking with seals in Namibia, Walvis Bay is nothing less of a luxury to be able to experience it once at least in your lifetime.

Luxury travel today is affordable travel with off season deals, advance nonrefundable bookings, long stay offers, competition amongst the luxury hotels, all these factors have contributed a great deal of luxury travel even for people who don’t belong in the rich category of population. Luxury travel is most sought after, as long as it’s within reach. Quantity holidays have been replaced with quality holidays as people appreciate what comes there way when luxury holiday is opted for.

Purvi Jhaveri, director, Sunday Pure Holidays

Purvi Jhaveri

Back in the 90’s, travel was primarily limited to the very wealthy. Since then conditions have changed dramatically and India has burst onto global tourism in a huge way. With rising personal income levels and a massive change in lifestyles, a huge segment of middle class who enjoyed low-cost airfares and the diversity in travel packages, contributed to India’s fastest growing outbound travel market. Every year more than 5.4 million Indians go abroad to conduct business, attend meetings, study, sight-seeing, shop, honeymoon, visit friends and relatives (VFR). With more than 20 million Indian nationals now living throughout the world (3.4 million in the US), the volume of outbound travel is increasing about 25 per cent a year. With a population of 1.3 billion, India is moving to become the fourth largest travel and tourism economy after China, USA and Germany. Keeping this in view, the term luxury travel has also changed meanings with time. Luxury travel as we see it today is about experience; it’s all about how you feel the wonder. It’s not always about an appearance. It evolves around enrichment, exclusivity and authenticity. Through our eyes, luxury means your comfort zone, your likes/dislikes, your inclinations, your dreams. It’s not always about staying in branded hotels. It also means how can we curate a memorable holiday for you. It’s all about stepping into the comfort zone of the client and co-creating an ideal meaningful trip for them.

Speaking about India’s performance in the luxury space, India’s luxury segment has taken a while to take off, but we are now getting comfortable with the whole idea of spending on the finer things in life. We are still young in the development of the luxury retail market, but we are grabbing the attention of the Global Brands. Since end of 2016, we have faced numerous challenges which has directly impacted the luxury segment. The various policies of demonetisation, pan card, GST & Rs two lakh limit then, impacted this budding luxury segment coming up slowly, but these changes may turn out to be favourable in the long run. Consumers in India are always looking for a good bargain and good value at the same time and they often land up shopping in Dubai, London, Singapore, USA due to the same brands being cheaper abroad and import duty in India being very high. But very recently our government has approved 100 per cent FDI for single brand retail trading which will now provide flexibility to these global retail brands and increase consumer access.

Veneeta Rawat, founder and director, Amazing Vacations

Veneeta Rawat

In the past few years, we have seen a distinct evolution of the Indian traveller. There is a certain hunger to discover new and exciting destinations. Worldwide too, the interest in India as a great consumer market has increased leading to more tourism bodies opening their offices in India. While speaking about the luxury market, as I see it luxury has a different meaning for everyone. So it can no longer be classified into a certain type. Today many brands call themselves luxury, in actuality are just different – but may not actually have the oomph to be luxury. Who doesn’t want to holiday in the lap of luxury? The influx of so many consumer brands have also led to many travellers opting for luxury vacations. Many people have become brand conscious and their want to experience the same is heightened especially with the awareness. This is great as it means greater options to upsell. Luxury can mean different things for different people. Many brands call themselves luxury but actually maybe just different. Not that they are bad, but the exclusivity may not be there. Luxury travel in India basically means more opulence, and that’s what sells well.

Nagsri Prasad Sashidhar, chief happiness officer, NAGSRI …. Creating Special Memories

Nagsri Prasad Sashidhar

India outbound is one of the fastest growing segments in tourism today with an estimated 50 million tourists by 2020. The Indian outbound traveller is evolving rapidly and getting more and more aware and adventurous, willing to try out new cuisine, new destinations and experiences all thanks to the changing lifestyles, huge middle-class segment, availability of low-cost air fares and diverse choice of travel packages being available both offline and online. This trend is on an upward and here to stay and we will take over as the world’s youngest country demographically, tech savy and also with the growing educated middle and upper middle class. When travelling abroad, Indians are also the world’s highest spenders which makes our market extremely desirable for several countries.

This also has an interesting connect to how the luxury travel has evolved over the years. I think personally the meaning of luxury was born in India. Dating back to the time of the royals. Linking luxury to just the top brands is a very western concept and commoditises the meaning itself, something that one can buy off the shelf. To me luxury is all about customisation, about having the right contacts, about getting invited to events rather than having to buy tickets for it, about having that “pull”, making a memory special. It is rather difficult to really demarcate a luxury customer in India today because it really could be the wife of a diamond merchant in Gujarat or a swank investment banker in Mumbai. As I see it, luxury is a very personal emotion. To me it’s more about access to people, places and experiences therein that makes the entire experience as authentic as it can get. It is something that should make one feel special, happy, relaxed, it could be a bed that gives one a good night’s sleep or to be away from the madness of city routine, to be away from gizmos and the mobile, to reconnect with self. To several others it could also mean staying in seven-star hotels, driving the most expensive cars or eating at the best Michelin star restaurants. Hence luxury travel does cover a broad spectrum with differing connotations to each one.

I also see the luxury space providing some amazing opportunities for business. Curating holidays to meet the taste of my clients and convert that into memories for a lifetime is the foundation of my business. Considering the growing airline options available to many new destinations, easy visa facilitation for many countries, Commitment of many countries by opening a full-time office here in India, growing disposable income segment in our country today, the need to take holidays and good ones at that is on the rise. Such clients are also open to trying out new destinations and off the beaten track experiences there. They are used to a certain lavish lifestyle back home and understandably would like that replicated whilst on a holiday too. Every country has something unique to offer and this is where the opportunity comes in. The key is to marry the right product with the right client to be able to achieve that memorable experience you are wanting to create. Eg what can be more special than working with a team of professional wildlife rescue officers in the Masai Mara of Kenya for a week to ten days if you are a diehard wild life fanatic, or taking a helicopter to a secluded island in the Great Barrier Reef with your special person on your special day. With opportunities come the challenges, and like I always say they are two sides of the same coin. The tax laws need to be revisited to make them more agent friendly, onslaught of online travel portals need to be checked, there needs to be a single strong board for the agents which regulates the number and the quality of travel companies starting up, thereby reducing the segmented nature of our fraternity. Especially in present times, the word niche, bespoke and luxury are used very loosely, and this causes immense confusion in the minds of the end consumer and negates the efforts of the genuine players who are honestly trying to work the best for such clients. Eventually the true luxury client then ends up booking the trip overseas as he thinks that we Indian operators are not capable of understanding his needs.