Luxury market in US focuses on experience

The luxury market of the United States is shifting from a focus on ostentation to family experiences.

That’s according to a Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America, which asked 769 US-based travellers with incomes between $100,000 and $1 million.

This represents the top 10 per cent of households in the United States. One in five said they would like to travel and a third said they’d buy the trip as a family gift.

However, according to Keith Waldon of Virtuoso marketing, the Caribbean is now not in the top 10 of dream destinations and ranked only seventh in most alluring island escapes.

In a presentation to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, he said the Caribbean was now not in the top five cruise itineraries worldwide although it still ranked third as an ideal family destination. He based his figures on research undertaken by the marketing company.

“This is all defined by the consumer,” Mr. Waldon said. “The message is to be honest with what you have and be the best you can be. Clients may have a five-year plan of where to travel and for what purpose.

“Satisfaction is perception minus expectation which is simple but difficult to deliver. These people’s most vital asset is their time. They are hungry for new experiences and competitive about what they have done – trying to one-up each other. Good service is rewarded.”

Closer to home, he said the Cayman Islands was now not in the top five cruise itineraries worldwide.


Melissa Ladley of the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman said pre-recession the industry at the luxury end was different.

“What we would see in 2007 and 2008 was hotels trying to out-fabulous each other; you would see seven-star hotels,” Ms Ladley said. “It was all about the facility, the hard goods in the hotel. Where Ritz-Carlton was focusing was offering experiences you could not buy anywhere else, like our Ambassadors of the Environment programme. Everyone comes to Cayman for the water, but only at this hotel could you experience it with a Cousteau-trained naturalist. This hotel is still all about experiences you cannot get anywhere else.

“It’s evolution, not revolution. The luxury traveller is still looking for the best amenities, but they care about the areas they spend most of their time which is why our emphasis for the high season is the beach experience,” she said.

People want a luxurious experience with special beach cabanas and so on, she said, but it has to be balanced as these have to blend in and also not block anyone else’s view. Guests spend 70 per cent of time on the beach so refining things for the repeat guests was important.

“Cayman is winning awards left, right and centre as best beach in Caribbean so we need to make sure that experience is special,” Ms Ladley said. “As a brand we are really focussing on service culture. It is not the luxury facilities as much as the feeling that they get when they are here, which is why we say let us stay with you.”

Creating memories

Creating memories that stick with people is at the centre of this concept, she said, giving an example of a guest whose luggage had a broken handle. This was fixed by staff without the guest’s knowing and their delight on realising what had happened was an illustration of the service. That is the point of difference in a really competitive market, said Ms. Ladley.

“People are still looking for great value in their experiences; we are seeing less sensitivity to rate and certain markets have recovered quicker than others, such as Texas,” she said. “We are seeing renewed appreciation for the service element. Instead of buying a lot of new equipment we are doing a lot of training and that is what is going to make the biggest difference to the guest and their experience.”

Good service is rewarded.