At a recent conference (Mediterranean Tourism Forum in Bodrum) I was invited to join a group of experts to discuss ‘Luxury travel and the blue economy’.

Taking the classical definition of luxury travel, the group tried to understand how compatible this is with the growing idea of preserving the blue economy. The traditional notion of luxury travel conflicts with the popular and accepted definition used by the World Bank, describing the blue economy as the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem”.

For many, the concept of luxury travel was of images of travel experiences that carried a high price, and it was only available to those who could afford to pay the price for experiences that were far from the realm of mass tourism. To many, the image of expensive, sleek, high-speed power boats and large luxurious fuel-burning yachts the size of football pitches, evoked thoughts of a travel segment that is only available to the rich and famous.

But all this came at a price, and not just in financial terms, but as well as a cost to the environment through pollution of our seas and environmental degradation.

The initial discussion of our group centred around a modern-day socially acceptable defi­nition of luxury travel. Many ideas were exchanged, and all the members agreed that gone are the days when louder, bigger, faster and fancier were necessarily the way to go in the world of luxury travel. The group, in fact, agreed that we are at a time when we need to redefine luxury travel.

We need to experience a mind­set shift supported through a commitment to sustainable travel. The new luxury travel will allow us to enjoy authentic experiences in an ethical way. A sustainable luxury travel trip can still happen without compromising joy, as such a trip no longer needs a connotation of excess to be fun.

The new socially acceptable definition of luxury travel can be taken to be an authentic and unusual experience built upon a genuine love for a destination, landscape, marine life, a community, or even an activity. Luxury travel is somewhat less about things but more about experiences.

The shift in the definition is seeing consumers more interested in unusual and unique earth- and ocean-friendly experiences, rather than the bigger, louder and flashier floating toys.

The new luxury travel will allow us to enjoy authentic experiences in an ethical way- Joseph Galea

It starts with planning your trip and putting sustainability as a key deciding factor when taking decisions regarding where you choose to go, which accommodation you choose to stay at, your method of travel and the activities you enjoy.

It is, of course, a fact that some consumers may only go green-friendly so as not to appear insensitive to the common concern of protecting our planet.

However, this is becoming less common as an increasing number of travellers are genuinely realising that there are still unique experiences that can be enjoyed without a large carbon footprint. It is no longer about the fear of flight shaming or what negative opinions people may have about our activities, as more and more consumers are themselves, on their own, redefining what constitutes a sustainable luxury trip, depending on personal tastes and likes.

Promoting sustainable luxury travel is a realisation that today, both the suppliers and consumers have a social and moral responsibility to address climate change. Suppliers know that being sustainable not only wins them customer support, but is as well in many cases, an effective cost cutting measure that gives benefits in financial terms.

Consumers’ tastes continue to evolve, and the younger generation increasingly consists of dreamers and environmentalists who wish to make the world a better place even while enjoying luxury travel experiences. This generation has redefined what it means to travel, and it prioritises authentic experiences and sustainability together with exceptional comfort.

They are generally no longer simply impressed by the things that used to impress their parents. They are conscious of the need to protect our environment and are in favour of cleaner seas and less noise pollution. They may still opt for a luxury trip, but they are in favour of taking holidays in locations that help them get away from the multiple agents of pollution they face in their everyday life in the cities where they live and work.

They may choose a place that protects the area’s biodiversity and the natural habitat. They may even travel during the off season because there are numerous environmental and socioeconomic benefits of doing so, and also because less crowds tend to lead to a better trip.

Of course, reliable service and high standards are still expected, but the local authentic touch is being appreciated more when people travel. This segment of travel is about carefully curated trips that suit individuals’ needs, coupled with the chance of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

While budgets for luxury travel trips continue to be high, these are being directed towards activities that are more immersive and more exceptional than anything enjoyed in the past. Demand in this segment will be driven by social responsibility, ethical living, authenticity and sustainability, as luxury travel seeks to embrace the concept of the blue economy.

The challenge for suppliers is to continue to offer luxury travel trips that are now made up of exceptional experiences and sustainable practices.

Joseph Galea is an aviation, tourism and hospitality consultant.

The Bodrum Tourism Forum is a joint initiative between the Mediterranean Tourism Foundation and the municipality of Bodrum, Turkey.

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