The Rich Can’t Just Take off Anymore. What Killed Impromptu Travel.

The Rich Can’t Just Take off Anymore. What Killed Impromptu Travel.

There’s one luxury the rich can no longer afford amid surging travel demand: spontaneity. 

As a record number of Americans prepare to travel for the July 4th holiday, agents and travel companies are also reporting unprecedented demand for high-end trips all summer, with price points that have even the most deep-pocketed travelers taken aback. These travelers are now locking in trips three months in advance to secure space, compared with three weeks in advance a year ago, according to data from luxury travel network Virtuoso. 

“Our clients are incredibly wealthy and used to getting what they want, but that’s not the situation this year,” says Stacy Fischer Rosenthal, the president of the membership-based Fischer Travel, describing the jockey sport of booking at an “it” property. 

Case in point: One of Fischer Rosenthal’s clients stays at the tony Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes, France, every June, but the property was sold out this year so he opted for St. Tropez to stay at Cheval Blanc. 

“He only needs five nights, but he’s paying the six-night minimum just to get in,” she says.

Travelers who are looking to book a luxury getaway this summer or  fall, and even into winter, may struggle to find availability for their escapes. And if they do manage to book them in the first place, they should expect to pay staggeringly high prices for these trips—especially to perennially popular destinations like St. Tropez and Italy’s Lake Como or Amalfi Coast in July and August, St. Bart’s in winter and Paris or London any time of the year. And travelers who want to go to trending Japan can expect sold out hotels.

These days, even bucket-list trips to destinations such as Rwanda for gorilla trekking or Tahiti to tick French Polynesia off the list can be hard to pull off, according to Fischer Rosenthal, who added that some travelers are choosing to postpone a dream trip amid the frenzy. 

At Virtuoso, which averages US$30 billion in annual travel sales, bookings for 2023 are 91% higher than they were in 2019 and 62% higher than last year. Hotel average daily rates are also soaring with nightly stays averaging US$1,700—a jump of 69% since 2019. But prices aren’t deterring guests: The network reports that bookings for its partner hotels have tripled compared with 2019 and are up 77% versus last year.

“At this point, it’s not pent-up demand from the pandemic that we’re seeing,” says Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s vice president of global public relations. “It’s just pure demand from people who want to travel, and they’re booking multiple trips at a time.” 

Other elite travel advisors and luxury travel companies are reporting a rush on lavish vacations.

Erica Jackowitz, the co-founder of the luxury lifestyle company Roman and Erica, says that she’s booking an average of 20 trips a month that cost at least US$100,000. “Most of our clients are going to Europe with some going to Japan,” she says. “I have never seen this kind of demand.”

Italian travel company Privilege Italia, which specializes in Amalfi Coast and Capri vacations, has seen its business grow 30% from last year. Co-founder Francesco Staino says that the several dozen trips that they’re currently overseeing cost at least US$50,000 and often run well into the six figures. “The pricing is off the charts, with entry-level rooms at the five-star hotels along the coast starting at US$2,000,” he says.

The most coveted properties, he says, are Santa Caterina and Borgo Santandrea in the town of Amalfi and Villa TreVille in Positano. “They’re incredible places where everyone wants to stay, but you can’t get in,” says Staino.

Amy Kletnick Nejat, a lawyer who lives in New York, is a long-time Roman and Erica client and says that she wants to avoid the “madness” of summer travel. 

“I don’t want to deal with the stress of trying to find space at an overbooked hotel,” she says. “We’re planning a trip now for November to Paris and the Loire Valley, which we would never have during Covid when Roman and Erica booked us last-minute trips to Bora Bora, Turks and Caicos, and Hawaii.”

In fact, advance planning is the smartest strategy in navigating today’s travel landscape, according to Jackowitz of Roman and Erica.

“I have clients who are booking their stays now for next summer as soon as they check out of their hotels,” she says.

Belles, of Virtuoso, adds that the top African safari camps are small and already filling up for 2024. “If you want to go to Africa, book fast,” she says.

She also encourages using a travel advisor to book any trip. “An advisor will do all the hard work of planning the trip and finding you the hotel,” says Belles. “And they help you deal with the headache if something goes wrong when you’re away like a bad service experience or canceled flight.”

Fischer Rosenthal advises that flexibility is key. That means that travelers should be open to changing their dates or choosing alternative destinations with the same appeal. 

“If you’re set on the South of France, for example, and can’t stay in Antibes like you initially wanted, switch to St. Tropez,” says Fischer Rosenthal. “You still get the beach and the sun. And you still get to go away.”

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