2021 OutThere Luxury Travel Trends Report

We’re OutThere

Each year at OutThere we compile an annual luxury travel trends report that has, for the last decade of storytelling, helped both our editorial and commercial teams plan out content and partnerships for the year ahead. It provides valuable insight from our most engaged OutThere travellers about their travel behaviour, decision-making and spending habits in the luxury and experiential travel space. Last year, we released the trends to our partners for the first time; and we’re pleased to be able to do so again this year. 

Naturally, in 2020 the landscape of travel was very different, so for this round of research and for this report, we focused much more on the macro-factors around luxury and experiential travel, rather than the micro: the “why” and “how” we will travel in the future, rather than just the “where to” and “with whom.” We explore what OutThere travellers are thinking when it comes to travel’s much bigger questions, brought about by the year the world stood still.

This year’s sample consisted of just under 2,500 of our core audience (accounting for 4% of our readership) – all affluent, opinion-leading and worldly travellers. While the sample is small, the value of the insights we receive is significant. We hope that it will prove as useful to you as it is to us; and help you to further understand the needs and wants of our unique audience base at this time and as we navigate an ever-changing future. 

If you have any questions, or would like to find out more about how we can help you engage our audience, please don’t hesitate to let us know. 

Uwern Jong & Martin Perry
Founding Experientialists, OutThere

Email us or request OutThere’s 2021 media-kit

Photography by David Edwards at Amanjena, from OutThere’s Marvellous Marrakech Issue

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The future’s OutThere

Contents

Changing travel behaviour
There have been some very interesting changes in the way that OutThere travellers will approach their journeys this year, brought on by the events of 2020.

Trend 1: Privacy makes perfect
The future of OutThere travel will be exquisitely private.

Trend 2: City slickers
OutThere travellers will be the first to return and lead ahead of the mainstream in the recovery of urban tourism.

Trend 3: Hearts and minds
2021 will see a much heightened awareness of the impact we make when we travel. Overwhelmingly, we’ll put our money where our values lie.

Trend 4: Familiarity breeds contentment
When we return, we’ll mostly head back to what and where we know, with who we trust. Brand reputation and how you’re seen by the community will be more crucial than ever.

Trend 5: A new dawn for the travel expert
The pandemic has underlined the role of the travel advisor and tour operator. And OutThere travellers are flocking to them.

Trend 6: Adventure is OutThere
Our time in lockdown has created a voracious appetite for expedition travel, like never before.

Trend 7: Holiday, celebrate!
OutThere travellers will spend 2021 celebrating life’s milestones: ones missed in 2020 and also ones to come.

Trend 8: A cultural renaissance
There will be a surge in demand for cultural experiences and attractions when OutThere travellers can get back out into the world again.

Trend 9: Skis-up
A pent up demand for ski will see OutThere travellers take to the slopes in droves for the 21/22 season. And we’re booking way in advance of the norm.

Trend 10: Cruise into the future
OutThere travellers will return to the high-seas sooner that the industry may think.

Ones to watch
Four other notable OutThere trends to consider, from the redefinition of luxury to the role of wellness in tourism recovery.

Photography by David Edwards on location at Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como for OutThere’s Non-Stop Tel Aviv Issue

Changing travel behaviour

There are some notable takeouts from our behavioural data in the way that OutThere travellers will approach travel in 2021.

OutThere travellers are booking now

Overwhelmingly, OutThere travellers are ready to go. 88% of us have already travelled internationally since June 2020 (after the first wave of the pandemic) and 79% are ready to travel long haul. Even during uncertain times, we continue to research and book holidays for the future, with 91% of travellers actively looking for 2021 travel now, or doing so in the first quarter of the year. 

OutThere travellers are planning their holidays for the end of the year

Because of the uncertainty around borders reopening and quarantine restrictions, this year’s holidays are being planned for the end of the year. However, there is a notable spike in interest for travel in May/June, consistent with, but higher than, last year’s data, indicating that there is confidence that we will be travelling again in Q2. 

There is an appetite for spontaneity

While 38% of OutThere travellers will book our holidays over six months in advance in 2021, there is still a great level of spontaneity in the market, coupled with travellers waiting to ride-out the uncertainty and weigh up their options closer to the time. 31% have said that their booking window will be just weeks before departure.

OutThere travellers are turning to websites and print for travel inspiration

Last year, OutThere travellers had already made a significant move back to trusted websites and print mediums as our primary source of travel inspiration. This has been further compounded this year. Direct to inbox email communications has made a stride in popularity, but social media and event communications has suffered in comparison. (As a benchmark, in our 2018 survey, social media was the number one source of travel inspiration; and in our 2020 survey, events accounted for 10% share of mind).

Travel is a spending priority in 2021

79% of OutThere travellers have said travel budgets will remain unaffected, or will increase in 2021. From the 18% that are looking to spend more on travel in 2021, nearly half will up the budget by more than double, combining this year’s budget with residual 2020 funds left unspent. 

Since March 2020, OutThere has seen an average monthly increase in site traffic in its travel inspiration pages of 128% year on year, demonstrating that even when restrictions are in place, there is a phenomenal appetite for luxury and experiential travel.

OutThere travellers are returning in our droves to the travel advisor

The way that OutThere travellers book holidays have been largely dependent on the type of holiday, but in 2020 we were already noticing an increase in the use of by-phone enquiries and bookings with travel advisors, in direct proportion to a decrease in bookings through online travel agents. This year, that trend compounds further, with most OutThere travellers (66%) turning away from online bookings.

On average, OutThere travellers will travel internationally less frequently than before

OutThere travellers are planning to take – all things being well –  3 international leisure trips, on average this year. This is a volume decrease from last year’s (and subsequent years’) average of 5 trips per year. However, OutThere travellers are looking to take two more domestic trips than they did in previous years.

OutThere travellers will spend longer in destination than before

The average duration of an OutThere holiday in 2021 will be between 7-10 nights, as compared to 5-7 nights last year. It seems that frequent-flying OutThere jet-setters are more likely to fly-less and stay-longer while on holiday in 2021. 

Photography by BJ Pascual on location at Intramuros, The Philippines for OutThere’s Modern Manila Issue

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Privacy makes perfect

Privacy is the ultimate OutThere luxury for 2021. OutThere travellers are looking for stand-out experiences away from the madding crowd. 66% will opt  for experiences and hotels that can offer seclusion. Private jets, heli-lifts, yachts, islands, buyouts and by-invitation-only itineraries dominate at the very top end of the wealth spectrum. (Those who have flown private before are expecting a 60% increase in spend on private aviation.) Whereas at all levels of luxury, isolation, escapism, hotels that can offer a low-interaction stay, private residences or villa products, will be the mainstay. In any case, some measure of privacy will be the key determinant in purchasing behaviour.

While this may not be anything new in the world of luxury travel, the demand for private-products among OutThere travellers in 2021 has already gone through the roof and shows no sign of subsiding. With those who may not have previously travelled private having done so in the last year, they’ve tasted its benefits and want more – the security, discretion, access to otherwise hard-to-reach experiences and the wonder of experiencing a part of the world entirely to ourselves and our nearest and dearest.

What’s more, group private travel allows OutThere travellers to reconnect with each other and explore destinations that are perceived as more conservative, safely. Savvy OutThere travellers have also realised how doing so can bring down per-head cost of a luxury holiday. Destinations with options to escape in nature and get away from it all will win out over cultural immersion in the short term (although signals show a rapid return to experiential culture). 

Photography by Charl Marais, on location in Cape Town, South Africa for OutThere’s Seductive Sri Lanka Issue

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City slickers

Bucking the trends evident in mainstream travel, OutThere travellers will lead the charge back to urban destinations. While most people will seek open spaces in rural environments, 88% of OutThere travellers will repopulate city-based hotels and experiences, as quickly as we can, as soon as city-destinations reopen, and as long as it is safe to do so. 

OutThere travellers thrive in urban environments, away from the conservative gazes in more rural destinations. We want to be where we can meet and interact with other members of the community. Destinations that have previously invested in or demonstrated their backing for the community, or can show that they are welcoming in their marketing, will see OutThere travellers reward them with our support in return.

A vast majority of OutThere travellers have already travelled to smaller, secondary cities since June 2020. Less densely populated cities that have access to open space, nature and beaches will be popular, but the data indicates that it won’t be long until OutThere travellers head back to major metropolises. 

OutThere travellers are also more adept and compliant to health and safety standards, and are more mindful of others – many having lived through a pandemic once before. They also understand the power of community to rebuild after a time of crisis. Moreover, often considered opinion leaders, OutThere travellers can really set the benchmarks for urban tourism of the future and drive the mainstream back into cities.

Photography by Martin Perry on location in NYC for OutThere’s Monumental NYC Issue

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Hearts and minds

In 2021, there will be a much heightened awareness among OutThere travellers of our impact when we travel; and we will put our money where our values lie. 

Sustainability – particularly environmental impact – has long been a concern for OutThere travellers. It continues to be so, but we are now far more interested in regenerative travel rather than just sustainable. OutThere travellers are no longer just concerned about a hotel’s green credentials – they take it as given. 96% of OutThere travellers will not entertain the idea of booking a property that isn’t environmentally friendly. What we are interested in, is how the hotel actually gives back.

Social sustainability is the flavour of this year, with OutThere travellers interested in destinations, properties and experiences where we feel we can give back to the community that we’re in, or to the greater good of social advancement in the destination. This is reflected in our appetite for transformative travel. 86% of us are now looking – more than ever before – at holidays that will help us change our outlook on the world and enable us to get a better handle on the challenging structures that still shape our society today.

Moreover, OutThere travellers are looking to destinations and brands who can demonstrate inclusivity in their outlook, good social responsibility and ones that value diversity and difference. 

OutThere travellers truly understand our purchasing power. We have been successful in toppling conservatism in travel through boycotts and activism. We are much more aware than ever before about ownership and governance, and will hold destinations and travel brands accountable. The brands and destinations that will appeal most to OutThere travellers will be ones that understand ‘planet, people and purpose’.

Photography by Martin Perry on location in British Columbia for OutThere.travel

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Familiarity breeds contentment

For many OutThere travellers, our first grand outing in 2021 will be one that is familiar. 61% of us will embrace old favourites and travel to a destination or place that we have done so before. 72% will book with a company that we know well, or one that has been recommended by someone close to us, or one that has a good reputation among other OutThere travellers.

It seems that for the short term, we will ‘play it safe’ by shifting our sights to travelling to where and what we know, with who we know. Beyond a heightened desire for safety and security, OutThere travellers want to optimise the enjoyment of our first holiday out of lockdown and will be generally less patient about stepping outside our comfort zones.

But while familiar, these journeys will still need to be fabulous and flawless. While we want to revisit destinations and return to brands that we’ve had an affinity with, or ones that have clearly demonstrated support for the community, we’re still looking for that wow-factor and to learn something new about the place.

We remain unphased by new experiences when we travel, 72% of OutThere travellers saying that they’d love to be surprised by something they didn’t know about a destination they’re familiar with. This is great news for brands that offer experiences beyond a cookie-cutter itinerary.

And for the 39% whom there is an immediate appetite for adventure, discovery and making up for lost time, we’ll want to do so with brands we can trust – ones that offer a touch of the known in a place that is new to us.

Photography by David Edwards on location at Villa Fontelunga for OutThere’s Magnificent Mallorca Issue

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A new dawn for the travel expert

66% of OutThere travellers will book our trips in 2021 with a travel advisor, as compared to just 42% back in 2020’s survey (which already showed a significant year on year uptick since 2019).

The pandemic highlighted the critical role of travel agents. Beyond crisis management, processing rebookings and issuing refunds when due, 2021 will see travel agents as oracles when it comes to understanding the complicated landscape of travel in an uncertain age – from what is open and what is not, to varying health and safety protocols, to vetting each destination and brand based on our values and whether they’re welcoming of our community.

With familiarity also a key travel trend, OutThere travellers are turning to agents to maximise our upcoming holidays with new experiences that only insiders in the industry have access to. 

Price sensitivity has also fallen out the bottom of the market, with OutThere travellers now understanding that the value of agents far outweigh the small savings we might make from going direct. However, this does not mean that travel advisors can up their prices because of the increase in demand. OutThere travellers are still looking for fair pricing and moreover will be more demanding of flexibility and peace of mind, so agents will need to work harder and hold our hands more than before, to meet our needs on that front.

It has also become increasingly important for OutThere travellers to be connected to someone in-the-know as we travel. ‘Detailed, timely information-sharing and access’ has been highlighted as a key determinant in agent choice, as well as ‘flexibility’ and ‘chemistry/rapport’.

Photography by Minh Ngo on location at The Chatwal, NYC for OutThere.travel

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Adventure is OutThere

The year that travel came to a pause has left OutThere travellers with a deep hunger to explore the globe. As confidence in getting out into the world again grows, OutThere travellers are interested in and making enquiries about journeys that go beyond the norm, anchored in a sense of adventure and discovery. With life in lockdown having a numbing effect on our senses, it’s no wonder that there is a desire for must-see, eye-opening trips to reinvigorate our souls.

69% of OutThere travellers are interested in going on an expedition holiday before the end of 2021. This includes small-ship cruises, epic train journeys, safari and wildlife-spotting and adventures that push our limits, be it physically or mentally.

A close second to escapism holidays, expedition holidays ranked high among the holiday types that OutThere travellers are interested in going on in 2021. By Q4, 2021, expedition and escapism holidays will rank neck and neck, indicating exciting opportunities for travel brands that offer itineraries which do both.

In addition to looking for transformative travel experiences that match our values, our sense of adventure and desire for experiential travel will also be a motivating factor when choosing and booking hotels. In the last few years of our trends research, we have noted that OutThere travellers are not just looking at hotels and resorts that offer unadulterated luxury and a sense of place, but are also interested in what hotels can do to create an experiential stay. We are looking for memorable experiences that help us explore more of the local area, expand horizons and aid personal growth. In this year’s survey, that desire continues.

Photography by Nigel Riches on location in Bali, Indonesia for OutThere’s Beautiful Bali Issue

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Holiday, celebrate!

OutThere travellers’ priority on returning to the world will be to fulfill postponed 2020 plans while considering new ones. Traditional vacations aside, many of these trips will be cancelled milestone celebrations – big birthdays, anniversaries, destination weddings and honeymoons, festivals and special events, retirements, or earn-outs from business sale – anything from a ‘for me’ trip for the solo traveller, to a special trip as a couple, to a ‘family’ trip for related multi-generational groups or a bubble of close friends. In normal times, celebrating a special occasion is one of the top reasons why OutThere travellers travel. In any given year, 71% of us will travel to mark a momentous occasion.

A significant proportion of these ‘try-again-trips’ will be rebookings, but OutThere travellers will consider double-budget bonanzas – essentially combining their budgets from 2020 with that for 2021, to upgrade their trip. This could be going up in airline class, or even flying private; or improving their accommodation category or upgrading their choice of property; or adding-on higher-value experiences to their itineraries. This offers up the opportunity for travel brands to upsell and/or trade-up their existing bookings, or increase the basket value of new bookings. With 61% of OutThere travellers having the same budget as last year to play with and 18% willing to spend more in 2021 than they had planned for 2020, this already high-spending traveller will have even greater economic capacity than before. 

For OutThere travellers, there is an added dimension of Pride celebrations missed in 2020. Many of us travel to destinations that host big LGBT+ Pride celebrations to mark personal milestones and experience community togetherness and show our solidarity with other members of the community. OutThere travellers are aware that travelling for Pride during the summer may be optimistic but that is not stopping us from looking for opportunities to show our pride as soon as we can. 

Photography by Charl Marais on location in London, UK for OutThere’s Magnificent Mallorca Issue

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A cultural renaissance

79% of OutThere travellers claim to be culture-vultures. Our data shows that one of the biggest gripes we hear from OutThere travellers about the pandemic – aside from not being able to travel – is our inability to access and interact with culture, for example: museums, shows, attractions, architecture and history in immediate context, but also that we feel that we’re missing out on experiencing wider culture in general; be it interacting with people of different backgrounds, or other culturally linked experiences like food and drink. 

87% of OutThere travellers have said that they have tried to access global cultural experiences from home during the pandemic. Of those, 71% have admitted that they struggle with the depth and quality that virtual cultural experiences have given them.

59% of OutThere travellers have donated to cultural institutions and charities during the pandemic, which is not surprising as 79% of OutThere readers consider themselves philanthropists.

We predict that there will be a surge in demand for cultural experiences in travel during 2021. 71% of OutThere travellers have claimed to have already visited a cultural attraction in person as soon as they came out of lockdown.

Cultural institutions will have to demonstrate that they are safe, but on the whole, Out There travellers are ready to return to attractions that are both in more open spaces where guests have relative freedom of movement; and static-guest attractions like theatres, providing that adequate social-distancing measures are put in place. 

Photography by Martin Perry in Chicago, Illinois for OutThere’s Inspiring Illinois Issue

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Skis-up

With 61% of OutThere travellers taking an annual ski holiday each year, there is going to be significant, pent-up interest in ski and snowboard escapes for the 21/22 ski season. Even with widespread restrictions firmly in place for this season, ever hopeful (43%) OutThere travellers are looking to resorts with late and extended seasons this year to get their fix of the piste, or are investing in private ski experiences like heli-skiing where they can. 

But everyone else who won’t be able to get out this season are intending to return to the slopes with gusto next season, with 36% of OutThere travellers saying that they have already booked or rebooked for 21/22.

With the expectation that ski-resorts are likely to be lacking availability next season because of this surge in demand, OutThere travellers will be researching and reserving their places earlier than usual.  Some of these travellers will also be making up for lost time and are looking to double-up on budgets to book blowout-ski-bonanzas and are in the position to upgrade their existing trip, or book a new, but bigger trip next season.

Ski providers should get in on the game much earlier than usual this year. With this demand, plus increased competition from expedition travel in the late part of 2021/early 2022, ski travel brands should present their credentials to OutThere ski-lovers as soon as possible.

Photography by Yann Allegre / Unsplash

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Cruise into the future

We are anticipating a rapid return to the high-seas when it is safe to do so, with 38% of OutThere travellers saying that they would cruise right now and 46% considering a cruise holiday in 2021. (11% higher than the same research in 2020).

Smaller, luxury ships and expedition cruising are leading this trend, but also a significant increase in interest in river cruising, that has surged ahead of ocean cruising. Despite the negative reputation gained by the cruise industry in the early days of the pandemic, OutThere cruise fans believe that cruises potentially “offer a more controlled and more secure way of travelling.”

34% also entertained the idea of a resort-cruise, where shorter itineraries are sailing-only and passengers do not disembark, or only do so in controlled circumstances like private beaches or islands. While safety remains the top concern, flexible booking terms are a close second.

With ‘blue health’ (heralding the restorative properties of time-out on water) being a much touted buzzword, it’s no wonder that private yachting trips that offer bubble-safe travel on the water are already on the up, with 37% of OutThere travellers researching VIP yacht journeys in 2021.

Photography courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

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Ones to watch

Limitless travel

OutThere travellers can’t wait to travel the world again and having experienced lockdown and being told that they can’t, are reviewing their wander-lists to include some once in a lifetime journeys with less price-sensitivity than ever before. We predict significant interest in budget-busting experiences like luxury aircruises and ‘celebrity’ escorted journeys, money-can’t-buy experiences and out-of-this-world expeditions like submarine and superyacht adventures.

Bye bye bucket-list

In line with the data showing less frequent international trips and longer durations, we predict that OutThere travellers will be far less concerned about bucket-listing (checking off as many destinations as possible in any given year) and instead be more thoughtful and intelligent about their approach to travel. We’re not suggesting that slow-travel will take over, many OutThere travellers will still have to juggle their busy careers and lives, but travel will be a lot more immersive. However, we have also noted a trend in nomadic travel, or work-from-abroad. With many OutThere travellers realising that they don’t need to be tethered to their desks – coupled with many not having the traditional family ties (90%) that others may have, there is a growing demand for long-stay, high-tech travel options.

Redefining luxury

OutThere travellers will continue to redefine luxury and are looking for enhanced personalisation when they travel. The pandemic has made us more demanding as a traveller group – we’re far less patient with accepting the status quo when we travel and more insistent that travel products and services are tailored to us, at all levels. In addition to us wanting to work with travel providers that match our values, we are going to be less tolerant of those who don’t understand us and our needs, which means providers have to pay far more attention to the detail than before.

Wellness

Wellness will always continue to be an important part of the travel experience for OutThere travellers. Our year in a pandemic has given us a greater appreciation for; and the opportunity to reappraise what we want from wellness. In 2021, OutThere wellbeing seekers will look for travel experiences that offer a powerful convergence between wellness and health, a big focus being about strengthening the immune system, but also about expanding wellbeing of the mind and lifestyle, as well as the body. OutThere travellers will also pay more heed than ever before to food and beverage offerings that enhance the individual’s overall wellness journey.

Photography by Martin Perry on location in Mallorca for OutThere’s Magnificent Mallorca Issue

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