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11 Dec, 2006

Luxury Travel Targets 2% of World’s “Uber-Wealthy”

CANNES, France — The world’s growing list of “uber-wealthy” were the target of a luxury travel market organised here last week, with more than 2,500 delegates seeking a piece of the action estimated to be worth more than US$ 44 billion in travel expenditure.

Deluxe yachts, private jets, remote islands and lavish resorts were among the exhibitors queuing up to meet the travel demands of the richest 2% of adults in the world who own more than half of global household wealth, as cited by a UN University report on the second day of the international Luxury Travel Market (ILTM).

Once dominated by Americans, Europeans, Japanese and Arabs, the club of billionaires in pursuit of luxury is becoming globalised with increasing numbers of Russian, Indian, Brazilians and Chinese.

Now in its fifth year since being taken over by Reed Travel Exhibitions, the ILTM attracted 1,240 exhibitors and 1,100 invited buyers. Demand for space has been exponential and so many buyers want to attend that this year, it was converted into a by-invitation-only event.

The Thai group included, among others, The Dome, the Burasari, Twinpalms Phuket and the Santiburi. Others like the Peninsula, Six Senses and Evason Resorts exhibited through their corporate booths.

The key event being marketed in Bangkok is Epicurean Masters of the World, a gathering of eight three-star Michelin chefs who will be preparing a gala dinner costing US$ 25,000 per person at The Dome, State Tower, from 06-10 Feb 2007.

The Thai delegation was about the same size as Malaysia but smaller than the Maldives and the UAE, both of which were out in strength. The Indians had the last contingent from Asia, with nearly 24 suppliers.

Space is so tight to accommodate the demand for new markets that Reed Travel Exhibitions is launching a new show just for the Asian market, set for 18-21 June 2007 in Shanghai.

Speakers at a conference alongside the show described the huge potential of clients they referred to as the “super-rich, really rich and the rich.”

These include billionaire families seeking relief from their retinue of hangers-on to celebrities fleeing the paparazzi. Rich weddings and honeymoons are also growing, with the parties of accompanying guests ranging between 50 and 100.

Others who have been-there, done-that are looking for extreme travel experiences that take them into remote parts of the world. Billionaires are salivating at stories of the space tourists paying millions of dollars for that orbital experience.

Dozens of magazines have proliferated to cater to their needs, boosted by advertising by the endless range of brand-name companies in fashion, jewellery and other forms of designer products.

One magazine survey designed to track the expenditure patterns, behaviours and attitude of the top spenders showed that while the rich enjoy the good things of life, many in the emerging markets who grew up the hard way still hold on their middle class values and feel mischaracterised as being “rich, selfish and lusting for goods.”

Richard Story, editor of Departures, the American Express backed magazine associated with the ILTM, referred to the “uber-wealthy” who he said wanted six things: Experience, education, more time, individualisation and customisation, high quality and exception, and deeply felt service.

For them, “trips are less a sign of status than a sign of unique experience and memories. Consumers are willing to go further afield to collect these experiences.

“They want to develop knowledge of the world not the tan on their body,” Mr Story said. “Time is irreplaceable and the ultimate luxury. This is the real issue for people.”

Jon Swain of Swain Tours said that many of the rich take over entire resorts and many are beginning to combine business travel with pleasure trips. Even the polar ice-caps of the Arctic and Antarctica are no longer sacred. Flexibility, convenience and security are key to their travel plans.

Feeding this fad are a new breed of marketing brand managers and consumer research gurus. One of them, a Netherlands-based group called trendwatching.com has come up with new names like:

<> Massculsivity: Satiating the “immense need for respect and privilege” that most people won’t get;

<> Uber-premium: Status-craving consumers hunting down the next wave in ultra-exclusive goods, services and experiences;”

<> Status-skills: “Highly-valued, status-providing activity mastering skills” such as ‘learn-to’ travel;”

<> Snobmoddities: “The phenomenon of turning completely mundane commodities into chic, popular luxury goods.”

<> Transumerism: “Consumers driven by experiences and a desire to live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions.”

Departure magazine claims its readers have an individual net worth of at least US$ 3.5 million each. Of these, 6% have a pilot’s license and 1% have their own private jet, and 4% own a yacht. About 7% brought real estate in the past 12 months while travelling and 12% plan to do so in the next 12 months, the magazine claims.

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