Kate Simon: Some belts are little less tight than others
Sunday 17 October 2010
As the nation braces itself for this Wednesday's public spending review, some of the luckier ones among us are already planning our next high-class holiday.
The top-end luxury market is thriving, it seems. "We're still getting bookings that could buy you a small family home in Manchester," says Jennifer Atkinson, chief executive officer of Chester-based tour operator ITC Classics. "We get bookings of £20,000, £30,000, £40,000 on a weekly basis."
Last year, the luxury market took a different turn in the face of the recession, with clients who would normally take three or four holidays in a 12-month period trimming back to a couple of annual breaks. But Ms Atkinson doesn't believe this behaviour was just about financial cautiousness – she also detected a desire not to seem profligate in straitening times. "People didn't want to be perceived as spending a lot of money on expensive holidays," she says.
In tune with that atmosphere, last season saw a trend towards luxury holidaymakers reining in their travel ambitions – trying Florida rather than Barbados, the Canaries over Mauritius. But this show of restraint was short lived. Ms Atkinson confirms: "This year, it's been back to everyone wants the best. If you're used to flying [British Airways'] Club Class and you go down to World Traveller Plus, it's miserable. It's easy to upscale but not to downscale."
That doesn't mean luxury tour operators can just sit back and listen to the cash tills ring. Tamara Diethelm, head of commercial and market management at tour operator Kuoni, says: "Luxury has held up really well because the value has been fantastic. Last year, many hotels discounted significantly. Effectively, at times, five-star holidays could be snapped up for four-star prices."
And that price-cutting extended to the very top of the market. Ms Diethelm says: "When the recession started, super-luxury was discounted so heavily to stimulate demand – and it worked to great effect, with five-star luxury showing strong growth last year." She points to a boom in bookings for the luxury destination of the Maldives this year, though Kuoni is taking more at the lower end of the five-star hotel bracket.
And the offers are still there for the taking, according to Ms Diethelm, though she says you need to look harder for them. "For example, at Le Saint Géran in Mauritius, stay four nights and get three extra nights for free, free half-board and free children's room."
At ITC Classics, Ms Atkinson thinks the key to keeping the luxury market buoyant lies in this approach of adding value. "Our clients may not be looking for £10 cheaper here and there, but they want value. How they define that is a free night, an upgrade, a spa treatment. Most of our clients own and run businesses and are sharper than ever on this.
"We recently did a survey into what they want out of their holidays – recessions can change people's behaviour. We found that people don't mind paying for service and quality, but they want value."
Never mind the Government telling us to pull together as a nation – some of us have never had it so good.
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