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Hotels in Space? The Future of Luxury Travel

Whether it be epic adventures in obscure locations, health focused relaxation or constant connectivity, today’s luxury traveler has very different desires to those of his predecessors – with straightforward ‘fly and flop’ holidays no longer managing to impress.

Today’s affluent jetsetters are enjoying haute cuisine prepared by top chefs in their own suite, flying with Barcelona FC, ordering room service on an iPad, trekking the jungle-clad mountains of Borneo and – believe it or not – learning how to spacewalk.

Following Richard Branson’s announcement that his fledgling space company Virgin Galactic will commence its first commercial flights into space at the end of this year, we take a look at the latest trends in luxury travel and what industry players new and old are doing to attract the attention of the jetsetting elite – from ‘designer hotels’ and tech gadgetry to once-in-a-lifetime guided trips into some of the most remote corners of the globe.

A WEEKEND BREAK… IN SPACE

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In the 21st century, even the most secluded private island bears the sandy footprints of a jetsetting globetrotter. No stone has been left unturned. That is, of course, expect for space.

Over 500 would-be astronauts – reportedly including Ashton Kutcher, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie – have already paid the $250k deposit for a seat on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, which embarks on its maiden voyage later this year. Passengers aboard the six passenger vessel will be able to experience zero gravity 68 miles above the Earth during their two hour journey into sub-orbital space, with 600 people expected to fly in the first two years of service.

Also competing for a share of the new space tourist market is US company Space Adventures, which has already sent the first privately funded individuals into space. Its ‘Cosmonaut Overview Training’ package – based at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow and priced at $89,500 – gives affluent adventurers a taste of what they can expect should they decide to embark upon full training, including a spacewalk mission simulation in a neutral buoyancy tank and dinner with a real life cosmonaut.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH ADVENTURE

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As elite travelers look for new experiences around local culture, experiential travel companies such as Black Tomato have pounced on a gap in the market for tailor-made trips filled with ample opportunities for adrenalin-filled adventure and scenic beauty.

The affluent customers of this cutting edge travel operator can choose from a limitless range of possibilities – from heli-surfing in New Zealand (e.g. traveling over the ocean in a ‘copter to locate the best waves) and descending into the magma chamber of a dormant Icelandic volcano to sailing through a tropical archipelago towards hidden beaches in Indonesia. Future luxury travel is all about the experience – not just the destination – and jetsetters prefer one that is ‘earned’, rather than simply bought with their wallet, according to the bespoke travel operator.

TECH TRAVEL: THE 24/7 DIGITAL BUTLER

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The modern business traveler is more tech savvy than ever before, requiring constant connectivity. So it’s no wonder that major industry players are starting to perk up their ears and listen.

At the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, all 285 rooms and suites now contain iPads, which guests can use to order in-room dining, receive recommendations about the city or place housekeeping requests – in essence your own digital butler, 24/7. The hotel also offers a ‘Meetings on Wheels’ mobile office service in the form of a luxury SUV fully equipped with flat screen televisions, wifi and iPads.

Meanwhile at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, guests can use a ‘Text Concierge’ service to let staff know what time they are arriving, request dinner reservations, a specific time for turn down or make any other personal request they can think of – before they’ve even checked into their hotel.  It marks a shift to a ‘constant concierge’ service by the major hotel chains, regardless of whether their most loyal customers are currently staying at one of their properties or not.

Image Credit: Four Seasons Resorts Bali

LUXURY BRAND COLLABORATIONS

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A growing trend in the world of elite travel, big name luxury brands such as Bentley, Nobu and Baccarat have recently made their first tentative steps into the lucrative and fiercely competitive hotel business.

Transferring their iron clad reputations amongst the jetsetting elite to a completely new setting, ventures such as the new Bulgari Hotel in London’s Knightsbridge and the Karl Lagerfield-designed Schlosshotel in Berlin have yielded both visually and financially spectacular results, with French crystal maker Baccarat also set to open its first hotel in New York in 2014.

THE FUTURE OF SPAS

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Hotel spas have also experienced some dramatic changes over the past few years: Gone are the days when a simple massage, facial and wrap was all you could expect, replaced with the promise of high tech gadgetry such as Eau Spa at the Ritz Carlton Palm Beach’s Sensory Float Bed – with 25 minutes spent inside this floating contraption said to equal a full 8 hours’ sleep.

With stress and obesity levels expected to reach an all time high by 2020, the industry’s focus is now moving to health and ‘wellness’, as opposed to just relaxation and beauty treatments – with spas such as the Espace Henri Chenot at Palace Merano clinically assessing customer’s physical and mental health, carrying out food allergy tests and even offering them dietary and nutritional advice.

 GASTRO FOCUSED JOURNEYS

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Food, glorious food. No trip – whether business or vacation – would be complete without indulging in one of life’s greatest pleasures.

However healthy haute cuisine is no longer merely an aspect of the luxury traveler’s experience; it is has become central to it.

In terms of fine dining, Trump Card Privileges Program now allows travelers to participate in private dinners prepared by world-class chefs such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

The shift to exclusive culinary experiences is a growing trend among the world’s most affluent travelers. You can even have a banquet at the Tower of London after viewing the crown jewels, exclusively prepared by Brett Graham, head chef at The Ledbury (as featured in Elite’s Million Dollar London Getaway). Not bad for a night out on London town, if you’re willing to splash the cash.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL VIP STATUS

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Whether you’re seeking professional coaching to improve your golf swing or looking to chat one-on-one with a footballing superstar, the popularity of the exclusive sports experience is on the rise.

In Spain, corporate event company Lifestyle DMC are offering affluent fans of Barcelona FC – one of the most famous football clubs in the world – an exclusive opportunity to travel as part of the team’s entourage.

Guests travel to an away game on a private charter plane and attend the match in the evening, taking place at any one of a number of superb grounds in cities throughout Spain. Afterwards, they are then transported to the airport, where they travel on a return flight with the players and soak up the intense atmosphere – inevitably tinged with euphoria or disappointment – mere feet away from the club’s stars.

This type of unique opportunity to witness the life of a pro footballer is the kind of package set to attract the discerning elite traveler of today for its money-can’t-buy appeal. Except of course, in this case – it can. 

Image Credit: Shai Pal, Wikimedia Commons