When it comes to planning an extravagant vacation, it seems to be more and more about the family. The latest report by the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) revealed a global growth in the multi-generational, family luxury travel market. The Lebanese are no exception; Nakhal, a Lebanese travel agency, told Executive that more than 60 percent of their high-end customers are families.
“Lebanese love to travel, and they are doing so more and more these days,” says Nadine Kurban Boutros, managing director of Kurban Travel, another Lebanese travel agency. While this statement may be true, budgets allocated for summer travel vary significantly among mid-income families and high-net-worth individuals whose extra spending power allows glamorous locations and exclusive lodging options. Executive sat down with a collection of travel experts in Lebanon to find out what the latest trends and destinations are in luxury travel.
The Grand Azur at Marmaris in Turkey is popular with the most well-heeled Lebanese
“Our wealthy customers generally take up to four short vacations of four to six days throughout the year,” says Hassana Darwish-Hussamy, the managing director of Concierge Master, a luxury services company with offices in Beirut. It’s a statistic that is in line with global, luxury travel trends.
Although some of Hussamy’s clients ask her to plan a trip for them where they can discover a new destination or explore a different culture — in line with the global trends of ecotourism and adventure travel — Nakhal and Kurban’s clients tend to stick to the traditional destinations which naturally lend themselves to leisure and relaxation.
When the sun heats up and summer sets in, Lebanon’s wealthy mainly head to the nearby Mediterranean coast to cool down, perhaps due to its proximity, which is a plus when traveling with children. Travel experts Executive spoke with concur that the French Riviera, from Monaco to Saint Tropez, the Greek Islands — Mykonos, Crete and Santorini — and the Italian islands of Capri, Sicily and Sardinia are destinations of choice for their clients seeking a luxurious getaway.
The Lebanese are attracted to these destinations for their exclusive beach holidays and glamorous hotels. In fact, the islands off France and Italy were cited the most as prime luxury destinations by travelers and industry insiders surveyed in the ILTM report. “The Mediterranean has long been a prime destination for wealthy Lebanese because they can relate to it: it is almost the same as Lebanon,” says Hussamy. “They mainly go to the south of France, or Greece which is more accessible.”
Destinations in Asia or Africa that are commonly associated with tourism, such as Bali or the Seychelles, are considered unfavorable in the summer due to the hot and rainy weather, says Maud Nakhal, manager of Nakhal.
High-end travelers who want a change of pace from beach holidays are opting for the peace and tranquility of the European mountains. “We have beaches here [in Lebanon] and so some of our clients are asking for mountain destinations where they can get some fresh air and experience something different. The chalets in Meribel in France— traditionally ski destinations — are examples of such fully-serviced luxury lodgings finding success in the summer,” says Nakhal, describing fully serviced as having a chef and butler on duty, as well as specialized staff to entertain the children. Hussamy also mentions the mountainous villages of Switzerland such as Gstaad or Saint Moritz as a good villa rental spot for families with children, at a cost of $19,000 for ten days.
Chasing the stars
But choosing the destination is only the beginning and as Nakhal has seen, some clients do not care for the destination as long as the accommodation is deluxe.
Finding the most relaxing venue can be stressful
Wealthy clients who visit Kurban Travel prefer the five-star, ritzy city hotels to any other form of accommodation. To these clients, the service the hotel provides is the essential mark of luxury. “What the hotel offers you in terms of services is the main focus of the trip, and the destination is also important to some extent of course,” says Boutros. She gives the examples of the Turkish isles of Bodrum and Marmaris, both known for mass tourism but which are sometimes chosen by her clients specifically for their elite hotels, such as the Kempinski Hotel in Bodrum and the Grand Azur in Marmaris.
Of the affluent, global travelers interviewed by the ILTM, 46 percent cite privacy as the top priority for their trip, and villas within resorts have become more popular among these consumers. Nakhal cites the demand for plush villa accommodations launched by Club Med in its Antalya resort. With packages starting from $10,000 per week, these villas come with a private pool, a cabana on the beach, access to restaurants exclusive for the villa guests and 24-hour butler service. Nakhal says it has booked seven such villas so far this season (by mid-July 2013). Hussamy recommends those Club Med villas for the families among her clients, as they are ideal for children.
Villa rental has the advantage of offering privacy, good quality and excellent service — all priorities for affluent travelers — while at the same time allowing clients to enjoy being part of a crowd, if they so wish. “Some people prefer a villa as they can dictate their own terms, mixing with people when they want and being able to retreat to their lavish private surroundings when they feel like it. In a hotel, they will always be surrounded by people,” says Nakhal.
Cruising in comfort
Another holiday option chosen by high net worth travelers is a sea trip. Here again, some opt for being on a private boat while others choose to be part of a luxury cruise.
“Vacations on private speed or motor yachts are very trendy among the wealthy right now,” says Hussamy, explaining how the luxury yachts she recommends to her clients are fully crewed and serviced with a minimum of five to six staff, including a chef, a butler and a maid. Such a trip is only for the high-income families, says Hassana, as a motor yacht would cost $65,000 per week while the sailing yachts rage from $2,600 to $7,800 per day depending on whether the cruise is across the French Riviera trajectory or the Turkish or Greek island one, the French Riviera being the more expensive option. Meals are excluded from the cost as well — while the chef is present on boat, clients are still charged half- or full-board meals per day.
Nakhal’s high-end customers ask for cruises on the Club Med 2, a five-star boat which fits a hundred people on five tiers and sails along the Cote D’Azur for the cost of $5,000 per head, transportation to the boat excluded. Crystal Cruises, of which Hussamy is the agent, are medium-sized luxury cruise boats offering a very high level of service — with a ratio of one staff member for each two guests — spacious cabins and high-end meals, including a concept developed by the chef of Nobu, arguably New York’s finest Japanese restaurant.
Clients with a passion for the sea enjoy both these modes of sailing. “The yacht is private, more like a fully serviced home, while the cruise offers you a variety of excellent entertainment. We cannot really compare but it’s like the difference between a boutique hotel and a seven star hotel,” says Hussamy.
Whether by the sea or in the mountains, or whether by boat or in a hotel, luxury traveling is still thriving in Lebanon despite the tough times, says Boutros. Hussamy agrees, adding that within the small market of affluent people in Lebanon, luxury travel is an expense that is considered non-negotiable.
“The Lebanese are very good clients: when they are enjoying themselves on a trip with their family or friends, they forget what they have paid; the important thing for them is to have fun and be happy. They are also seeking the very best and have become more extravagant in their travels. Even if they spend above their budget on travel that is okay with them as they want to make it worth it,” says Nakhal.