Luxury travel trumps tax brackets

Luxury-travel outlets are targeting travelers in the upper-middle and middle classes in an effort to make high-end vacations appeal to a wider audience.

Luxury-travel outlets are targeting travelers in the upper-middle and middle classes in an effort to make high-end vacations appeal to a wider audience.

A trip to Disney World with the family or a driving tour of the Midwest might still qualify as a vacation for the vast majority of Americans. But the middle to upper-middle class is increasingly joining the wealthy in splurging on high-end holidays that tax the bank account while delivering on the desire for pampered luxury.

And just as that willingness to spend more has evolved, so has the journalism that showcases the options. While traditional travel writing in recent years responded to economic and geo-political turmoil by shifting coverage toward domestic destinations and bargain vacations, luxury-travel journalism continued on, in many ways in a world all its own, focusing on exotic locales and five-star accommodations.

"People are still covering high-end travel - that never stopped after 9/11," says Laura Davidson, president of New York-based Laura Davidson Public Relations. "I think at the top end of the market the people have the money to travel, and they're making the time to travel, and they don't seem to be influenced by world events."

Growing appeal
What are changing are the demographics attracted to luxury travel. "You're not just dealing with the rich and famous with luxury travel," explains Joan Brower, SVP with M Booth & Associates, adding that like brands such as BMW and Mercedes, luxury destinations are now marketing themselves to a broader audience.

"The money an upper-class family might save at Wal-Mart it's putting into an African safari vacation." Joan Bloom, who along with Brower heads up the travel practice at M Booth, says that means luxury travel is beginning to focus a bit more on price and value, adding that even bargain-conscious outlets, such as TravelSmart, are boosting coverage of high-end vacations.

In fact, luxury-travel media has become so large it can now be divided into tiers.

On one level are a combination of dedicated outlets, such as Cond? Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure, and high-end lifestyle outlets like Robb Report, Town & Country Travel, and Angeleno. But above that is Elite Traveler, which is distributed on private jets worldwide and caters to that upper 0.1% of incomes. "Our readers take $5,000 a night suites or charter yachts," explains Elite Traveler president and editor-in-chief Douglas Gollan, adding, "Post 9/11, private-jet travel has been growing 30% per year, which means the ultra-rich are traveling more than ever."

Gollan says it's a bit of a myth that price is no object for the very high-end traveler. He does note that a lot of the packages and other bargains tied to traditional travel writing are inappropriate for his audience. "They're not interested in whether they can get free breakfast or the fourth night free," he says. "They want to know what they'll find, how big the suite is, and how the amenities are."

Reaching journalists
Pamela Lassers, director of media relations for Abercrombie & Kent, says that like traditional travel journalism, luxury- vacation coverage tends to be dominated by contributors and freelancers. "Very few magazines have the luxury of having staff reporters," she says. "So a big part of our job becomes qualifying the journalists that contact us. We want to go beyond who they've written for and make sure that each journalist's approach to stories captures the experience we want to present."

The one thing that does seem to separate luxury-travel journalism is an aversion to group reporter junkets. "We tend to do more individual press travel," explains Lassers. "That way the reporter is getting the same experience a guest would."

Karin Korpowski, PR director of Grand Expeditions, a collection of seven high-end travel providers, says that high-end travel PR can be challenging, especially for those companies that specialize in organizing trips and providing guides for holiday adventures. "We would love to have travel writers go on our trips and talk about the tour operator that got them there," she says. "But sometimes you can't get that coverage," noting that in many cases, luxury-travel writing is very destination-focused.

Pitching... luxury travel

  • There's a certain aspirational quality to luxury-travel journalism, so pitch the mainstream middle-class audience through the travel sections of local newspapers
  • Look for major trends, such as luxury spas, that can be used to link a variety of geographically disparate travel locations
  • While the same freelance reporters may cover both budget and luxury travel, the markets differ, so make your pitches for high-end outlets focus more on the experience and the amenities rather than price

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