In Interesting Times  –  The old Chinese proverb, or curse, of “May you live in interesting times” is very relevant for all of us in 2009. Our interesting times intertwine the challenges of the current global economy with the excitement of the new administration in Washington, and the problem of global warming with an accelerating rate of development and technological change. These dynamics will undoubtedly impact our hospitality industry.

Out of every crisis, however, there is an opportunity. The BVI has traditionally targeted the luxury travel market and it is important to refocus our efforts in understanding the dynamics that drive this sector of the tourism industry. The first step in this process is assessing the changes in luxury hospitality trends.

Time is now the greatest luxury in our 24/7 world, with the truly affluent claiming a surfeit of material possessions, but few of them being able to boast a comparable surplus of personal time. Hence the growth of the personal concierge, translated into the concept of concierge travel, to customize a guest’s experience to higher personal levels. The demand for personalization is reflected in the success of companies such as Fischer Travel International, a luxury members-only concierge service; $50,000 to join and $10,000 annual membership, offering travelers a 24/7 hotline to a supremely connected, string-pulling travel agent-turned concierge turned dream-come-true maker.  In retail this concept transfers to the idea of “curated consumption” whereby a retailer will tailor a retail experience to an individual’s spending patterns.

The demographics of visitors to the BVI cover a wide range of ages. However, there are two groups that are the driving force of a new movement in luxury travel. The first are the mature affluents who tend to focus on “stealth wealth”, looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, from the obscure destination to the bespoke non-branded hotel unlike any other in the world. This level of connoisseurship prizes uniqueness and owning, or being part of, a limited collection, whether obtaining an exclusive service membership or a luxe edition of a product. Branding for this group is about helping the customers attain a desired sense of self, of individualism, as well as having “made it”. Translated into resort design, the focus is on identity, character, individuality and flexibility.

Another group with growing influence is the new younger traveler. Generation Y (the Millennials) are out and about in the world. They are spending their new, hard-earned money on luxury items – including vacations. This young generation is generally focused on “Me” and is more self-indulgent than those before them. They enjoy luxury for the way it makes them feel, giving it a direct connection to their emotions and becoming the way they express their individuality.

The hospitality industry is seeing a higher appreciation of creativity and design, with hotels becoming houses of culture, with in-house museums. To quote Thomas Friedman, we are now moving into the Talent Age, with the right side of the brain becoming increasingly dominant over the left.

Despite the recent economic challenges, the truly affluent are becoming overwhelmed with the concept of collecting products and are now focused on collecting lifetime experiences. Possession or an association with “things” is becoming less important; now the focus is on how these things combine to help create a sense of self. Hence, the growth of adventure tourism and cultural tourism, with the visitor looking for an experience that invigorates and educates and adds to their personal growth.

Social Responsibility
The social conscience of the affluent traveler has evolved from responding to cause-related marketing to wanting to feel that their vacation is helping to save the planet, or at least not having a significant negative impact. Guests are increasingly seeking an eco-friendly experience. They are more sensitive to the community and the environment surrounding the beautiful locations of the five-star resorts they visit, and they hope to come away with the sense that their stay in no way damaged the very place they came to see.

This is not only great news for the environment, but as more destinations adopt these standards, in the BVI and throughout the region, they will be associated with an enhanced perception in line with the values and needs of their target guests.

Whether they are young professionals, baby boomers, retirees – whatever the demographic – one thing is for sure: despite the economic downturn, there remain people in the marketplace who not only have the disposable income to make the BVI their next stop, but demand a hotel or resort that offers personalized and unforgettable experiences in order to ensure repeat visits. With a diverse travelling population, it’s obvious that one size does not fit all in luxury travel. In our interesting times it’s important not just to understand the market but to also understand the people that make up the market and the triggers that make their travel experience enriching, rewarding and fulfilling. 


Steve Fox, British Virgin Islands office
T  284 494 2148 / F  284 494 3898
[email protected]

Established in 1936, OBM International is a highly prestigious design-consulting firm, specializing in master planning, architecture and interior design for luxury hotel, resort and mixed-use developments. As a result of its commitment to design excellence, OBM  has been designated as a preferred provider for The Leading Hotels of the World Network and ranked as a top design firm by renowned publications World Architecture, Hotel Design, Hotel & Motel Management and Interior Design.
OBM’s diverse team of experts are masters of design with landmark projects throughout the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.  OBM has design offices located in Antigua, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Madrid, Miami, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks & Caicos Islands.