The balance today is, how can you provide great service while providing the rawest kind of experience?

Serge Dive founded Beyond Luxury Media in 2005, a platform that serves the high-end experiential travel industry. The company now runs trade shows including PURE Life Experiences, We Are Africa, and LE Miami. Below, he sounds off on the evolution of experiential travel and his predictions for luxury in 2018.

How has experiential travel evolved since you’ve been in the industry?

At first, the only people who could travel were heads of state or industries. That’s why they wanted to have palaces, they wanted a very codified environment. They wanted people with white gloves. By the 2000s, millionaires who had made the money outnumbered millionaires who inherited the money. And that changed the game. They were young, multi-cultural, multi-gender, multigenerational, etc.

In 2007-2008, a combination of An Inconvenient Truth, of Vanity Fair making its cover the “Green Issue,” and of the stock markets crashing made big, materialistic luxury goods look very bad. People discovered that we want to have things that are quite meaningful. We all live on this planet for about only 700,000 hours. You realize, when you spend 4 hours in an airport that’s not very good for the allocation of hours that’s been given to you.

The balance today is, how can you find something where you provide the great service while providing the rawest kind of experience ever? At Aman Resort at Amangiri, for example, they have this incredible branded hotel, but the bedrooms are just a bed outside where you can sleep under the stars. And everyone wants to go to Fogo Island, where you sleep in an igloo that you have built yourself.

People want to come back to this raw experience, because it connects to something we’ve forgotten, which is nature. In cities, we are surrounded by concrete, everything is digitized and nothing really has any meaning. People want to reconnect with the food, nature, an element of spirituality.

Before, luxury travel was all about sheltering you from your environments. Luxury hotels guarantee you that you could be in the middle of somewhere in Mexico, but the design of the hotels will be exactly like all the other hotels of the same brand around the world. I think we finally realized that the world we live in cities, that we thought was real and is natural, it’s actually the opposite. Our world of the city is not natural.

How do you see luxury travel evolving next?

At the moment, people want to basically live the best possible version of themselves. This implies, for me, that the next stage will be high-impact philanthropy actions. There was a time when people used to go to awful safari places and be driven around and come back drinking a bottle of wine. Now you’re got safaris that are more immersive. The next stage is that people will want to understand that this world is disappearing. So you see people like andBeyond going rhino notching. People will pay a great amount of money in the future to do this.

I think we are all aware that our planet is on the verge of a cliff, and unless miracles happen, we will have to find another planet if we want mankind to survive. And it’s created this huge market and attractions for a new form of tourism, which is about saving the world. So that’s one part of experiential travel at the moment, which is for a mature individual.

On the other side, we have a millennial customer who is in a conflict between living an extremely meaningful life, but spending so much time documenting it on Instagram that they don’t have time to enjoy it. For those individuals, they are more into experience tracking. The new status symbol is no longer a Rolex or a Porsche. People care about what you do and where you have been.

At the top end of the market, people build brands with a view that “we will really take you on an adventure.” The element of the surprise economy is taking over travel. It’s far more rewarding, in terms of emotion. You see it also with things like secret cinemas, or secret restaurants. All these places that basically offer an experience where you don’t know what’s going to happen. And that’s very much a new phenomenon.

We are living in a world where high travel will be a life optimized and amplified, where people will offer you the best possible version of yourself, and an optimization in not only doing great things but also doing great things for others.  It’ll be done in a way where you will be completely surprised. It will be more directed towards nature, or more local culture. And it will involve a surprise element. That’s my view in a nutshell.

In your view, has this changed the definition of luxury?

There is a high misconception of luxury. Luxury comes from the concept of luxus, which means “excess.” So it was an excess that you would create to make people think you are sexier and more powerful. We still aim at the same kind of concept. But now it’s becoming more and more of an inner journey.

Luxury before was about projecting an image on others and yourself that made you feel good, but somehow still influenced others. Now, people are looking for a salvation for themselves. They want to have, for them and their loved ones, a life which has been more meaningful. And I think there is more realization that you shouldn’t care too much about your money. Because your money comes and goes, but your time definitely goes. So you should make sure that you spend a good amount of time doing.

You should basically manage your lifetime in terms of the time you’ve got with your loved ones, your kids, a body that is healthy. That’s where we are going now. People will manage their lifetime journey the same way Amazon has tried to manage your customer journey: in a more scientific way.

Are there any destinations you predict will be popular for the next year?

Because there is a passion in humanity to being an explorer, and because people want to brag, people will be always looking for remote places. When Iran opens up, if ever, people will be flooding back to Iran, because it’s a beautiful country. Or Afghanistan.

People are changing tastes. You see more and more people interested in icy destinations, not just warm destinations. Iceland is becoming infinitely popular, but I think you will see the same with remote parts of Northern Canada, remote parts of Northern Scandinavia and so on.

For me, the things that will take everything by surprise will be mobile camping and small luxury boats. But I’m not talking about mini yachts. I’m talking about a place called Tiger Blue in Indonesia, with old antique boats which are renovated like a mini boutique hotel. They tick all the boxes: You are in the middle of nature, you have privacy, you can interact with people, you are changing destination on a regular basis. You really feel totally connected.

What is your outlook for the luxury travel industry in 2018? 

We live in a very strange world. We could be on the edge of nuclear war with North Korea, which could be a bit of a problem. But barring this, the great thing about travel is that it is an incompressible budget item. When people make a lot of money, they say “Great! I can splash on my family. Let’s go to the places down south.” When times are really hard, people say, “I’ve worked so hard, I haven’t seen my family at all. I need to splash on them even more and take them to something super nice.”

Materialistic consumption is really out of fashion. People realize that there is more value in spending money with their loved ones, or just for themselves. Apart from something utterly catastrophic (like nuclear war), I don’t think this industry will suffer at all.

Anything else you wanted to touch on?

One thing I’m always surprised by is that I think hotels, in general, should be the place where you discover things before they become mainstream. They should be some kind of lab. I’m always surprised by the fact that they have a gym and still offer you as much sugar as possible. We’re switching now to a generation where people are into body-hacking. They’re trying to find ways to look younger, live longer.

In some hotels now, minibars have matcha green tea, Bulletproof coffee. All these things with elements of biohacking. And with alternatives to gyms: more and more meditation classes, rather than just traditional spin classes. People want stuff larger-than-life, but they want to optimize their longevity, their body and so on. The promise of a life optimized and amplified is what luxury travel is doing in 2018.

For more 2018 predictions, download The Future 100: Trends and change to watch in 2018