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Why quiet luxury is the latest travel trend

In March this year, Lubaina Sheerazi did a polar plunge. Organised by Antarctica21, the fly-cruise expedition to Antarctica had experts leading a small group of travellers on the great white continent.

“From transiting the Lemaire Channel, also known as the Kodak Gap because of its breathtaking beauty, and cruising on a Zodiac vessel to continental landing at Cape Perez, doing a polar plunge, and sailing through an active volcano, the itinerary was curated a day before, based on weather conditions,” says Lubaina, CEO and co-founder of Mumbai-based tourism marketing agency, BRANDit.

As a part of the trip, she also took a cruise aboard the Magellan Explorer where experts gave informative talks about Antarctica’s history, expedition centres, The Antarctic Treaty, the region’s wildlife, and more. “My co-passengers, some of whom were Indians, also had similar tastes and were very interested in learning more about the peninsula that we were sailing around,” she adds.

Aurora borealis on the Lofoten islands, Norway

Aurora borealis on the Lofoten islands, Norway

In a trend that is called ‘quiet luxury’ or ‘stealth wealth, high net-worth travellers, including Gen Z and millennials are looking for remote offbeat locations, discreet getaways, and meaningful connections, instead of glitzy cities or casinos. Case in point is the Q Odyssey Private Jet Round the World tour, the latest offering from The Q Experiences, a luxury travel company launched in 2018. This 27-day journey of opulence and adventure takes one across six continents on a private jet, focussing on experiences rather than my destinations.

The trip also charters one of the most luxurious trains, The Rovos Rail, which traverses through the lush jungles of Africa, and to Victoria Falls and Pretoria, followed by a private jet ride that explores the captivating canyons and desert landscapes of Al Ula in Saudi Arabia. You will witness the mesmerising Northern Lights on Lofoten Island in Norway, ride a hot air balloon over the Teotihuacan Pyramids in Mexico, and unravel the mysteries of human civilisation on Easter Island, Chile. This luxury air travel experience unfolds aboard a chartered Boeing 757, where seats recline into fully lie-flat beds. With a dedicated crew, which includes two accomplished international chefs, voyage of opulence is priced at a whopping ₹99 lakh per traveller.

Lubaina Sheerazi in Antarctica

Lubaina Sheerazi in Antarctica | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

exploring the untouched

“Today’s travellers seek exclusivity, comfort, and a personalised experience that caters to their every whim. They aspire to embark on journeys that are thoughtfully curated to offer an unparalleled realm of opulence, with seamless access to the world’s most remote and remarkable destinations,” says Vasim Shaikh, founder and CEO, The Q Experiences.

Take for instance, Sriram Krishnan, an IT professional based in Bengaluru. Every year, he plans a luxury annual getaway with his family to offbeat locations like Mongolia, Georgia, and Uzbekistan. “We have stayed in a glass igloo in Finnish Lapland and glamped in Ladakh. The more offbeat and experiential, the better,” says Sriram, who plans to explore Albania later this year.

Ganges Voyager

Ganges Voyager

Regular travellers like Sriram aside, the pandemic was a watershed moment for many who realised their love for the outdoors during the lockdowns. “After Covid, we saw amongst our clients, a deep desire for connecting with and being one with Nature. A definite shift from “happening places” to going off the grid is happening,” says Loveleen Arun, founder-director of Panache World, a luxury boutique firm in Bengaluru. Whether it is staying in a tiny lodge in the Finnish Lapland surrounded by acres of wilderness, or glamping on the quiet sands of the Thar, taking long flights to outer islands of the Great Barrier Reef or staying in obscure mountainsides in New Zealand, our clients have opted for the luxury of the untouched, says Loveleen, adding, “We have woven in shows of sunsets, instead of theatre and star gazing instead of shopping.”

Instead of heading to well-known destinations like the Swiss Alps or the French Riviera, many affluent travellers now prefer hiking in the remote Svaneti region of Georgia, gong on a safari in Botswana, or winding down in an exclusive wellness retreat in the Himalayas. Africa, with its wildlife and untouched landscapes and luxurious properties, is becoming a favourite with many high-end travellers. Immersive experiences like mushroom or strawberry picking, foraging on a farm, or taking a flamenco class add value to their trips.

A growing market

While this is gaining momentum now, the concept has been around for years. Launched in Chennai with just ticketing services, Baywatch Travels has now grown to have a boutique approach to luxury holidays. Manish Kripalani, managing director of Baywatch Travels, says, “There is a lot of change in the mindset of travellers. They don’t want to stay at the Versace or the Ritz, but are willing to pay the same money for a luxurious cottage in the hills with all the frills. Many people want to go where others have not gone, for the brag value and of course social media.” While his company offers luxury holidays, destinations weddings, and bespoke trips, they have now forayed into the luxury villas segment in South India.

More recently, in India, many new ways of exploring the country have emerged. River cruises, for instance, offer an immersive experience with excursions to historical and architectural wonders, dance and music performances, a taste of the local cuisine, meeting with artisans and interacting with locals. “River cruising as a concept is relatively new to India, however it has great opportunities, especially given the culture and community, and history that developed and thrived around its river systems since time immemorial,” says Raj Singh, founder-chairman of New Delhi -based Antara Luxury River Cruises, which offers cruises on the Ganges, with the longest one being between Varanasi and Dibrugarh that takes 50 days. Generally, a 7 night/8 day cruise costs around $3,575 (base category), which is approximately ₹3 lakh per person on full board basis, including shore excursions, jetty transfers, and guides. They have also launched luxury catamarans in Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park and its rivers.

Norwegian Cruise Line

The Norwegian Cruise Line | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Secrecy and discretion is what many wealthy, high-profile travellers crave. In cruise ships like the NCL (Norwegian Cruise Line), there is a section at the top of the ship called the Haven that has the most luxurious, well-appointed and spacious accommodation with a 24-hour butler service, and a private sun deck and elevators.

what’s trending

At Mumbai based travel company, Destination Globe, popular destinations this summer include Svalbard in Norway, Iceland, and countryside villas in Europe. Founder Parul Mehta says, “Client requests change every season; Last year we did a lot of Africa, and this year a lot of Scandinavia. We cater to the age group between 30 and 70 years, and curate tours for families, honeymooners, as well as milestone anniversaries or birthday celebrations.”

Emerging as a top destination is Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, says Parul. “It’s ideal for people between 30 and 55 years of age. Iceland is ever-growing and it’s open for summer and winter. Of course, such destinations are limited to a certain age, not for very young or for very old people,” she says.

So, how much do these experiences cost? A 10 day trip to Svalbard, Norway could cost up to ₹10 lakh per person and a holiday to Iceland for that duration could cost up to ₹8 lakh per person. “The definition of luxury has undergone a massive makeover in the couple of years, thanks to the awakening of the revenge traveller. Travellers, who truly can be defined as luxury travellers, are now looking at experiences above and beyond the beaten path. They would rather opt for lesser known and lesser crowded destinations, which offer a more indigenous experience, rather than plan a trip to the “IT” destination of that year,” says Saloni Mahajan Narang, a Mumbai-based luxury brand consultant.

Interacting with locals is a key part of a quiet luxury holiday

Interacting with locals is a key part of a quiet luxury holiday | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

One with the locals

One of the many sides of this trend is that evolved travellers value aspects like sustainability and benefitting local communities. “Our clients enjoy a safari in Botswana at the Okavango Delta which begins at first light with a 10-minute helicopter flight, then saddling up for a guided horseback ride through the delta. They quietly move past wild dogs, elephants, buffalo, hippos and zebra in their natural habitat,” says Kanan Fotedar, founder and CEO of TravelnLiving, a Mumbai-based luxury travel company, who works closely with partners like Great Plains Conservation “who refuse to make any trade-offs between offering a luxury safari and sustainability”.

“This ability to contribute and benefit the local communities by ways of their travels is a big draw for these discerning travellers,” adds Kanan. Generally these trips cost between ₹6-12 lakh for a couple. But they are growing every year and by 30%,” she says adding that popular destinations include Seychelles, South Africa, Greece, and Sri Lanka.

One of the effects of this trend is that many prefer not necessarily big luxury hotels, but also high-end boutique properties like villas and bungalows, with personalised services and niche experiences. Coco Shambala in Sindhudurg on the Konkan coast, with luxury villas perched on a hill, has seen many HNI clients who want seclusion. “From its discreet villas blending seamlessly with the landscape to its farm-to-table dining experiences, puppet performances, and pottery classes, every aspect of Coco Shambhala exudes a sense of mindful luxury,” says founder Giles Knapton. Glenburn Tea estate is another exclusive boutique property located in a tea estate near Darjeeling, with old planters bungalows converted into a luxury hotel with immersive experiences like tea tasting and hiking.

Icelandic tourist

A tourist in Iceland | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“People still love the hardware of luxury: beautiful suites, great linen, fabulous design, but love the sense of space, a forest or river in the vicinity and activities that engage them fully. A day out fishing, birding, photography in the wild, just adds to the sense of luxury. That said a fabulous bar, great coffee, pool and top class cuisine is something they will always talk about,” says Shoba Mohan, founder of RARE India, a collection of luxury boutique properties across India and Nepal.

Saloni explains how she is witnessing a surge in bookings for boutique hotels, not located near cities. The demand for wellness getaways, she believes, “has been tremendous as health is no more taken lightly and guests are dedicating more than one holiday in a year where they completely dive into the programme”. She concludes, “In my opinion, luxury travellers need stories; stories which stand out from the clutter. Stories which will make them feel that they added an element to their life.”

David Dass
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