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The Ultra High Net Worth Traveler: The Sky's the Limit

How do the one-percenters travel? Luxury travel experts point where high net worth travel is going.

| BY Donald Liebenson

The high net worth are really going places, and whether it’s Miami Beach International Fashion Week, the Hong Kong International Film Festival or the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix, travel literally means the world to them.

“High Net Worth travel is exciting and challenging; since clients are spending top dollar,” Jody Bear told Spectrem’s Millionaire Corner. The co-founder of New York-based Bear & Bear Travel, Bear has for more than a decade been recognized by Conde Nast Travelers as one of the top travel specialists.

The most epic travel experience she ever coordinated? “I booked a Virgin Galactic space flight,” she said. “It was actually epic for me since I attended Space Camp in Cape Canaveral and took a ZERO-G simulated flight.”

One-fourth of households with a net worth of at least $25 million (not including primary residence) spent at least $50,000 on travel in a year, according to the most recent wealth level study conducted by Spectrem’s Millionaire Corner.  Of these, 13 percent spent at least $100,000.

“Since the economic collapse, luxury travel has mirrored the financial fortunes of the general population,” observes Douglas Gollan, group president and editor-in-chief of Elite Traveler magazine. “There has been a divide in what luxury travel means.  For the aspirational consumer, it is a value added package with free nights, comp breakfasts and using frequent flier points to get there – a taste of luxury on a highly constrained budget. They stay at luxury hotels on a deal, but they don’t open the minibar.

“On the other end, 2013 was the second best year in history for new private jet deliveries with over $23 billion in new private jets taking flight.  From the Super Rich segment there has been an increase in experiential travel, which is another way of saying that money is no object. I just had a company in our offices that is doing private experiences to Africa. The typical size of the traveling party is eight to 10 people and the typical price is over $1 million. All their customers have their own jets.  The company coordinates the chefs, takes over the lodges, and arranges museum tours when the museum is closed. (Travelers) get to see private collections and have dinner with people you and I would typically see on CNN.”

Bear, too, sees an increase in high net worth travelers who are Africa bound. ”The one-percenters are looking for (new) alternate safari destinations,” she noted. “The Southern countries of Africa such as Botswana and Namibia are hot right now. South America is extremely hot right now because new, luxury hotels are being built in cool destinations such as  Bahia Vik in Jose Ignacio. Ethiopia is emerging since it has not been exploited and it appeals to the philanthropic traveler.”

But even professional travel destinations are becoming popular as recreational. “We say private jets set the rich people free,” Gollan said. “Increased interest in places like the Seychelles, the Maldives, India, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Qatar and across Africa are being driven as UHNW (travelers) are increasingly traveling to these places on business and then visiting nearby places for leisure, or stopovers between business meetings.”

Adventure travel and celebration or family travel are trending dramatically for the ultra high net worth traveler. “Adventure travel is becoming more luxurious and luxury travel is becoming more adventurous,” Gollan observed. “Last year UHNW consumers spent $5 billion on adventure travel.  This includes hunting, fishing, white water kayaking, helicopter skiing, dude ranch experiences, safaris, diving and so forth. Luxury elements including travel by helicopter to remote locations and luxury camping and amenities.”

Bear sees a rise in celebration travel, which can range from marking family milestones to professional advancement. “Family travel is huge since parents want their children to be exposed to new destinations and experiences,” she said/ “Multi-generational trips are becoming increasingly popular so booking villas and private homes lend to the bonding experience.  Parents are also letting their children have a voice in where their next family trip would be and what type of tours they take.”

Luxury travel hasn’t diminished among high-end travelers, Bear said. “They’re still booking once-in-a-lifetime tours, but now they want a breakdown on how their money is allocated, which is how it should always be.”

Between young and old ultra high net worth travelers, food has become an important component of the Millionaire Millennial’s trip, “whether it is experiencing street food in Bangkok or Pintxos bars in San Sebastian,” Bear said. “They want to know all the hot, new restaurants in the destination they are going to and have a reservation for lunch and dinner each night. Their other priority is having over-the-top experiences with the best of the best guides so we organize these private tours in advance. Older travelers would prefer to relax a bit more and experience the hotel they are in.”

But whatever the desire or demand, she said, when it comes to the ultra high net worth traveler, “’No,’ is not part of my vocabulary,” Bear said. “What is impossible to confirm today may be probable tomorrow.”

About the Author

Donald Liebenson

Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.  

A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.