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Membership-based travel companies like Inspirato create individual trips for its members, like cycling itineraries, fully customized to needs and preferences.Gwen Kidera/DuVine Cycling

Travellers who have extra savings and pent-up wanderlust are finally ready to take that trip of a lifetime. People are planning “bucket list” trips, weeks-long adventures in once-in-a-lifetime destinations like Africa or the Arctic. And alongside these bookings, a trend in luxury travel is emerging: personalization.

In other words, travelling in 2023 isn’t just about the destination or the journey, it’s about tailoring the experience to individual preferences. This includes everything from tapping the expertise of travel advisers during the planning stages to on-site amenities – a personalized trip from start to finish.

According to Una O’Leary, general manager of Canada for global luxury travel agency Virtuoso, Canadian travellers are especially keen on booking boutique hotels with specific amenities that enhance their experiences. “We’re seeing an overall shift towards exclusivity and personalized service,” she says. According to a survey by Virtuoso, Canadian travellers are prioritizing amenities like pools and fitness centres with the latest gear (think Pelotons), suites with balconies, 24/7 room service and private shuttles to and from the airport.

For cruising in particular, this trend (along with heightened health concerns around COVID-19) helps explain the shift away from large cruise ships to smaller boats, which offers a travel experience that is “unstructured and super-personalized,” says Wendy Davis, owner and luxury travel adviser at Zebrano Travel, a travel agency based in Toronto.

The 112-capacity SeaDream I Yacht, which cruises through Barbados for eight days, offers 24-hour room service, a salt-water pool, even a raw food menu – all the amenities, exclusivity and tailored service that luxury travellers are looking for.

“We’re seeing an overall shift towards exclusivity and personalized service”

Una O’Leary, general manager, Canada, Virtuoso

Both O’Leary and Davis note that more luxury travellers than ever are turning to experienced advisers like them to help tailor trips.

“Everything we do is custom for each client and each trip,” says Davis.

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Small boat cruises, by SeaDream and similar companies, offer guests personalized service and visits to smaller, less-crowded ports.Courtesy SeaDream

“People are seeking out the guidance and expertise of a professional adviser because they want to get more from their travel in every respect of the experience,” says O’Leary.

Membership-based services are also transforming the travel industry. Inspirato, for example, bills itself as the world’s first luxury travel subscription and offers three membership tiers where travellers can plan, personalize and pre-pay for luxury vacations around the world at Inspirato-branded properties, complete with members-only experiences, like a four-day cycling trip through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, or a private walking tour of Sicily.

For US$450 per month, the hotel brand Selina customizes a co-living package for travellers who work remotely and want to immerse themselves in another culture. The package includes a 30-day stay in one of the company’s 90 properties, from Panama City to Phuket, with the option to switch properties up to three times a month.

High-end travellers are also turning to concierge services to plan unique trips. The Pelican Club, for example, offers bespoke planning services and curates travel experiences for an annual fee. Jamsheed Pocha and his wife and co-founder, Jennica, work with everyone from yacht brokers to private jet charter owners to ensure their clients have their trips booked where and when they want.

“We’re finding the service to be more and more popular for people because they love the fact that they can simply text one person or one number and we know them,” says Pocha. “We have their passport details, their preferences, likes, dislikes, all the little things [so] that we can make an impact.” The Pelican Club’s value, in other words, is leveraging the team’s expertise to create custom itineraries for luxury travellers while simplifying the planning and communication process.

Whether members are headed to New York for the weekend or on safari in Africa, The Pelican Club handles every detail from start to finish to create a detailed itinerary. Right now, Pocha and his team are busy planning a 10-day European trip for 12 people for a member’s 60th birthday party. The trip kicks off at the Maybourne Riviera hotel overlooking Monaco, then heads to a villa in St. Tropez, with a final stop in London.

“It’s really important that we build a personality of the traveller that we’re working with,” says Pocha. “That’s the value of the membership model; you are working with somebody who gets to know you, your family and your lifestyle.”

“Personalization is really [about] travelling in a meaningful way,” says O’Leary. “People want to be able to create positive and memorable experiences.”

And a little help to make sure everything runs smooth certainly never hurts.

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