Managing Partner

There is no greater truth about the Great Recession than that it changed the role of travel in the lives of affluent families.

It led them to refocus their attention on the elements of a truly fulfilled life: fiscal responsibility, cherished relationships, good health and optimism for the future. Along the way, travel has become the standard of good living. Resourcefulness has rendered most consumption to needs-based decision making. Travel – the exception to the rule – has been transformed from a discretionary option to a commitment.

As a matter of fact, 83% of respondents in this year’s Survey of Affluence and Wealth, co-produced by YouGov and Time Inc., claim that going on vacation is a better use of their money than buying luxury items. Travel exemplifies the means by which the affluent affirm their most important relationships and their connections to their social fabric. It is how they discover themselves in the world around them.

In a word, travel has become indispensable.

Fueled by a desire to broaden their horizons and armed with tools to discover the possibilities, affluent families independently evaluate destinations and accommodations, using emotional and rational criteria. Below we share a bit of what we’ve learned.

The decision to take a trip has to start somewhere, and it typically begins with a single sentence during a conversation between spouses: “Let’s take a vacation.” From there, the “Family Parliament” – the concept that decisions affecting the entire family are increasingly taking all family members’ opinions into consideration – takes over, beginning with the question, “Where to?”

For some, the answer is simple. It’s just someplace they’ve always wanted to go. For others, it’s a place they return to year after year. And although the opinions of friends and family weigh heavily, the due diligence of most affluent travelers doesn’t end there. These travelers tend to use unbranded content (travel review websites, online visitor guides, destination websites) to narrow their decisions. As a result, marketers must do everything possible to help shape and manage opinions and conversations about their destinations to ensure that travelers spread the good word. Through a process of elimination, the family settles on two options – and a vote is the deciding factor.

The decision about where to stay falls more evenly between the family parliament (49%) and the individual assigned to the details (44%). And in a world where 12% of the affluent have personally used a service like Airbnb, luxury hotels must take notice: Brand loyalty is in decline. Only 16% of hotel guests prefer a single brand in the category and tend to use just that brand.

Loyalty breeds consideration.

We’ve found that loyalty guarantees only one thing: that your brand will get on the consumer’s list of possibilities. Among those who say they are loyal to specific hotel brands, 68% say “While I don’t always buy, I do consider Brand X over any other brand.” Today’s affluent traveler relies on considerable due diligence to determine whether the hotel meets a combination of rational and emotional needs: 

  • Amenities. Does the hotel have the amenities and services we require?
  • Recommendations. What do my friends and family have to say?
  • Shared values. Are the brand’s values and our values aligned?
  • Discretion: Is the property a haven from issues of the “wealth gap”?
  • Worth. Are we getting what we’re paying for?
  • Safety. Will we feel secure there? 

As marketers, remember that the sheer volume of choices and the vast number of resources at the disposal of the affluent traveler make loyalty difficult to gain. As a result, you shouldn’t be asking “How can we get more people to be loyal to our hotel?” Rather, ask yourselves “How can we get more people to consider our hotel?”

The most successful hotels in the world recognize that to stand above the competition in a crowded field, they must build marketing strategies that focus not only on the interplay of the heart and the head but, above all, on the power of the experience. Nothing guarantees consideration more than previous experience. Hotel choice begins with past personal experience and the experiences of family and friends. When asked what matters most when deciding which hotels to consider, 39% of affluent travelers report that previous experience is critical, the highest of all responses.

There is no question that traveling is an abiding passion of affluent people of every generation. Quality time on the road drives happiness and a sense of fulfillment, and it binds loved ones together. In that sense, travel contributes to the number one goal of successful families everywhere: health. As you evaluate your own strengths as a place to go or stay, we offer this advice: Look upon your destination as a metaphorical health food. What the traveling consumer wants, above all, is to return from a trip feeling better…better about themselves, the ones they love and the places they visited.

Our 2015 Affluent Traveler Report analyzes the travel habits and mindsets of the Survey of Affluence and Wealth respondents. If you would like to discuss the report’s findings, please do not hesitate to contact one of us.

If you would like to talk about what it means to become a client of the Survey of Affluence and Wealth and have your brand represented in our program, please email us at We’d be happy to brief you on the merits and costs of participation.

About the Survey Methodology

Now in its tenth year, the Affluence and Wealth Study provides an in-depth profile of the world’s most elite consumers, gleaning insight from 6,141 affluent respondents in 14 countries (2,958 in the US). In the US, the top 10% households that earn more than $120,000 in discretionary income per year are surveyed. For the purpose of the survey, the sample is divided into three independent random samples: Upper Middle Class, Core Affluent, and the Top One Percent, assuring representation at each level.

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