The wealthy are ‘opening bloody doors’ on extravagant holidays costing up to £100,000 to celebrate the easing of coronavirus travel restrictions with extended families.
Sally Donaldson, store manager at luxury travel agency Kuoni, said she was left trembling recently when a couple with two children spent more than £50,000 on a trip to the Caribbean island of Antigua.
“It’s a massive amount of money. It’s really amazing,” Donaldson said. “We are happy to help clients, but when you see that kind of money being spent on vacation, you start to shake a little bit… It’s more than the number of years salary for most people?” It makes you wonder what these people are doing, but everyone works so hard and we all deserve a vacation.”
Donaldson, who runs the Kuoni branch inside the John Lewis store on London’s Oxford Street, said that after customers were forced to scale back their travel plans during Covid, customers had spare cash and were now ready to spend big. She and her colleagues have sold some other custom rides for more than £100,000.
“People haven’t traveled in two years because of the pandemic, and they’re really keen to come back and don’t question the price,” she said. “I would say over 80% cited the pandemic as a reason for wanting to escape, spend time with family that they couldn’t get past the lockdowns.
“This is not your normal European vacation,” she said. “These are special adventures on the trip of a lifetime.”
The trend of booking expensive vacations as the pandemic subsides – what industry leaders have dubbed “the tips” – is noted in research by travel agency ABTA.
“After more than two years of severe travel restrictions, people are desperate to travel abroad and many are booking the vacation of a lifetime,” said ABTA’s Shaun Tipton. “Many of these trips will be funded by the savings made during the pandemic when opportunities to go out to restaurants, bars, cinema, theater and other recreational activities have been drastically reduced, and so many have seen their savings increase.”
It comes as most Britons face the biggest squeeze on their incomes since at least 1990, with the Bank of England warning people are facing a triple whammy of inflation soaring to 10%, energy bills of nearly £3,000 a year, and soaring interest rates.
Tom Barber, founder of London-based travel agency Original Travel, said many customers have “spent their lockdowns browsing travel books at the coffee table and making lists of places they want to go. Now they can finally put the lists into action.”
“After years of taking travel for granted and then losing our right to roam, the guilt-free ‘tips’ are all about getting rid of lockdown restrictions and quarantines to embrace travel and all its pleasures again,” he said.
No more waiting for ‘a day’ – now is the time to pamper yourself and visit that place you’ve always wanted to visit, enjoy the experiences you’ve always wanted to try, and take the vacation you’ve always wanted to take.
People tell us that they will definitely blow up the bloody doors [on the spending on holidays] this year.”
Barber said average spending per booking had risen to around £21,000 from £14,000 in 2018-2019. He said around 8% to 10% of all trips cost more than £50,000 compared to 2% before the pandemic.
In addition to their cost more, the duration of the holidays also increases. Barber said a quarter of all trips booked through his agency now take 15 days or more, compared to about a tenth of trips before the pandemic. “A lot of people go on vacations for months,” he said. “They realize that taking kids out of school for one semester is not a bad thing as long as they are doing something educational.
“Two years ago, the government told us all that it was illegal to go on vacation, now people will never take travel for granted again.”
Barber said the popular “bucket list” trips that customers recently booked included a seven-week diving vacation in Indonesia and the Pacific island of Palau, a five-week family road trip across the United States, and a tour of Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain.
Other major destinations included viewing the northern lights in Norway, mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda, and treks to Antarctica.
“We’ve all been dreaming, planning, and anticipating our 2022 vacations for nearly two years, so it’s no surprise that the kinds of vacations we book now are somehow more ‘dissolving’, as people want to treat themselves after such a long period of abstinence.
“Degeneration means different things to different people; for some it is about luxury, for others it is about pleasure and richness of experiences or being completely off the grid.”
Barber said trips from three generations – dubbed 3G – have also proven popular because families get the most time together. “Now we really know how important family is, and if grandparents have made it through the pandemic, it’s even more important that they are together.”
Finding a location suitable for all three generations can be difficult, Barber said, and trips have to take place on school holidays so they are expensive.
“It’s often large private rental properties, such as a safari lodge in Kenya or a beachfront villa,” he said. “A lot of times it’s the grandparents who pay – making the trip a way to bring everyone together.”