Transformational Experiences as Luxury’s New Mantra

The people of Japan believe that everyone has an ikigai: a reason to jump out of bed each morning. If longevity of the Japanese is any indicator, the believers in ikigai are doing something right. The trend is spreading outside Japan now, with increasing number of Westerners looking for a raison d’être.

Many of them seek it on the road. Look at the astronomic rise of the market for wellness tourism which was at $494 million in 2013 and is growing, according to Global Wellness Institute. The Global Wellness Summit recently named transformative wellness travel as the trend in 2018. Transformational Travel Collaborative (TTC) is an organizational launched to provide both travelers and travel services with tools to encourage personal and professional growth while on the road.

Inner journeys are today as important as the external ones. To help its guests advance on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a lot of hospitality enterprises, large and small, are making a U-turn in their corporate strategies. To appeal to their newly personal fulfillment-driven audience, Marriott launched a high-end, self-improvement activities as part of its loyalty program at selected locations. Guests can now use their rewards points to book cooking classes with a famous chef Eric Ripert or a golf lesson with Annika Sörenstam.

If getting lost on purpose is meant to help us find ourselves, there is no shortage of services aimed at providing exactly that. Wired recently launched FLOW Journeys, an invitation-only adventure series bringing extraordinary people to the world’s most stunning locations. Further Future Festival, an event aimed at expanding our consciousness, is founded by the Burning Man veterans. An annual Revitalize Summit gathers couple of hundred people with a promise of learning from leaders in wellness, health and entrepreneurship. If you are more into earthly delights, the DeBruce hotel in New York’s Catskill Park promises “an explorative experience” when it comes to food, offering not just meals but connecting them into a cumulative epicurean narrative over your entire stay.

Only a couple of years ago, the experience of the trip was considered the critical phase in the guest’s customer-decision journey. Now it’s the step beyond: our post-trip emotions and action. The idea that we should come back from our travails not only energized and rested, but different. Ideally, we would be a better, more responsible, open-minded, empathetic and fulfilled versions of ourselves.

“Consumers are looking to become better people,” notes B. Joseph Pine, author of much-quoted book “Transformation Economy.” Pine charts a multi-staged progression of economic value from commodities to goods to services to experiences to personal transformation. According to this approach, the ultimate product is a better you.

All sorts of products and services merge to provide consumers with an opportunity for self-advancement. Athleisure stores offer fitness classes; yoga studios offer luxury retreats and gyms open up hotels. Harvey Spevak, the Executive Chairman and Managing Partner of the Equinox Group is entering the hospitality business, emboldened by his company’s meteoric growth. Equinox Hotels will be founded on the same mission of “helping people maximize the potential within themselves” as the Equinox Clubs.

“Health is the new wealth,” Spevak says. Indeed, the modern luxury era introduces the inverse relationship between conspicuous consumption and wealth. These days, according to The Economist, less affluent individuals aim to acquire products that make them more socially visible and devote a higher share of their total spending to conspicuous consumption that the rich, who prefer to spend more stealthily. This change in spending among the affluent forces luxury brands to reconsider their own articulation of value and the way they communicate it. For generations who grew up before Instagram, fashion was a reflection of social standing. Wearing the right brand made one cool. For the post-Instagram generation, social currency is built on transformational experiences.

It would therefore be wrong to regard silent retreats, wellness festivals, mindfulness apps and happiness camps as a simple push-back against our overly digital and too-connected lives. Rather than a simple reaction, our spiritual metamorphosis is a corollary of a digital world in which meditating, working out, healthy eating and being environmentally aware have become a ubiquitous feature of our social media lives. Our feeds are full of inspirational quotes, food shots and photos of our meditation corners — and perhaps this is the biggest irony of our quest for self-reflection: that our inner journeys are actually quite public.

Herein lies the opportunity for the hospitality industry. If modern luxury consumers require both the ikigai and a wide audience to evidence it, then hospitality’s role is to give them inspiration and ammunition to live their best lives. This could be in the form of sustainable lodging; locally harvested food narratives; a transformational festival; inspiring classes; or feeling one with nature. Combine this ikigai-designed offering with numerous opportunities to share (and go on sharing) it, and you’ve got a winning combination. The first step for hospitality brands implementing it is to understand that a trip doesn’t end for a guest when they leave — it only just begins.

This article was originally published in Beyond Magazine, Issue 3, June 2018