Heading a multi-billion dollar global network of high-end travel advisers (in more than 50 countries and counting), Matthew Upchurch has an eerie way of predicting how, where and why we’ll travel in the future.
Omijima Island in Japan.
Cocktail-laden holidays aside, what’s the best thing about travel?
“I’m a huge believer that travel is a necessary part of humanity. I don’t want to sound like I’m running for Miss America or anything, but the truth is, not only is it hard to hate people up close, but as you become a good or better traveller, you also learn to enjoy life a whole lot more. When you’re on a journey of discovery, it’s impossible not to learn a few new things about yourself along the way.”
What frustrates you most about the industry?
“One of my biggest frustrations is how hard we have to work to have the travel industry taken seriously. Put it this way: one out of every 10 jobs in the world are within the industry, and in 2017, one in every five jobs created were in travel and tourism. To say it’s important would be a gross understatement.”
Isla Holbox in Mexico, another 2019 hotspot, says Matthew Upchurch.
How are we going to be travelling in 2019?
“Japan, expedition cruising and Mexico will go through the roof, but the biggest trend will be the continued rise of multigenerational travel. Never before in the history of our planet have we seen four generations travelling all at the same time, and matriarchs in particular are saying, ‘I’m going to leave you some money, but I’d actually like to spend some money on you while we can still enjoy each other’ and they’re booking experiences. It’s really heartening to see.”
What trend will we see the back of in 2019?
“I don’t know that you’d call it a trend as such, but we’re certainly seeing the slow death of peak-season travel to destinations that suffer from over-tourism. Most high-net individuals wouldn’t be caught dead in Rome in July and it’s a move that’s moving down through the demographics. What’s interesting about that is tourism boards are getting more creative in placing events in shoulder seasons to build tourism so it’s often the most culturally interesting time to travel.”
Leave Rome for the cooler months and battle fewer tourists.
How do luxury travel trends trickle down to the rest of the industry?
“The luxury industry continuously raises the bar on everything from design to execution to creativity, so that it’s like a magnetic pull that raises the industry as a whole. When you go back and look at the day the Four Seasons first put bathroom amenities into their hotels, you can see how things that are done at the top end can filter through to become standards we expect.”
In this age of DIY, what can advisers do for their clients?
“A good point of difference between an adviser and a booker is asking, ‘How do I add value before a trip, during a trip and after a trip?’ Yes, we’ll get you into the Vatican before it’s open and give you access to private places, but it’s also about going that extra mile. With multigenerational travel, for example, our advisers might work on a skeleton itinerary to Italy with the family before hooking up a three-way Skype connection with the family and an Italian operator on the ground who’ll live-stream into their home and fill in the details together.”
Multigeneration family bookings are set to keep rising.
You travel over 400,000km a year. What are your favourite destinations?
“I travel predominantly for business, but I love travelling with my family first and foremost, then with friends, and in the last couple of years, I’ve started to enjoy focusing on destinations and partners with interesting sustainability ideas. I always love returning to Africa. There’s something about the wide, open spaces and the animals, but people go there for those things and come back transformed by the locals. Part of it, I think, is that it reminds you of how people who have so little can be so happy.”
What is your secret to overcoming jet lag?
“Selecting flights carefully is a big one. In general I try to pick overnight flights and arrive early in the morning and force myself to stay up. I also eat very lightly and avoid alcohol on the plane because a large part of jet lag is dehydration.”
Africa: Come for the animals, be transformed by the locals.
What are your top pieces of travel wisdom?
“Always collaborate with a great travel adviser (Oprah has one) who you have built a relationship with, and always debrief when you get back because that will create a beautiful learning relationship. Also, when you’re planning your trip, you should also think about creating some marker points about what you want to get out of your travels and what you want to see, and balancing that with enough space for spontaneity.”
What’s the one thing you’d change about travel?
“I wish everyone would innately understand Warren Buffett’s quote “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”