What did “luxury travel” mean 10 years ago, in the glittering time before the Recession? Odds are, many of us would have linked it to visible consumption – and high costs. Think: bottle service at exclusive clubs, yachting holidays, prix fixe dinners at Michelin-starred restaurants, and shopping at designer boutiques.

While these markers may still partially define what it means to be a luxury traveller in 2014, that definition is rapidly changing – and it’s changing in part thanks to the influence of Generation Y.

Experiential Travel | Millennials | Gen Y

Millennials are approaching luxury – and travel – from a new perspective © Drimafilm/iStock/Thinkstock

Spanning the ages of 18 – 34, Generation Y is approaching luxury from a new standpoint for a few reasons. For one, it’s the age group that was hardest hit by the Recession, and which now remains the least employed (and the most financially burdened). Luxury as synonymous with status symbols and ostentatious spending simply isn’t possible for those living on constrained budgets.

But it’s not just a lack of spending money that is defining how Generation Y travels, or how it views luxury experiences. As Amanda Machado discusses over at The Atlantic, it’s significant to recognise that Millennials do still travel: and in ever-growing numbers at that. As she notes, the UN has recently estimated that young travellers now account for 20% of everyone who travels around the world, and that this percentage is only expected to increase.

Experiential Travel | Millennials | Gen Y

Despite the financial crunch, Millennials are travelling in record numbers – but they’re doing it a little differently © Urs Siedentop/iStock/Thinkstock

Furthermore, more and more people are defining travel as one of the most important aspects of their lives: according to a recent survey, a full 88% of responders see travel as their highest priority, above wealth or even family. Millennials want their travels to live up to their high expectations, and with that comes a new, modulated definition of luxury travel: one that’s suited to the post-Recession age.

So what does this new world of luxury travel entail? It all comes down to the experiential.

Experiential travel is the antithesis of pre-packaged tour groups or one-size-fits-all itineraries. It’s also the opposite of a trip spent sheltered on the tourist trail, eating only at restaurants that cater to foreign visitors and approaching a city with a checklist of sights to “do”.

Experiential Travel | Millennials | Gen Y

Experiential travel is at the heart of Gen Y’s approach to holidays © Everste/iStock/Thinkstock

Instead, the idea of experiential travel rests on a bespoke, one-of-a-kind holiday: travellers are seeking to be immersed in the fabric of the destination, and are after the chance to explore with insider knowledge, all while feeling closer to a local than a dreaded tourist. Experiential travel is also one that comes at a premium, and can be perceived as its own luxury: in light of globalisation and the increased homogenisation of cities, when urban centres as far-flung as Delhi and Tokyo can still host a sea of McDonald’s and Starbucks franchises, the pursuit of the authentic becomes a new marker of exclusivity.

If experiential, insider travel is the newest model in luxury, it’s also one that’s uniquely well-suited to Millennials and their digital fluency. A number of new start-ups and apps, most of which are aimed at Gen Y travellers, seek to address this growing desire by providing custom, insider experiences that are guaranteed to impart local knowledge – and even the chance to mingle and dine with locals while abroad.

Experiential Travel | Vayable

Vayable’s business plan rests on providing travellers with locally guided, bespoke experiences © Ashley Ludaescher

Vayable is one such start-up whose business plan rests on the premise that travelling with local guidance is the right kind of travel. Those using the app can pair up with a number of resident “experts” in the destination of their choice, and can even craft custom itineraries: whether they want to discover the best vintage shopping in Paris or go on a cocktail bar crawl in New York, it’s a guaranteed move away from the tourist scrum.

As Vayable CEO Jamie Wong was recently quoted as saying, “People want to reclaim what’s real. Mass tourism is no longer sufficient.” He also goes on to note that the most inspired kind of travel is resolutely experience-based, from eating with a food blogger in Queens to thrifting with an ex-Jean Paul Gaultier designer.

Experiential Travel | Vayable

Vayable’s customers are looking for one-of-a-kind experiences – like the chance to go on a design tour of Paris © Ashley Ludaescher

The insider approach isn’t just limited to day outings, though. Airbnb lets travellers stay in stylish, inner-city dwellings that will have them immersed in city life instead of closeted in the separate sphere of the hotel (the site is also currently trialling a new lifestyle component that lets guests dine with locals). EatWith is another that promises visitors the opportunity to join locals for prix fixe, multi-course meals, cooked in their own homes.

Experiential Travel | EatWith

EatWith invites travellers to join for prix fixe, gourmet meals – cooked by locals © Eilon Paz

This new model of luxury certainly isn’t as spendy as the old one, as premiums shift away from pure consumption and towards valuing insider knowledge and access. And while authenticity can at times be elusive, insider and experience-based travel might just be the way forward for all travellers, Millennial or otherwise.

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