Inner journeys are the new luxury travel & what it means for the market for status symbols

Inward journeys of affluents thoroughly messes up the market for the status symbols. If we can’t experience social differentiation, it doesn’t exist.

The fact that our inner journeys are becoming as important as the external ones is about to turn high-end travel and hospitality onto its head. Blame the modernization of luxury. Most valuable and rare things today are deemed to be time, privacy, attention and the ability to disconnect. Coveted high-end offerings revolve around these new scarcities, which also separate the new class of affluents from the rest. Forget about owning the infinite amount of this season GUCCIs, self-actualization is where the cutting-edge affluents are at.

In its transformational iteration, tourism is not about traveling far geographically. It’s about going deep inwards.

If monastic retreats or Annapurna trek with Deepak Chopra are a step too far, there is earthing. A fast-growing movement has been wholeheartedly embraced by the mother of all personal transformations, the online destination GOOP, and it took the world of modern affluents by storm. Based on the belief that connecting to the Earth’s natural energy is key to our physical, mental and spiritual health, earthing has been credited with curing insomnia, depression, inflammation and arthritis. A quick Instagram check reveals that there are more than 175000 posts hashtagged #earthing. There are clearly many believers in vitamin G, where G stands for ground.

In the unlikely event that one can’t find a stretch of grass to earth on, a good old-fashioned walk can have a transformative effect. At least, that’s what Street Wisdom built its business around. Under their “Answers are Everywhere” slogan, this startup mixes psychology, cognitive science and mindfulness into “walking-based problem solving.” Go for a long, slow walk with one of Street Wisdom guides, who will mix walking with with mindfulness exercises that will help you see the familiar neighborhood in a more attentive way, and you are due to find an answer to any troubling question that you may have.

This inner-outer journey conundrum demonstrates the emerging inverse relationship between consumption and wealth. Those who can afford to create physical, mental and spiritual space for their inner transformation are the new rich. In contrast, 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 than the rich, according to The Economist’s analysis.

This change in spending among the affluents forces luxury travel to reconsider their own articulation of value, and how they create, distribute and capture it. It also constructs a new market for status symbols.

The challenge in this new world order is that the status symbols are by default tangible: if we can’t experience the social differentiation they create, it doesn’t exist. This makes transformational experience as the ultimate status symbol tricky: they are internal, intangible and personal. They need to be socialized to be visible.

So far this socialization has been unfolding on Instagram. Photos of feet on the beach, inspirational quotes, considered hashtags, relaxing playlists, meditation corners and quinoa dishes are all meant to make our transformational journey tangible.

Modern luxury travel companies have a further opportunity to turn the intangible inner transformation into a tangible social status. If modern affluents require both the self-actualization and a wide audience to evidence it, then modern luxury’s role is to give them inspiration and ammunition to live their best lives. The winning combination is to offer self-actualization with numerous opportunities to socially advance thanks to it. The first step for hospitality brands implementing it is to understand that, unlike the external journeys, our inner journeys never end.

Strategy Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Forbes’ one of The World’s Most Influential CMOs.

Strategy Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Forbes’ one of The World’s Most Influential CMOs.