Lara Morakhia dreams of Africa. The jewellery designer takes at least six holidays every year with her family, and their current favourite destination is the beautiful continent. They have visited it five times so far, albeit not for run-of-the-mill safaris. Their trips have involved spending time with a family of gorillas in their natural habitat, seeing an elephant give birth and a pride of lions fighting over a kill. “Africa just pulls us in,” said Mumbai-based Morakhia.
When not admiring the wildlife of Africa, the Morakhias work towards checking off their bucket list of “50 greatest restaurants” to eat at. “We have been to 20, which include Gaggan in Bangkok and a 40-course meal at El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, [which has been] voted the best restaurant in the world twice,” said Morakhia. “I have even tried baby eel.”
The Morakhias’ sojourns typify the kind of holidays India’s uber-rich take today. From renting footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s yacht for 25,000 euros a day to taking a micro flight over the Victoria Falls or going on a gypsy music trail in Hungary, luxury holidays today are less about the been-there-done-that destinations and all about unique curated experiences. Money is no object for the ultra-rich.
“Five years ago rich Indians were still finding their way, [but] now their tastes have evolved,” said Loveleen Arun of Panache World, a travel agency that creates handcrafted experiential trips to select places. “They are competing with the world to tell their [travel] stories.” Arun says her agency alone sends around 100 Indians every year on luxury holidays abroad, and the number is only set to rise.
Amit Kalsi of Experiential Travel Journeys has clients whose idea of a luxury vacation is visiting game reserves in Rwanda and Botswana. Such a holiday for a family of four can cost Rs 75 lakh, he says. Included in this package are luxury tents that come with butlers, helicopter transfers, and in some cases, rent for satellite phones. Every other month, Kalsi sends his clients an email with captioned pictures of exotic locales such as Patagonia, breath-taking private islands in the Mediterranean Sea and remote chalets in the Swiss Alps. These are not “deals on offer” but ideas to inspire them to travel.
Industry experts say this demand for luxury travel is set to get a further boost as India’s millionaire population grows and more Indians travel abroad. According to a 2018 report by Johannesburg-based market research group New World Wealth, India’s list of millionaires doubled from 2007 to 2017, and that number is expected to grow to 9,50,000 millionaires by 2027. The country’s high-net-worth population is growing at more than 20% annually, as per Capgemini’s financial services analysis in 2018, and is the fastest in the world. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation has predicted that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020—a sharp rise from the present figure of 25 million. The same report says that Indian tourists don’t scrimp—they are among the world’s highest spenders per visit abroad and this spend is estimated to rise from the 2018 figure of $23 billion to $45 billion by 2022.
These vacations have moved beyond staying in a luxury hotel and shopping for designer goods. One of Arun’s clients wanted to visit Japan to watch the famous cherry blossoms in bloom. But he “didn’t want to share his cherry blossoms with anyone,” said Arun—he wanted it to be just him and his wife who would savour the view. Arun tailor-made a seven-day walking trip, taking pains to find a secluded route. The holiday also involved stays in traditional Japanese homes, meeting with a soba noodle maker and a ceramic potter, to get a glimpse of the local culture.
Understatement wasn’t the flavour for another of her clients—six people from a business family in North India—who had no qualms spending Rs 1.2 crore for a six-day trip to the world’s party capital, Ibiza. Their extravagance included going above the usual rate of 1,000 euros and spending 25,000 euros to hire a yacht for a day. Their demands were explicit: the yacht had to be large and black in colour. The only one that matched these specifications on the required day belonged to footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
At their hotel in Ibiza, each family member wanted a suite. They chartered a big plane for a 30-minute flight to another European destination—no small-sized plane for their daughter—and despite the short trip, they wanted champagne served on board. All this for 30,000 euros.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s latest data shows that Indians spent $18 billion on holidays abroad in 2017, an annual uptick of 9%, one of the fastest growth rates in the world. “The benchmark spend has been surging,” said Kalsi. “If five years ago high-end Indian travellers were comfortable spending $1,000 per person per night on an African safari, it has now gone up to $3,500.”
Travel designer Viswanathan Gopalakrishnan of Footprint Holidays in Chennai curated a 100-day honeymoon for a 20-something ultra high-net-worth couple from a South Indian state. Everything was monitored, right down to their laundry, and though the couple didn’t want to “show off” their vacation, it certainly featured many brag-worthy moments. Covering 36 cities, it included a Coldplay concert in Hamburg, during which the band performed the newlyweds’ playlist and met them backstage.
The groom visited the Audi and Porsche factories to learn how to handle their race cars. Once he was certified, a simulated race was organised for him at the Ascari race track, where he competed with other semi-professional racers. His wife attended a three-day workshop in France on how perfumes are made, worn and shopped for. The couple also visited a watch factory in Switzerland where a custom-made watch was gifted to them—a wedding gift from a relative who wanted them to receive it in the Switzerland factory.
While on their honeymoon, only one dedicated staff member was allowed to contact the couple. She coordinated their flights and bookings. All their luggage—shopping and items they didn’t want to use—was shipped to their London flat after every stop. Their laundry was managed out of Chennai. Their clothes were washed and delivered to their next destination or to their London apartment, if they did not need them for the next stopover. It was a logistical challenge and took the travel agent three months to plan.
The choices of the ultra-rich are not very different from the lives of the characters fleshed out by Kevin Kwan in his bestseller novel Crazy Rich Asians. Some of them are over-the-top, some understated, but almost all of them are in search of meaning in exclusivity. But, as Arun says, “some crazy rich Indians can beat crazy rich Asians any day.”