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Trend Report Shows Private Group Travel Is on the Rise

Luxury travel company Embark Beyond reveals a growing need for shared experiences in the post-COVID world

By Kathy Gibbons

Some companies are providing private group travel opportunities for employees, combining work and recreational experiences. || Photo by olezzo, courtesy of Adobe

Grand gatherings. That’s the way Jack Ezon describes a trend toward heightened enthusiasm for private group travel that his company, Embark Beyond, discovered as part of a recent quarterly trends report.

Embark Beyond is a New York-based luxury travel company specializing in mostly leisure and events, which includes some corporate clients. “Our average daily rate is about $3,600 a night,” Ezon says. “Our average client is 30 to 55 [years old].”

The report defines “grand gatherings” as a new category that refers to groups of travelers ranging from 10 to 50 guests. “With the exception of multigenerational families, it is a category with little comparative history,” the report states. “But of our groups, grand gatherings represent about 35% of our group transactions.”

The report found that 61% of Americans are interested in private group travel, which Ezon says is a post-COVID phenomenon. “I just think that people are looking to connect deeper after COVID,” he says. “People just want to be together more. I don’t think that’s going to go away—just like work from home.”

While leisure is a significant driver of the growth in private group travel, Ezon says luxury corporate retreats are on the rise. “They want to be creating bonds and cultures since there’s no office environment,” he says. “We’re also seeing departments travel together more—maybe the marketing team just does a trip; They’re not in the office anymore, and they want to meet. They can build a relationship so, when they’re working over Zoom, there’s more there than just a screen.”

Ezon says the majority of private group travel retreats lean toward staying at resort properties, with maybe 30% to 40% preferring major cities. “Many of them have a mixed component of meetings and experiences within the destination,” he notes, adding that including a philanthropic element is not unusual either.

Ezon describes one departmental private group travel event at the Grace Bay Club in the Turks and Caicos Islands where participants shared homes that had multiple bedrooms each. After meeting for several hours, attendees enjoyed lunch, dinner, and excursions together. The group also helped with projects like building bicycles for children.

“Typically the departmental trip is small, usually 10 to 12 people, sometimes 20,” he says. “Usually the average stay is three days—a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday pattern is the most common. It’s part of the week but getting a head start on Sunday.”

More and more, corporate attendees of private group travel events add days for personal time before or afterward. “Of the corporate business we do, I think about 65% of it becomes ‘bleisure,’ where somebody else is traveling with them and [attendees are] extending [their time there],” Ezon says. “It used to be about 20% pre-COVID.”

The report also identified an incredibly lucrative opportunity for using private group travel as a fundraising tool for nonprofits. Rather than investing in large-scale galas, COVID showed some nonprofits the value of setting up travel experiences with current and potential donors, a method that data shows often results in more lucrative and long-term commitments to the charity.

As a result of the growing demand for private group travel, the report cites the need for destinations to have empowered on-site coordinators. One of the most important roles needed, according to the report, is a grand gathering coordinator. It notes that most products have catering managers or concierges, but these do not quite meet the needs of grand gathering clients who often struggle to find their point person.

The trend report also reveals a need for shared private space. Some properties have successfully created full-floor takeovers or retrofitted a suite as a private lounge for everyone to gather, it mentions. Small hotels have proved ripe for group takeovers as demand for such “takeover hotels” continues to grow.

Adventure travelers experience the scenic landscape of Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. Programming one-of-a-kind experiences is part of what Embark describes as “grand gatherings.” || Photo by day2505, courtesy of Adobe

Programming is another essential element for a grand gathering. Embark’s new Embark Together brand works with clients to plan elements that include team-building games, speakers, content generation, and other experiences. And within all of this, easy access and nonstop flights remain extremely important.