The rise of the six-figure family holiday

‘Make it count’ experiences are behind an increase in ultra-luxury escapes for high net worth travellers

The White Lotus TV show still
TV shows like The White Lotus gave viewers an insight into how the ultra-rich like to travel Credit: HBO

If you’ve been watching Succession or The White Lotus, you’ll be fully up-to-speed on how the super-rich love spending quality time on holiday with their families “making memories”. Obviously other people do too, but for the seriously wealthy, 2023 has become the year of the Six Figure Family Holiday. 

“There is no question that more people are doing things with their families,” says Jules Maury, head of Scott Dunn Private, the ultra-luxury arm of Scott Dunn, which has a “by invitation only” membership. “We have seen a 40 per cent rise in £100K bookings since last year, a large percentage of which are for family trips. Maybe it’s because pre-Covid they felt they had all the time in the world and now people are more aware of their own mortality, but to see that rise in 12 months is a big deal.”

What the best high-end tour operators do is work on the client relationship, really getting to know their interests and then anticipating their needs over multiple bookings. Travellers are a lot more savvy than they were, reading reviews and scrolling Instagram and TikTok, so the pressure to be on top of everything that’s trending, for both travel expert and client, has never been greater. 

“I think parents are now doing the ‘making it count’ life experiences with their kids,” says Maury. “They’re going a bit deeper, they want things to feel local and purposeful. We organised a month-long family round-the-world recently, with the youngest child five years old,” says Maury. “They did Fiji, LA, New Zealand, Oz – Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock – Singapore. They just decided they wanted to do something special on their summer holiday, rather than just go to Europe.” 

Black Tomato has set up ultra-personalised family trips to destinations such as Mongolia Credit: iStock/Getty

Luxury boutique operator Black Tomato has seen a huge growth in multi-generational travel, which obviously means a higher spend and bookings of £100K and higher increasing by 111 per cent between 2021 and 2022, before settling into a 20 per cent increase from last year to this.

“Emerging from the pandemic, there was a real sense of ‘I’ve missed out and want to embrace the world as much as I can’,” says Tom Marchant, Black Tomato’s co-founder. “This is manifesting as a surge in demand for extraordinary, experiential trips. People have seen a renewed sense of value in spending time with their loved ones and a recognition that travelling with those who matter most, is really important. But that’s never going to be cheap.” 

In recent months, Black Tomato has set up ultra-personalised family trips to Japan (around £100,000 for a multigenerational group of seven) learning about Sumo, Samurai and street food and another to Mongolia, where the family was accompanied for much of the trip by a survival expert, who taught them how to catch their food, build fires, navigate by the stars and tell the time from the position of the sun.  

Chartering a private jet can cut out multiple commerical flights and save time – but at a cost Credit: Getty/E+

Chartering a private jet to cut out five internal flights and save a day is another reason things get pricey. “People are willing to pay whatever it takes for seamless travel. Even if you’re going to somewhere like The Rooster in Antiparos, you’ll probably get a helicopter across from Mykonos rather than sweat the ferries,” says Jules Maury. “Anything that takes the schlep out of it. Especially when travelling with the kids.”

“The most important thing is to be able to move at the right pace without wasting a minute of the trip,” confirms one of Maury’s clients. “As the children get older, family time is so precious that it is worth spending that little bit more just to make sure that you have the once-in-a-lifetime experience coupled with seamless efficiency.”

Children are also being given more and more say in the planning of the high-end family holiday. Teens are much more aware of what’s out there than they were. Maury says for a recent booking for a family of seven, the parents asked their kids where they really wanted to go and built an itinerary around that. (“So basically Alaska, a private yacht, Peru, American desert.”)

“My 15-year old daughter is begging me to take the whole family sailing up the Croatian coast in the superyacht Solandge, like the Roy family in Series Two of Succession,” one big spender told me. “I feel added pressure because she is already asking whether she can spend most of next summer going to festivals with her friends so I feel there might not be that many family holidays left, or at least not until she leaves uni and realises how expensive these trips are and what a great deal it is having your parents pay.”

One family is considering booking a yacht charter after being inspired by the Roy family in TV show Succession Credit: Home Box Office/Television Stills

This is a sentiment echoed by Tom Barber, co-founder of Original Travel, a company whose bread and butter has always been multi-destination, multi-generational trips, which has seen six figure holidays bounce back post-Covid. While Barber thinks it is partly due to families wanting to make up for lost time, he has also seen an increase in the “Last Hurrah Holiday”: “That big ticket holiday that will entice their older children – and often partners – to join them.” These types of trips account for over a quarter of their £100K+ bookings. 

Parents are also keener than ever to bring grandparents and grandchildren together, hence the continued rise in popularity of the hotel with villa, so families can enjoy the privacy but with all the facilities of a hotel. This also works well for families travelling with children and their children’s partners.

Justin Huxter, who co-founded Cartology Travel, has seen trip spend increase since Covid and says about 20 per cent of his business is over the £100K margin and that almost 90 per cent of his bookings are for family trips, usually those with teens or older children who bring their other halves. 

As any parent with teenagers will know, a big part of the conversation when planning a trip is how to keep them off their mobiles by keeping them engaged, busy and active and ideally to dive right into the culture they’re visiting. These families take extraordinary holidays on a regular basis so the biggest challenge can be finding things they’ve never done before.  

“We had a family who went to Colombia and they were in Cartagena over a public holiday so we encouraged some local families to throw a little street party and get the visiting kids out playing baseball with them,” says Huxter. “We donated some food and drink to help things along. During the trip the family also helped out at a local special needs school, tracked pumas on horseback with gauchos and rented a villa on the coast, from which they hiked and sailed.”

A family holiday to spot polar bears isn't out of the realm of possibility for the 1% Credit: Getty/Westend61

So how big an impact has Covid really had on the way very wealthy families travel?

“I think directly after Covid there was a move towards people doing a bit less and staying in places for longer,” says Huxter. “But honestly, we’ve now seen the shift back, where it’s like pre-Covid, where clients want to cram in so much to one trip you have to reign them in and get them to try to appreciate that you don’t need to do an entire continent in 12 days.”

The House of DreamMaker, a US-based boutique travel company run by Gregory Patrick, launched a UK office this January after spending last summer analysing the global market and realising 60 per cent of the luxury travel companies servicing the highest earners are based in the UK but that many have had to scale back their operations. Given the UK’s increased appetite for less homogenised, more experience-focused family trips, they decided it was the moment to step in.

“Parents want to provide experiences that their kids will learn from but also enjoy,” says Patrick. “Gone are the days of tour guides spouting data.” 

The company recently arranged a 10-day family trip to Japan that included a professor of Japanese history from Princeton conducting a FaceTime discussion with the kids during the one-hour transfer from Osaka to Kyoto, which engaged them and made the time fly. They also took over a “dive” restaurant so the children could assist with the cooking, were provided with a personal stylist and shopper who took them out to the best boutiques and had a private visit with one of the last surviving Hiroshima survivors. The trip cost about £188,000, excluding some private air. 

In a climate where people used to go, say, to Antarctica and Chile or the Galapagos, now they’re doing all three in the same trip. One can’t help wondering if all this one-upmanship is filtering down to the kids, who will have to come back to school and compare holidays with their friends. You did two weeks at Sandy Lane in Barbados? God, how dull. We’ve just been to both the North and South Poles to see polar bears, whales and wolves. 

Have you been on an ultra-luxury holiday? Would you consider booking one? Tell us in the comments section below