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Staying Native – the rise of localised travel

An excerpt from my recent piece for Protein Journal’s Travel Report…travel_report_2

A guy flicks through a pile of vinyl records, groups of colleagues converse over fresh juices, a girl takes away a newly bought bouquet of flowers, while a barista in the corner hands out an endless number of flat whites. This sounds like a typical scene at the city’s hippest market on a Saturday afternoon – but it’s not. This is all taking place in the lobby of a hotel on a regular Tuesday morning. The Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, to be precise.

Ace – and localised hotels like them – are redefining the hospitality world, just as the wave of Ian Schrager-pioneered boutique hotels did around the turn of the millennium. These designer hotels, which courted young, jet-set, Wallpaper magazine-reading entrepreneurs, fell upon the glitzy, but somewhat cringe-inducing, formula of starchitect + banging club = supercool hotel. But it’s not so easy for today’s local hotels which look to neighbourhood immersion, creativity and authentic collaborations.

Hotel groups and individual venues are now being inspired by localism. “For years, a hotel was seen as a refuge from the alien city you’ve landed in, but travellers are getting braver – they’re now more interested in discovering the environment they’re in than being shielded from it,” says Julie Fawcett, managing director of Qbic.

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Generator Hostel, Copenhagen

The ease of online communication has enabled people to have a back-up for that bravery, as they can learn from other people who have taken the leap to try an unusual location or untested hotel. International networks of friends and peers, plus the growth of Airbnb, have also boosted travellers’ bravery. A recent survey of travel agents by American Express found that 34% of travellers are “specifically looking to immerse themselves in the destinations they visit”.

“There is a new generation of travellers looking to experience a city like a local. Hotels now have to offer more than just a bed to sleep in,” says Janneke Heijer, head of communications at Volkshotel. Guests are looking for hotels to help them get under the skin of the area, rather than making them feel like tourists. And to make a hotel and its guests feel native, hotels must “go out to the local community and bring it in,” says Fawcett.

It’s becoming standard practice for authentic hotels to welcome in the creative population of its surrounding area: Ace Hotels host ‘takeovers’ by creatives such as Jocks & Nerds magazine or up-and-coming product designers, while Volkshotel runs an artist-in-residence programme. Local creatives also make their presence known throughout these hotels, which stock artisan snacks and microbrewed beer, fill their rooms with art, and sell niche products on-site and online.

Ben Pundole, hotelier and editor-in-chief of the website A Hotel Life, agrees: “People don’t care about traditional brands anymore – being surrounded by like-minded people is more important.” According to a US survey by Chase Card Services, millennial travellers are more likely than other groups to want to meet other people staying at their hotel, with 57% wanting to mingle.

Hotel Hotel, Canberra

Hotel Hotel, Canberra

However, meeting other travellers isn’t quite enough immersion for today’s jet-setters. They also want to get acquainted with the locals, and these hotels, by providing great amenities beyond those just used by guests, prove conveniently popular destinations for their city’s permanent inhabitants. Feeling like a local is about more than lobby encounters, though – it’s also about understanding the character of the surrounding area. Hotel Hotel’s co-founder Nectar Efkarpidis believes that making a hotel part of its local community is vital to guests’ experience: “You can’t achieve anything of lasting value if you don’t respect the context that it operates in.”

Hotel Hotel is so committed to supporting local skills that it spent nine months searching for the right bins for its bathrooms before commissioning a local blacksmith to make them. Ace Hotels’ secret sauce comes in the form of its cultural engineers who are based at each property, working with the city’s creatives to ensure the products and events it hosts are on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the area.

But with the new wave of hotels making so much effort to blend seamlessly into the life of its location, is the hotel making the area or is the area making the hotel? Pundole believes that hotels have always defined the areas they inhabit – with legendary places such as The Plaza in New York and Claridge’s in London becoming landmarks. Local hotels are becoming landmarks in a different way now – bestowing legitimacy on up-and-coming areas, or adding coolness to overlooked ones. “The Ace in New York opened in a strange neighbourhood full of African perfume shops, but the presence of a creative, stylish hotel changed how people think about the Flatiron district, and now a NoMad hotel has opened there too,” says Pundole.

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In London, the Ace invigorated a strangely blank part of the otherwise buzzing Shoreditch High Street, by introducing local florists That Flower Shop, a Lovage juice bar, a much-anticipated London outpost for Opening Ceremony and a vinyl-only branch of Sister Ray. It’s an approach that other local hotels are taking on: Volkshotel is working with Amsterdam Dance Event and Unseen Photo Fair, while the Wythe Hotel hosts pop-ups from the likes of APC and ethical leather brand Marlow Goods. Meanwhile, Standard hotels has an ongoing partnership with eyewear brand Warby Parker.

Chic or artisan partnerships are one thing, but Pundole points out that for a hotel to truly become ‘local’ it must also give back to the neighbourhood it inhabits. In Amsterdam, Volkshotel provided a disused newspaper building slated for demolition with a new lease of life, while Qbic focuses on regenerating rundown buildings and transforming them into affordable hotels. Qbic’s London property, in the multicultural area of Whitechapel, works with local groups to improve the safety and wellbeing of people who live in the neighbourhood. The hotel is decorated through a partnership with the Café Art project, which works with formerly homeless artists, and collaborates with FoodCycle to limit food waste. The team is also working with the local council to improve the nearby Altab Ali Park by helping with planting, adding new lighting and benches, and introducing communal ping-pong tables.

And while hotels all have the same fundamental purpose, local hotels are taking a different tack to traditional brands – they’re determined to enrich the lives of those in the area and to provide a platform where local people can explore their creativity, as much as being a way for visitors to explore the local area. As Efkarpidis puts it, “That’s a local hotel’s magic formula”.

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Gap says Dress Normal

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Under the leadership of former Cos design director Rebekka Bay, the rejuvenated Gap is still finding its feet, but seems to have relaxed into its reputation for simple basics. Normcore, you could say. But while the #Normcore trend is no longer a hot topic, it does speak to a growing interest in simple, well-made clothes that let you lead your life. At least that’s what Gap is counting on, with its Dress Normal campaign.

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The print ads feature actors renowned for their substance more than their style – Anjelica Huston, Michael K Williams, Elisabeth Moss, Bobby Cannavale and Jena Malone.

Meanwhile, Gap has worked with David Fincher, director of films such as Fight Club, Se7en and the forthcoming Gone Girl to create a series of video ads that create mysteries around the people wearing these fairly straightforward clothes.

Seth Farbman, global chief marketing officer for Gap told AdAge, “There’s always an anxiety in Fincher’s work…What I wanted, because this is Gap, was positive anxiety – that was the brief. We wanted to make it more challenging than what people think of as a Gap commercial. Rather than a beginning, a middle and end of the story, we wanted to tell part of the story and leave a sense of wonder.”

I originally wrote this post for uniquestyleplatform.com

Death of the mallrat

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Photography by Seph Lawless

While it may seem unlikely on a packed Saturday at Westfield, the communal shopping experience of malls – going “into town” on a Saturday to find a going-out dress or new bedlinen, queueing for a purchase, cramming into communal changing rooms and battling crowds at sale time – is on its way out.With it, the icons of youthful commercialism, the Mallrats, will be a thing of the past too, as many teens’ first experience of shopping-as-pastime will be online, not in store. In the US, online shopping is taking 6% of malls’ trade, while in the UK, there’s a higher percentage of empty units in shopping centres (16%) than in high streets (9.6%).

But it’s not just the internet that is preventing people from venturing to these vast retail hubs – it’s also the effort and the cost. Why pay out for a day trip to fill your car or your arms at retail parks and mega-malls, when you can browse online stores from the comfort of your home, and get your goods delivered for free. Convenience also plays a major part, with consumers considering themselves too busy to spend time journeying to, and then traipsing around, an out-of-town shopping centre. Local shops, online stores and m-commerce offer much more appealing options for the young, super-busy, urban shopper.

Dying mall culture has already affected the fortunes of key teen brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale, which are now struggling to keep up with teens’ changing shopping attitudes. Long trading on their destination stores, their in-store experience (Abercrombie’s being the most notorious), and the cool factor of their wearing their branded tees and sweats (and, of course, carrying their bags around the mall), these mall staples are losing their lustre. Instead of buying these logo’d clothes, teens are funnelling their spending into their mobile devices. As a result, phones and tablets become their gateway to shopping experiences, keeping them away from the mall – and mall brands.

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Photography by Seph Lawless

The Retail Gazette has warned that for UK malls and retail parks, “there is a danger that larger spaces will turn into empty buildings, with only tumbleweed passing through them”. In the US, this is already happening, as shown in photographer Seph Lawless‘s eerie new book, Black Friday: Death Of The American MallThe book documents the deserted landscape of the once-bustling Rolling Acres Mall in Ohio, which had gradually fallen into disuse and disrepair. While the mall closed in 2008, some retailers attempted to keep standalone stores going until 2013, but eventually gave up the ghost, leaving these crumbling monuments to our once-beloved mall culture.

I originally wrote this post for uniquestyleplatform.com

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Rise of the Peacock

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Burberry Prorsum a/w 14/15

Back from the realms of aesthetes and lumberjacks, menswear is getting a new peacockish air. In recent seasons, we have found the menswear shows more inspiring than the more dominant womenswear fashion weeks, while the current batch of graduates are showing a newly confident, even cocky, style of menswear.

We’re seeing menswear become an increasingly important part of the fashion world, as changing ideas of masculinity encourage men to be bolder with their style choices, and the saturated fashion market shifts its focus to underserved men.

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Nike Elite sports socks

According to NPD, the growth of menswear sales has exceeded those of womenswear for the last two years, while HSBC is encouraging luxury brands to focus on the Young, Urban, Male shopper (horribly dubbed the Yummy). These luxury shoppers now account for 40% of global luxury sales, but as much as 55% of luxury purchases in China. Now Prada is planning to open 50 new menswear stores in the next 3 years (up from 4 stores opened in 2013).

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Mr Porter style guide

And men are revelling in the new attention being paid to the design of their clothes, from shorter shorts and better-fitting shirts to brightly coloured socks. While high fashion is going more peacocky, many men are still used to safe, reliable classics and slowly evolving styles, but they’re dipping their toes in the water with the help of expert guides. A new wave of personal stylists for men are helping the less adventurous to explore their style, while handy guides on Mr Porter help men to be more adventurous with new trends.

I originally wrote this post for uniquestyleplatform.com

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Being Mindful

I did a little piece for the excellent The Women’s Room blog about the rise of mindfulness culture, and the best mindfulness tools – check it out here, or an extract below…

2014 has been dubbed “the year of mindful living” – mindfulness  is a kind of meditation-lite, which encourages you to focus on how you feel, what you’re doing and what you think about things.

Research suggests that it can boost the immune system, alleviate medical conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and chronic pain, and also help with psychological conditions including depression, anxiety, phobias and eating disorders.

Major brands and institutions are introducing mindfulness training as a way to help staff be happier and more productive, from Google and Transport for London to Nike, KPMG and the Home Office. Being mindful can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for a few minutes, or “body scanning”, which encourages you to think about how each part of your body feels.

But one of the key ways people are practicing mindfulness is through their smartphones. It seems odd that the vanguard of easy mindfulness training actually springs from the same place that causes us so much stress, but according to Nathaneal Wolfe and Walter Roth, co-creators of the Mindfulness Daily app, “Technology is a tool, and just as a knife can be weapon or an eating utensil, an iPhone can access the world of information, or be a propagator of fractured attention, weakened relationships, drain of creativity and reinforcer of introversion”. So here’s some of the top mobile mindfulness tools…

Headspace 3Headspace is probably one of the most popular mindfulness apps – it was created by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, who guides you through a course of 10-minute meditation sessions for 10 days. Headspace calls the app “mediation for modern life”, and is designed to fit into spare moments in your day.  Free for iPhone and Android.

The magnificent Arianna Huffington is a huge advocate of the benefits of mindfulness, and has launched an app, called GPS for the Soul (free for iPhone or Android), that measures your stress levels and offers expert guides to help restore mental balance. You can also choose things that can help you feel calm, whether it’s music and poetry, breathing exercises, yoga, mediation or pictures of loved ones.

Relatively new to the block is Mindfulness Daily, and my personal favourite, not only because its creators Nathaneal Wolfe and Walter Roth are so lovely. The app offers lots of different ways to get mindful, from 15-second “pauses” to allow you to focus on your breathing, to body scanning, and even “device meditation”, which uses the shape and sensations of your smartphone to help you focus and relax. Free on iPhone.

And if you really want to be totally 2014, invest in Melon, a headband that helps monitor the brain’s focus during different activities. It’s $149, but if you want to look like a futuristic hippie and know what your brain is up to, it’s priceless. Wearables + mindfulness? You cannot get more “now” than this.

 

Enviro-elitism

As the rain is pouring down and the floodwaters are creeping up, it seems that extreme weather is the new normal. Vast swathes of the US, UK and Asia are becoming inadvisable places to live if you don’t want to put up with (at best) major disruption or (at worst)  risk injury and death. Australia is increasingly getting swallowed up by the desert at its heart, while America’s eastern seaboard seems cursed with storms, hurricanes and polar vortexes. It’s starting to become clear that living in vulnerable areas could be asking for trouble, which is why a new initiative in Nigeria hopes to create a luxurious enclave safe from environmental ravages.

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The Eko Atlantic project, launched in 2003, is a man-made island off the coast of Lagos, that aims to become a shining new 10 sq km city (the same size as New York City) by 2020. It may sound like one of those construction magnate’s follies, like the Palm Jumeirah and its novelty-island kind, but the Eko has been built precisely to safeguard its well-heeled inhabitants and businesses from environmental extremes. While the rest of the coast of Nigeria is under threat from rising sea levels, Eko has its own 8km-long sea barrier to keep it safe from encroaching tides, plus an independent water and energy supply to keep it going when mainland services falter. But such a glittering metropolis is not open to all, as only the elite can afford to live on Eko Atlantic, creating what Martin Lukacs in The Guardian calls “climate apartheid” :

“Eko Atlantic is where you can begin to see a possible future – a vision of privatized green enclaves for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms,” says Lukacs. “Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising.”

With my futurist hat on, it seems that safety from floods and other extreme weather effects will become a more important consideration for many people when thinking about where to live. The Location, Location, Location decisions will increasingly incorporate distance from flood plains or the coast, shelter from high winds and independent energy and water supplies, rather than the usual priorities of  proximity to transport or ability to extend property. That’s all very well and good for the middle classes, who have some flexibility about where they choose to live, but those who have little choice due to financial, work or family needs could be stuck in the danger zones because they can’t afford to live somewhere safer. The affluent are safe on their high ground while the poor must bail out the homes and fields. That’s enviro-elitism right there.

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Status update anxiety

Another extract from my conspicuous experience work for Viewpoint, this time looking at the downside…

With experience-driven consumption becoming the new status marker, social media, from Facebook to Instagram has become the shop window for people to sell the idea of their fabulous lives. But while consumers may feel relieved of the pressure to buy physical status symbols, they feel increasingly pressurised to showcase perfect lifestyles and experiences.

I share, therefore I am

Social media has helped shift the pursuit of experience from something personal and even spiritual to a trading card in the game of one-upmanship. And as people increasingly live online, the version of their lives that they choose to share on social networks can shape how others see them and how they see themselves too.

“Facebook has become a place where we brag”, says Nataly Kogan, founder of positivity-based social network Happier.com. “Our social circles on there are so vast and diverse, people feel like they’re on stage on Facebook”. According to a 2012 JWT survey, three quarters of US and UK consumers feel people use social media to brag about their lives, while nearly 6 in 10 felt that it was important that their social media presence conveyed a certain image about them – what the New Yorker calls a “casual predominance of personal branding”. Instagram alone has over 90m photos with hashtag #me – with a further 23m with the ultimate identity hashtag #selfie.

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With each brag, each filtered and curated experience posted online, consumers may aim to show off their lovely lives and boost their status, but they’re creating angst too. Kogan says “It makes sense that when people compare their own real life to others’ shiny, curated posts, they feel bad. While consumers know the effort that goes into creating their own perfected image of their awesome lifestyle and experiences, this knowledge deserts them when looking at others’ images.

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A study by researchers at two German universities shows that social media can be a minefield of insecurity and envy. Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction found that a third of people felt worse about their lives after visiting Facebook, especially after viewing others’ holiday photos or their social interactions and “likes”. The report also found that men and women tried to make their lives look better on Facebook by highlighting their personal achievements, social lives and their looks, but this can generate an “envy spiral” as people try to out-do each other with increasingly glowing images of their lifestyles.

A US survey by NBC’s Today show found that even Pinterest creates feelings of failure among women, who feel unable to live up to the perfect homes, crafts and kids’ parties that they see showcased on the site. 42% of mothers are stressed by trying to live up to these images of perfect family life, while the pressure to take pictures of every important family experience causes stress for 83%. Indeed, Kogan believes that rather than simply enjoying experiences, consumers are focusing on how they’ll look to their social network: “Instead of looking at that beautiful sunrise or tasting that delicious dinner, they’re trying to capture it for social media.”

Going dark

Consumers are beginning to question the way that sharing an experience can get in the way of experiencing it. Kogan believes “There is a focus shift towards appreciating what’s actually happening in our lives, not curating an epic version of it online”. One way to achieve this is for social media to stop getting in the way of enjoying experiences. A recent campaign by McCann Australia (under the guise of graduate Alex Haigh) encourages people to stop “phubbing” – “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention”. The website StopPhubbing.com suggests that the average restaurant will see 36 cases of phubbing per dining session, with the majority of phubbers using their phones to make status updates.  My Phone Is Off For You aims to counteract the problem of distracted smartphone users, by wrapping smartphones in a “phonekerchief” that blocks network service. Spanish phone network Movistar has launched an app called app I Off You that helps people enjoy mobile-free time with their nearest and dearest. Users activate an “enjoy” button when they want downtime, and if anyone reaches for their handset, an alarm sounds, demanding that the phone be left on the table.

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The jury is still out on whether wearable technology like Google Glass can allow consumers to capture their experiences without detracting from them – several fashion insiders wore them during the spring/summer 2014 catwalk shows, but the technology is not yet seamless enough to allow recording and sharing without fiddling with the mechanism.  Instead, the new wave of wearable cameras, such as the Narrative Clip or The Autographer, quietly capture moments of the user’s day at regular intervals, creating a more realistic representation of their experiences. Kogan also points to ephemeral photo messaging service Snapchat as an example of sharing true moments as they happen, without the filter of trying to perfect one’s identity.

While experts expect the drive for experiences to continue to grow, the way they are recorded and  showcased is changing. The drive to keep up with the virtual Joneses may be a part of online living, but services that empower people to share what their lives are really like and allow people to connect in a more real way, could help conspicuous experience gain a new level of authenticity – and power.

Images from top: Happier.com; Planet Fitness No Pintimidation campaign; My Phone Is Off For You phonekerchief

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Conspicuous experience

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “conspicuous experience” this year – the idea that our experiences are becoming a greater status marker than our possessions, especially through the lens of social media. After going on about it to friends and colleagues for months, Viewpoint allowed me to turn my ramblings into a feature, an extract of which you will find below…

Post-recession, there’s still not much money to go around, which is leading many consumers to focus their spending on experiences that boost memories, relationships and sense of adventure, rather than products that will lose their thrill or usefulness quickly.

Unusual events have almost become the norm for urbanites, who flock to site-specific cinema nights, secret supper clubs, salons, lectures and neighbourhood festivals. Pop-up events have gone mainstream, as consumers realize their value lasts long beyond the event: a one-time event can offer more surprise and discovery than even the most longed-for product. Brands have swiftly jumped on the bandwagon, with every household name creating pop-ups to launch or celebrate the experience of using key products, from Nike’s Feel London “exploration space” to Magnum ice-cream bars’ Pleasure Store in Toronto. While consumers continue to appreciate innovative and immersive brand experiences, they’re also looking for unique and personal experiences that help express and build their own identity.

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As Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of recent book Happy Money: The Science Of Smarter Money, write, “Dozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things. Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are”. In the book, Dunn and Norton highlight 5 ways for people to gain greater happiness from their spending: the first is “Buy Experiences”.

Tom Marchant, co-founder of experiential travel company Black Tomato, believes, “People are realizing that its experiences that give colour and richness to their lives – they are defining themselves by what they’ve done.” Even luxury consumers are refocusing their spending on experiences, rather than goods. A Boston Consulting Group study found that sales of luxury experiences outpaced luxe goods by 50% in 2012, with even consumers in emerging markets beginning to switch their allegiances from branded goods to indulgent experiences. “All over the world, luxury shoppers tell us they’d rather spend more on experiences than on clothes and jewelry. They’ve gone from ‘all my friends and I wear Cartier’ to ‘I cherish spa days with my friends,’” says Michelle Eirinberg Kluz, a Boston Consulting Group principal. “Although experiences are more intangible than an item, consumers consider them more memorable.”

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But they’re not exactly keeping these extraordinary experiences under their hats – sharing (and even showing off) details of their experiences seems to be a key element of their personal value. James Wallman, author of Stuffocation, points out, before the advent of social media, status symbols only needed to be visible to those physically nearby: “what you owned – car, handbag, branded clothes – counted much more in terms of signifying status. After all, who knew you’d just been to the latest restaurant or away for the weekend?” But now, with the world increasingly viewed through the prism of Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter and even Snapchat, what people do has more impact than what they have. “Because of how many followers and friends you have on Facebook and Twitter, far fewer people will actually see you driving your swanky car or holding your fancy handbag than will know that you’re sitting on a chair lift in Chamonix, watching the sunset from the rooftop of your riad in Marrakech, or playing golf on the roof of Selfridges”, says Wallman.

This conspicuous experience can be showcased through stories at dinner parties or over fences or watercoolers, but is most powerful when told and filtered through social media. As edible experiences guru Sam Bompas of Bompas & Parr  told me, “Consumers need to have more creative lives now – it’s no longer good enough to just go to the pub on the weekend. People feel they have to do something fantastic, and get the pictures to prove it”.

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When it comes to experiential spending, travel tops the list for many consumers. Marchant says, “Many people don’t see travel as discretionary spend – they’re still pursuing value, but travel is something they’re less willing to give up. It’s something they can look forward to, so they’re willing forgo spending on other items”. According to McKinsey research, 30% of European luxury consumers are willing to spend less on luxury goods in order to afford experiences such as travel, while a TripAdvisor survey in Spain found that 58% of consumers would sacrifice buying new clothes to afford a holiday, while 55% would buy fewer gifts and 50% would reduce their alcohol consumption.

A key part of many trips is the ability to share the experience, whether through Facebook albums, live tweets or instant Instagram shares. Some travel companies are leveraging conspicuous experience to weave status updates right into the itinerary. A French ski resort in Vars enables has installed video cameras to capture skiers and snowboarders best tricks, which can be posted directly to Facebook. In Majorca, Sol Wave House has transformed itself into a Twitter-themed hotel, which allows guests to order room service or drinks by the pool via tweets. Sydney’s Instagram-themed hotel, 1888, all rooms are decorated with blown-up Instagram snaps (as well as the kind of nostalgic/authentic décor Instagrammers favour), plus a booth in the lobby for “selfies” (self-portraits captured by a smartphone camera), while guests with over 10,000 followers on the app, or those who take the best pictures of the hotel, can get a free night’s stay.

Images from top: Nike Feel London; Casestagram; Sol Wave House

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Clever things club

In my line of work, you have to be a sponge for everything that’s going on – reading everything, always listening and watching. Most of the time, that means reading anything I come across – Twitter links being the greatest boon to trendsters in finding things you didn’t know were interesting, without leaving your desk. But there’s another tool in learning about things which requires leaving one’s desk or sofa and getting out into the world – one which is so very old-school, but gaining increasing social currency.

The School of Life aphorisms (credit David Michael)

It’s going to lectures – something most people would never have considered doing once they escaped college. Sitting in a room as grand and legendary as the theatre at the Royal Institution, or a concrete-floored “space” in Shoreditch or in the private dining rooms of Soho restaurants, more people are literally taking themselves out of their comfort zones to go and hear about something new or different, or debate key contemporary topics. Sometimes you get to go to these things for work, like the great School of Life or  It’s Nice That events or even a TEDx, and so the inspiration and enlightenment you get from the various expert or visionary speakers has a useful outlet. But generally, it’s just exercise for the mind.

A couple of my friends and I like to watch out for interesting and unusual talks to attend on a lunchtime or a weekday evening, especially if it involves the promise of a sharp wine or artisan beer (these being the usual tipples offered with your ticket price). We call this Clever Things Club. Events range from talks by inventors, jellymongers, lexicographers and pornographers to discussions on the role of feminism in fashion or opinion in media. If i talk about people going to improving events like this with my work hat on, i usually ascribe it to people wanting more bang for their buck out of their leisure time – looking for culture, entertainment and a wine without having to shell out for all three, lectures are great value for cash- and time-poor consumers. But there’s something else too – the wonder of the new.

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It’s easy to get caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of things we like, things we do, things we’re used to, people we know. The comfort of sticking to what we know/like is pleasant and all, but can also become a bubble, causing us to lose touch with the excesses, adventures and awesomeness in the world. Call it the Wheelhouse Effect, the Filter Bubble, or just plain getting stuck in a rut – whatever, it’s important to break out of the familiar algorithmed world we live  in and learn things, hear different opinions, appreciate others’ experiences and look at things in a new way. It might not always be highbrow, but if it opens your mind to something else even for a little while,  it’s excellent value.

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A little thing i did for the day job…

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by Gwyneth Holland

European luxury shoppers are shifting to a value mindset, and global megabrands are getting left behind. Sales at top European luxury brands are down, as chic Parisians and Milanese can no longer afford to shop with them. At the same time, the much-beloved free-spending international shoppers (especially those from China, Russia and the Middle East) are no longer filling brands’ glittering flagships.

Over half of the 23 brands (such as Gucci, Hermès and Dior) recently surveyed by Reuters reported lower footfall from tourists (particularly Asian shoppers) in their European flagships. These stores have grown to rely on wealthy luxury travelers to stay afloat, but now the well-shod shopper is going elsewhere. Outlet stores are increasingly enticing those who love a label as well as those who love a deal.

After all, just because consumers have less cash to flash, it doesn’t mean they’re…

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