Is the future of luxury in the hands of travel designers or our artificially intelligent counterparts?


Mary Steadman mentoring rountables on the power of personal service within luxury travel

“Without the human touch, luxury is dead”

The touch and feel of luxury service is something you’ll never get from a machine, CRM system or an automated message. You feel it through the shake of a hand, a warm embrace when greeting and the look in one’s eye.

A computer cannot bring the kind of customisation that’s necessary for luxury.

You can buy and do things online, but you can’t get to the level of detail that’s required for luxury clients.

Technology is here, and it’s changed the way we’re all operating. But in the luxury space, it will always remain important to connect face-to-face with your partners and clients in order to make the magic happen and build long-term client relationships.

Remember the old theory that, in conversation, we only ever hear 10% of the message through the words being spoken, and the rest is body language and tone of voice? I had an ultra-high-net-worth client from Australia who was very upset, so I called him to try and calm things down. We were on the phone and I said: ‘This isn’t working, would you like to go for lunch? I’ll meet you in London.’ I was a 1.5-hour train ride away, and I went and met him for three hours. He was very upset when we first sat down, but we had an amazing time. By the end of that meal, he’d become my number-one client. And he continues to be today.

Mary Steadman, director of partners, LURA Lifestyle Management

 Marc Mekki debating the power of technology within luxury travel

“Technology can deliver things we can’t even comprehend”

Imagine folding a piece of paper 50 times over. How thick is the resulting stack of paper? The answer – if you were able to accomplish that physically – is that it would cover the distance between the Earth and the Sun, roughly 95 million miles.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? But what it illustrates is a flaw in human thinking compared with technology. We, as a species, are alien to exponential growth.

We’re linear thinkers: we tend to think that something improved by 50 times will be 50 times better, not a million times.

But, that is the arc of technology. We’re right at the cusp of this exponential curve, before things really start to explode over the next 10 to 30 years, with new platforms such as blockchain. But we’re yet to hit the top of the curve.

We assume that some things are fundamentally human, such as creativity and communication, I often hear the phrase: ‘Artificial intelligence will never…’ Well, a piece of art generated by AI was sold at Christie’s last year for $435,000. What about music? Well, AI has written a piece of music that has been performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The next thing you’re going to see is Google Duplex – where a computer can make a phone call to book a hair appointment. All of these things are happening now – before we’ve hit the curve.

Marc Mekki, technology entrepreneur and founder of Ode to Joy