Guilt trip: Luxury travelers tone it down in hard times

"We're witnessing a change in consumption patterns," says Karen Weiner Escalera, a publicist who writes a newsletter and blog on luxury travel trends. "People are looking more at function and comfort and authenticity."

She predicts that luxury as a marketing pitch will lose ground to messages that focus on niche interests as people pursue true passions rather than indulgence for the sake of indulgence.

Not that so-called luxury shame is necessarily bad for business. On Grand Cayman, The Reef Resort, a midscale all-suites hotel on a predominantly upscale island, director Tom McCallum believes he has gained some guests this season who in better times would be checking into digs that cost more than the $250 a night he has been charging.

"We're definitely getting people who would have grabbed a luxury hotel last year," he says. "People still want a Caribbean vacation, but they want to tell themselves they haven't spent as much money. They're being more selective."

But they're still traveling. At Ellison Poe's Little Rock travel agency, sales of midrange package tours to Europe may be down, but bookings to exotic locales such as Sri Lanka and Madagascar are up, thanks to deals being snapped up by people whose bank balances or credit limits still allow it.

"I feel like a Turkish rug salesman," she says. "These deals won't be here in three months, so if you have the money, you should take advantage of it."

That's Jackie Ross' sentiment exactly. The retired Bellingham, Wash., hypnotherapist sailed the eastern Caribbean in February, her third cruise in a year. She and her husband have always been avid travelers, and it's not unusual for friends to ask them where they're off to next. These days, however, her responses are more circumspect. "I'll say, 'Oh, we're just going somewhere warm for a while,' " she says. "It's general sensitivity. There are just so many people who are going through so much. We've been affected by the stock market, too. But we'd planned this cruise, and we're going to go."

They'll be sailing again next year, too. "We weren't going to," Ross says, "but a really good deal came up."

Contributing: Kitty Bean Yancey

Travelers, are you cutting back on luxury trips? If so, is it for financial reasons or not wanting to appear extravagant during tough econcomic times?

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