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We’ve been thinking a lot about trends in the travel industry this week – especially the increasing predominance of the boutique inn – and we figured there was no one more likely to have their finger closer to the pulse than Martin Raymond, one half of the founding team behind the Future Laboratory, the trend-spotters and brand consultancy who’ve been forecasting consumer trends with near-psychic accuracy for the last seven years. We had a quick chat with Martin about the future of luxury, his favourite hotels, and whether or not his past predictions have come true...

Future Laboratory homepageHi Martin, thanks for talking to us today. I suppose the best place to start would be the beginning – can you tell us how and why you and Chris started the Future Laboratory?

It was started as an antidote to the relentlessly dull and inconsequential fashion forecasting companies Chris Sanderson and I encountered at the time. All of them lacked methodology, focus, insight and any credibility. This especially became apparent when we called them for quotes for Viewpoint magazine, a bi-annual trend, brands and insight publication we were editing and creatively driving. In tandem with this, I was working on a book, The Tomorrow People – about consumers of the future and how to read them. Again researching this proved depressing – those companies with a methodology that could be tested were few and far between, so profiling the best, and using the most trusted research, networking and quantitative and qualitative assessment, we developed a methodology that has since become the benchmark many industry equivalents now use as standard. So much so, we have patented or are in the process of patenting the best bits – our Consumer Attitudes Audit and our Brand Personality Register – and we’re putting the rest into The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook, which will be published by Laurence King in 2009.

So the trends industry was full of chancers and guesswork until you guys came along and applied some science to it? What does your crystal ball look like? How exactly do you predict the future?

By using future-faced networks, expert panels, quant surveys via our futurepoll system, and a 3,500-strong community of early adopters to harvest or capture the bigger changes taking place globally, and then underpinning the insights these groups and experts throw up with in-house research carried out by our 25-strong team of researchers, trend analysts, visual trend analysts and visual- and trend-mappers based in our offices here in London.

And this system works? There’s one way to find out: in 2006, Future Laboratory produced a report on the future of luxury- two years on, how right did you get it?

The evidence speaks for itself – the rise of eco luxury, new austerity (big in the latest issue of Vogue), the decline of bling, the growth of NMAs (as in New Mass Affluents), and the shift away from luxury as a value- and price-based sector to one increasingly concerned about values.

We also predicted the growth of the online luxury sector, and the rise of concierge living, and concierge packages or bundling for ordinary mortals – both sectors are now valued in their billions, especially online luxury, an area luxury retailers said would never happen because luxury needs to be touched. The fact is people with money don’t have time to touch things – they’re too busy working. So the internet makes complete sense.

I think Mr & Mrs Smith are living proof of that – we’ve seen more and more of what we do revolve around our web activity and our concierge services. We’d never give up the guide books, though – I think it’s true that people do still like the physical feeling of something luxurious. I don’t see why there isn’t room for on- and off-line luxury, but leafing through a book of beautiful boutique hotels and booking a bespoke boutique-hotel break through the website are, I guess, very different processes.

While we’re on the topic of hotels, then, which are your favourites?

The Colomb D’Or, in St Paul De Vence, for its hors d’oeuvres and fabulous staff, but also the Gurnnards Head in Cornwall, for its fantastic fish stew, and any and all of the Aman resorts, but especially Amankora in Bhutan, and its exceptionally brilliant, resourceful and supremely discreet GM John Reid, a man who can teach any Oberoi, Taj, or Starwood group the true meaning of luxury.

Amankora joined the Smith collection earlier this year – it really is a fantasy – five remote Himalayan lodges spread over the Bhutanese mountains. Unbeatable scenery, unparalleled luxury: it’s a mind-blowing journey to travel between them, a holiday to really wow somebody with. In an ideal world, who would be your ideal travel companion?

Robert Byron, the man who wrote The Road to Oxiana, perhaps one of the greatest travel books ever written. Prejudiced, jaundiced, certainly racist and more than a little politically incorrect, he rubbed up against the cultures he travelled like parmesan on a cheese-grater and in the process left as much of an impression on the people he encountered as they did on him. Which of course is the essence of a good travel writer and travelling well as a tourist, that you leave as much as you take, and that you shouldn’t be worried about challenging cultures you stumble into just because they are the host nation. After all, travel is about broadening the senses – and that should work both ways.

I take your point, but I’m sure that there are limits. I mean, there are certain elements of British culture that the native population of Faliraki or Benidorm could certainly do without being ‘rubbed up’ against. But perhaps there’s a difference between ‘challenging culture’ and threatening it with a broken bottle…

You say you should leave as much as you take from a place, but what do you bring with your in the first place? What do you never leave home without?

The Complete Works of Shaw, a rucksack (to carry it – his preface alone weighs 160lbs), my Moleskine notebook, and my diary from Goyard.

Books, books and more books… What about when you arrive at your destination? What’s the first thing you do when you’ve checked into a hotel?

Order coffee. If it is not freshly ground, I check out again.

Aha. I think Smith’s resident coffee expert, Lucy, would be inclined to agree with you there. It’s one of the little touches that mean you can really tell straight away whether a hotel makes the cut.

Finally, what does the future hold for the Future Laboratory? What are you working on right now?

Launching LS:N, the first online trend, insight and consumer analysis site for the lifestyle industries – Monocle meets the Economist with some real depth and relevance. Also the book, The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook, as well as a novel called Whitechapel – a sci-cri story set in 1888 and 2058.

Well, we’re looking foward to the launch of all three. And we’ll be keeping our browsers fixed on to discover even more things we can look forward to…

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