NOUVEAU NICHE

With lux­ury trav­ellers de­mand­ing more authen­tic and ex­clu­sive ex­pe­ri­ences on their jour­neys, travel de­sign­ers are min­ing global con­tacts to cre­ate one-of-a-kind trips.

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS - By Mark Sariban.

With lux­ury trav­ellers de­mand­ing more ex­clu­sive ex­pe­ri­ences, travel de­sign­ers are min­ing global con­tacts to cre­ate one-of-a-kind trips.

At a lav­ish lunch to mark the launch of PRIOR, a travel club of­fer­ing mem­bers in­sider ac­cess to unique ex­pe­ri­ences around the world, co-founder David Prior re­lates where two of his mem­bers are cur­rently trav­el­ling. One, he says, asked for Barcelona’s Sagrada Família to be closed to the pub­lic so he could ex­plore the fa­mous cathe­dral in pri­vate. And the other, a pas­sion­ate foodie, was mak­ing or­ange marmalade with nuns at a con­vent in Seville, an ex­pe­ri­ence Prior him­self stum­bled upon by chance a decade ago while on as­sign­ment for Vogue En­ter­tain­ing + Travel.

The be­spoke club is the brain­child of Prior, an Aus­tralian travel writer who made his name at Vogue Liv­ing and who was un­til 2017 con­tribut­ing in­ter­na­tional ed­i­tor at US Condé Nast Trav­eler, and New York-based fi­nancier Marc Blazer, the backer of René Redzepi’s Noma restau­rant in Copen­hagen. “Our phi­los­o­phy is to ap­ply a de­sign sen­si­bil­ity and ed­i­tor’s lens over any travel ex­pe­ri­ence to cre­ate thought­ful and sin­gu­lar jour­neys that ex­tract the true essence of a place and its cul­ture,” says Prior. He de­scribes the extremes of a Sil­i­con Val­ley en­tre­pre­neur’s pri­vate visit to the Sagrada Família and an Aus­tralian foodie’s marmalade ex­pe­ri­ence as the essence of his ser­vice: “The hum­blest mo­ment is just as im­por­tant as the ‘heavens open up’ mo­ment.”

For an an­nual fee of US$2,500, PRIOR mem­bers have “un­par­al­leled ac­cess to peo­ple, places and ex­pe­ri­ences”, draw­ing on the ex­per­tise of a team from the worlds of fash­ion and de­sign as well the travel in­dus­try that cre­ates cus­tomised itin­er­ar­ies and of­fers in­formed travel ad­vice and 24/7 as­sis­tance, de­vises group jour­neys and hosts one-off club events. “It’s not a concierge ser­vice, nor is it so much a travel agency,” Prior ex­plains, “be­cause what we’re try­ing to do is re­ally evolve peo­ple’s trav­el­ling as well. We do think of it as a col­lab­o­ra­tion, and that’s what it’s been so far.

“It’s quite stale, the travel world cur­rently,” he says. “There’s a lot of plug-and-play itin­er­ar­ies: rec­om­mend a ho­tel, rec­om­mend a restau­rant, plug in a guide who has al­ways worked there. Whereas, say, I might know a chef who might be able to cre­ate a par­tic­u­lar din­ner in an ar­chi­tec­turally sig­nif­i­cant build­ing or house; that’s never been done be­fore. So we cre­ate ex­pe­ri­ences from scratch, tai­lor­ing it to the mem­ber’s in­ter­ests but also draw­ing on a net­work of artists, ar­ti­sans and chefs.”

The PRIOR con­cept has launched at a time when the con­cept of lux­ury travel is rapidly chang­ing and a new breed of travel de­sign­ers – es­sen­tially be­spoke travel ad­vi­sors to the ul­tra-wealthy – has come to the fore. Sea­soned lux­ury trav­ellers are fo­cussing less on op­u­lent sur­round­ings and perks such as cham­pagne on ar­rival and more on ex­clu­sive, authen­tic ex­pe­ri­ences that of­ten rely on in­sider ac­cess.

“Lux­ury travel is in an in­ter­est­ing place,” says Sara Grady, head of tourism at in­sights provider Glob­alData. “Pre­vi­ously luxe-level ex­pec­ta­tions are now more com­monly found in the main­stream. This is push­ing the ul­tra-lux­ury mar­ket … to be more niche, more ex­clu­sive, and al­low the ex­plo­ration of more far-flung places.

“And as the de­sire for more niche ex­pe­ri­ences grows, the need for more guid­ance also grows, and this is where travel de­sign­ers come in. They are able to as­sure that level of au­then­tic­ity and thus ex­clu­siv­ity which is es­sen­tial to lux­ury travel.”

Lee Tul­loch, travel ed­i­tor at Vogue Liv­ing, has seen the shift in the lux­ury travel mar­ket first-hand. “I’ve just been in Paris,” Tul­loch says, “and I’ve no­ticed the lob­bies of ho­tels like the Hô­tel de Cril­lon are full of a dif­fer­ent kind of trav­eller al­to­gether. They seem to be younger; there are more Asian trav­ellers stay­ing there: it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent de­mo­graphic. The youth­ful­ness of well-to-do mil­len­ni­als has changed things. The lux­ury mar­ket can’t just say mil­len­ni­als aren’t mak­ing the [pur­chas­ing] de­ci­sions: they re­ally are.”

“Eth­i­cal travel has al­ways been the cheaper end of the mar­ket – back­pack­ers – but that’s changed now. The up­per end of the mar­ket is now re­ally con­cerned with sus­tain­abil­ity, and in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ences where you’re part of the com­mu­nity. Lux­ury trav­ellers have changed and are re­ally want­ing those kind of trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences. That’s part and par­cel of want­ing some­thing spe­cial: they want to go some­where or do some­thing that no-one else has done in their group. Travel is sta­tus now. It’s not just some­thing you do for plea­sure: it’s some­thing you do to en­hance your sta­tus.“

In­hab­it­ing the travel de­signer space along­side PRIOR are the likes of Inda­gare, a US-based mem­bers-only lux­ury travel agency founded by Melissa Biggs Bradley, a for­mer travel ed­i­tor at US mag­a­zine Town & Coun­try, and Essen­tial­ist, launched by for­mer Travel + Leisure ed­i­tor-inchief Nancy Novogrod and hos­pi­tal­ity vet­eran Joan Roca (Novogrod has since left the com­pany). Inda­gare charges US$1,775 an­nu­ally for un­lim­ited cus­tomised itin­er­ary plan­ning and a ded­i­cated trip plan­ner, while Essen­tial­ist charges US$1,400 per house­hold for un­lim­ited trip plan­ning for all fam­ily mem­bers.

“Re­cently we sent a fam­ily on a sab­bat­i­cal that took them to 38 coun­tries and seven con­ti­nents in eight months,” says Inda­gare’s Bradley, who pre­vi­ously spent more than a decade as a travel jour­nal­ist. “They climbed pyra­mids in Egypt, built gers in Mon­go­lia, hugged pandas in China, and de­scended into a vol­cano in Ice­land. We worked with them to ar­range kayak­ing in Antarc­tica, to par­tic­i­pate in morn­ing prayer with Bud­dhist monks in Bhutan, and they also heli-hiked in New Zealand.”

Each of th­ese travel de­sign­ers of­fer a one-stop shop, from book­ing flights and ho­tels and tak­ing care of ev­ery last lo­gis­ti­cal de­tail to or­gan­is­ing those one-of-a-kind ex­pe­ri­ences. “For a fash­ion­able fam­ily with teenage girls vis­it­ing Tokyo,” says Essen­tial­ist’s Joan Roca, “we in­tro­duced them to a very well-known beauty blog­ger who showed them the best make-up bou­tiques and amaz­ing Ja­panese prod­ucts, brands and tips.”

Of course, for some trav­ellers the ul­ti­mate lux­ury is hav­ing some­one not only tak­ing care of all the de­tails and find­ing niche ex­pe­ri­ences but be­ing there to guide them around the world in a pri­vate jet. Be­spoke tour op­er­a­tor Aber­crom­bie and Kent is this year of­fer­ing a Cul­tural Trea­sures jour­ney around the world by pri­vate jet that will take in Mon­go­lia, Bhutan and Ja­pan, among other des­ti­na­tions. That trip will set you back US$129,000 per per­son – twin share. And there’s Vic­to­ria-based Cap­tain’s Choice, which uses a cus­tomised Boe­ing 757-200 for its in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar all-in­clu­sive pri­vate jet ad­ven­tures at price points that can ex­ceed six fig­ures.

“We are do­ing some re­ally in­cred­i­ble jour­neys this year,” says Lou Tandy, co-owner and cre­ative di­rec­tor of Cap­tain’s Choice. “In the mid­dle of the year, I’m es­cort­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary jour­ney called Har­mony in the Hi­malayas. It is for women only, de­signed for the fe­male ex­ec­u­tive or di­rec­tor who is look­ing to recharge and re­ju­ve­nate in an ex­tra­or­di­nary land­scape, with [In­dian au­thor] Ira Trivedi, who fea­tured on the BBC’s list of the 100 most in­spi­ra­tional and in­no­va­tive women of 2017.”

So this, it seems, is the fu­ture of lux­ury travel: more authen­tic, more ex­clu­sive, more niche, some­thing that’s in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to achieve in a con­stantly shrink­ing and over-pho­tographed world. “Less and less lux­ury will be about sell­ing a prod­uct, but about ful­fill­ing the cus­tomer’s in­ti­mate pas­sions. The price tag with this ap­proach be­comes ir­rel­e­vant: hav­ing a paella in a se­cluded cove in Mal­lorca, only ac­ces­si­ble by boat, can be as valu­able to the right mem­ber as rent­ing the largest boat in the ma­rina,” says Essen­tial­ist’s Joan Roca, echo­ing some­thing David Prior tells me at the launch of his ser­vice. “If you can find the essence of a par­tic­u­lar place, which is what we are try­ing to do,” says Prior, “that then be­comes the ex­pe­ri­ence that gives you an in­sight into a place and that’s why we travel, for di­ver­sity. I think that’s the true lux­ury, too.”

Clock­wise from top left: travel de­signer David Prior; in­spi­ra­tion for a jour­ney planned by Prior and his team may in­clude a rock pool in Syd­ney (Prior rec­om­mends that in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers ar­riv­ing in Aus­tralia head straight to the beach and dive into the wa­ter); Bruges’s old­est par­ish church; the colour­ful door of an or­di­nary house in Por­tu­gal; or the sun set­ting on a boab tree in Botswana. PRIOR mem­bers can also take part in No­madic Club­house events, such as a take-over of the newly opened Heck­field Place ho­tel in Hamp­shire, Eng­land.

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