As clients continue to seek out new and out-of-the way destinations, those for whom money is no object increasingly desire one-of-a-kind experiences customized specifically for them. Many of these experiences are in places that may still be a bit of a novelty for agents to sell.
“The consumer is very curious and very interested in the world. The notion that something is too far away is over,” said Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network, at the cooperative’s annual Sales Meeting and Trade Show in Las Vegas this week.
“Whatever people dream of we have to deliver,” he said.
Those dreams extend beyond destinations, and agents should tailor their sales pitch accordingly, suggested Marni Granston, director of sales for Ker & Downey, a specialist in experiential luxury travel.
“Sell the experience instead of the trip,” said Granston.
Upscale clients of course want luxury properties, but it’s what they do during the day that will leave lasting impressions, and that’s becoming increasingly important, she added.
David Lee of Into Japan also noted the trend. “We’re doing more and more unusual and highly tailored experiences,” said Lee, managing director of the Tokyo and Oxford, England-based firm.
Travel Market Report spoke with tour operators to discover what some of those experiences might be. Here’s a sampling.
Japan: Temples & Taiko
“We’re doing more and more unusual and highly tailored experiences. For example, an American architect living and working in Japan takes people to Japanese temples and explains them from an architectural viewpoint. We’ve taken groups to Sado Island to see how Kodo, the famous taiko drum troupe, trains and get a lesson of their own.” – David Lee
Ballooning in Burma
“In Burma, an ultimate experience is a hot air balloon ride over the temple ruins at Bagan, and we will soon arrange four-day point-to-point balloon tours.” – Gregg Geoghegan, director of sales and marketing, Trails of Indochina, Newport Beach, Calif.
Field-level action in New Zealand
“We arranged for a professional NFL player to play rugby with the New Zealand All Blacks.” – Marni Granston
Vietnam: learn from a master chef
“In Vietnam, families or small groups can charter the six-suite five-star Violet for a private cruise of Halong Bay. In Saigon, clients can rent the traditional home of Henry Cabot Lodge [who served as ambassador to South Vietnam from 1963 to 1964] for private dinners or a cooking class with a famous Vietnamese chef.” – Barbara Bryant, managing director, Trails of Indochina
Turkey: dine with the ancients
“We rented out Ephesus for the evening for a client group of four people. They had a private candlelight dinner with a string quartet. All the servers were dressed in period costumes.” – Marni Granston
Understanding Chinese art
“We have arranged white-linen banquets on the Great Wall and trips down a tributary of the Li River (Guilin) in bamboo rafts. We take clients to studios of major artists and fashion designers. In Beijing, there’s a private $300 million art collection, which people can see, and be taught by the owner how to understand Chinese art.” – Margot Kong, vice president marketing & business development, Imperial Tours, San Francisco
India: prayer ceremony on the Ganges
“India offers several experiences. Outside of Jaipur, clients can take a private elephant safari for two to six people, ending with a champagne breakfast, if it’s in the morning, or an elephant polo match. In Varanasi, we can arrange an evening prayer ceremony on the banks of the Ganges at a haveli (a small historic mansion) and get a priest to interact with the guests, and then they will have a private dinner.” – Vikram Madhok, managing director Abercrombie & Kent India
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See related story: Hot Destinations: Clients Choosing Roads -- and Rivers -- Less Traveled