|David Rubin at Montage Laguna Beach. Insider Tip: Guests here can meet with the hotel’s falconer to learn more about these birds.|
David Rubin likes to make it happen. A Southern California-based luxury travel advisor and owner of DavidTravel, Rubin designs customized luxury vacations, usually to off-the-beaten-path destinations that require the knowledge and expertise of someone who knows the ins and outs of what really makes a trip unique and memorable.
His clientele is more than 50 percent gay travelers, all of whom have refined tastes when it comes to vacations. Another portion of his business is—as he refers to them—straight “friends” of the gay community, with an equally high-end palate for travel. The majority of his client base comes from the U.S., but he has never limited his services to the local level. Rubin works with clients across the globe, from Southern California to London, the Philippines and Thailand. He even works with international royalty.
A third group, and the most rapidly growing percentage of his business, consists of clients under the age of 35. Through word of mouth and referrals, he is receiving more and more of the youth segment. “I have many young, wealthy clients in their 20s who had no idea that someone like me existed,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor. Until they met Rubin, who is affiliated with Virtuoso agency Montecito Village Travel in Santa Barbara, CA, they had only booked their trips over the Internet and experienced travel “like everyone else,” Rubin says. “Now they tell me when I book them at a hotel and they arrive, the general manager comes down to greet them with the push of a button and they’re treated to all sorts of upgrades.”
Rubin has a flair for over-the-top when it comes to custom-designed trips, but it’s not all about spending a lot of money. “I want clients to not only enrich themselves but enrich the local people too,” says Rubin, who relays the tale of one particular client who was traveling in Russia with his family. They were spending a week in Moscow, staying at The Ritz-Carlton in a top suite. Rubin suggested that the family visit the Moscow Circus, which is one of the oldest and highly acclaimed in the world. The wealthy family of three, wanting only the best seats, were booked in what is known as the “tsar’s box," which holds approximately 25 people. Since there was plenty of room for more, Rubin suggested that they invite children from a local orphanage to attend with chaperones. “I went to my destination management company and they thought it was a great idea,” notes Rubin.
Fully engaged, the client arranged for a coach to transfer the kids, as well as for hot dogs and hamburgers to be provided. He also donned a Santa hat and took the children to a toy store, sat each child on his lap and said, “Anything in the store is yours.”
“It enriched their lives,” says Rubin. “This the type of things we do.”
|For Rubin’s 50th birthday he explored Southeast Asia with friends and clients. The temples in Siem Reap were a highlight.|
Important to note is that Rubin also prides himself on being able to tailor vacations to those who may not be billionaires, but still want a bespoke experience. “I’m not a snob,” says Rubin. “If a client describes a trip they want to take some day but says he or she needs to save up first, I find a way to make it happen for them now.”
Case in point: One particular extremely wealthy client of Rubin enjoys giving out vacations as presents. It works like this: He puts up $10,000 for each recipient and then puts them in touch with Rubin who helps them craft their trip. In one situation, an employee wanted to take his family on his gift vacation. Rubin made it happen, tailoring a 10-day trip for the family of five to Belize, all on the budget of $10,000.
All Roads Lead to Travel
Rubin began his company in 1996 selling travel to places that were important to him, such as Eastern Europe and Southern Africa. The plan was to earn a strong reputation in the small niche of luxury travel for gay and lesbian travelers and their friends, which he felt was being ignored at the time.
It took him several years to find the business models and relationships that worked best for him so that he could offer full travel agency services to both leisure and business travel clients. Initially Rubin used his network of friends and former colleagues from which to draw clients for business travel. Quickly, clients began calling on him for their vacations. They then began recommending DavidTravel to friends and family.
Interestingly, much of this from the get-go was done all online, thanks to the fact that the gay community was an early adapter to the Internet, making it easier to communicate. As a result, Rubin never saw the web as a threat. “I never had a problem sending a link to a client so I could give them more information. It really helped my business doing that,” he recalls. “Of course, I’d tell them not to book it online, just to let me know when they were ready to book so that I could make it all more special for them.”
Like many others in this field, Rubin’s career in travel was sparked by a need for change. Originally he was a lawyer running a successful practice. But in 1996, it was time for something new. “As an attorney, I was a litigator. I did not like that my work focused around disputes. My career change to travel has been a magical paradigm shift,” Rubin says.
The transition came naturally to Rubin, since exploring the world had been part of his life since he was 15 years old and took a teen tour to Europe, visiting England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy and France. “As a child, I saw my parents taking a four-week trip every summer for themselves. I have to admit I resented it. I was determined to do it for myself.”
Upon exiting the legal profession, Rubin wanted to spend his life doing what he felt passion for, and that kept leading him to travel. “I met a lot of people in the travel industry, most of whom were very kind to me,” he says, explaining how he got his start. The best way Rubin was able to learn about the business was to travel to events and hotels on his own to ask questions, seeing as he was not part of a consortium at the time. “In the early stages that is how I built my network of ground operators.” Today DavidTravel is an independent contractor affiliate of the Virtuoso agency, Montecito Village Travel.
The Right Model
There are currently five staff members and eight independent contractors working as part of DavidTravel. “My model has followed my plan of getting known in a small niche, and that has been very valuable for me,” he notes. “I very quickly got known as the guy for top quality travel for the gay community.”
|Robert Hauck, the GM of Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor in Siem Reap, with Rubin.|
DavidTravel’s annual revenue is approximately $2 million, without considering independent contractors, but Rubin is looking to grow the business. “My model is working well,” he adds. “I want to grow particularly in having more ICs and agencies come through me.”
What works so well for DavidTravel is Rubin never relies solely on commission. He instead works directly with on-the-ground destination management company (DMC) offices. This way he avoids an extra level of markup because he receives a net price and then charges his clients accordingly so he can turn a profit. “It’s always nice to get a commission check, but this is not where the bulk of my business comes from,” he says. For example, Rubin, who when combined with the revenue of Montecito Village, is one of the top producers for Abercrombie & Kent, only uses A&K’s DMCs in destinations where they exist, like Myanmar and Thailand. Because A&K does not have an office in Indonesia, Rubin will use a different DMC so as to avoid the additional fees that A&K would charge to arrange tours in that destination.
Another way Rubin is working to expand his business is by relaunching his scheduled small-groups product, a niche he worked on in his early days of travel. The groups will be called DavidTravel “AFreeUniverse” tours. “They will bring together travelers seeking new and exciting experiences, while embracing and celebrating diversity,” he emphasizes.
|When Gorilla Trekking in Uganda Rubin uses DMCs that allow clients to meet in separate, remote sites to make the experience more exclusive and enjoyable.|
Through AFreeUniverse, clients will be able to travel and develop friendships with people who share a passion for the world, and who love traveling with fellow travelers of all ages and of diverse backgrounds, irrespective of nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, politics, etc.
Rubin anticipates that the AFreeUniverse travelers will mirror his current client base. The tours will be either under a “Best of the Best” luxury label or an “ACTIVE” label. For example, “Best of the Best” tours will include stays in places such as Singita Game Reserves and other luxury lodges, while the “ACTIVE” tours will include a Kilimanjaro climb or a hike on the Peruvian Inca Trail.
“Best of the Best” tours will feature top properties, guides, insider access and three-to-five-night stays at most properties. “ACTIVE” tours will range from budget to luxury to ultimate adventure. For example, certain ACTIVE tours will include everything from barebones accommodations, like tent camping with eco-toilets and bucket showers, to cruises on Silversea’s Silver Explorer where tremendous luxury meets Antarctic trekking.
Making it Happen
But above all, Rubin continues to remain true to his mantra of bringing people together and making memorable experiences possible. He tells us another story of clients who visited Cambodia and wanted to see a traditional dance group. Rubin arranged for the couple to visit a village near Siem Reap that had a troupe that performed traditional dance. “While I was arranging this, I thought, ‘Why not make life a win-win,’” he says. “There was going to be dancing and food and I suggested that the couple invite the entire village.” The couple brought together the villagers along with children from a local orphanage who could all partake in the festivities. “It brings joy to so many people. It’s great for locals to see a generous American, Jewish, gay couple,” Rubin says. “It enriches everyone.”