Let’s Get Lost

I was stopped at a red light the other day and looked up to see a woman in an airport mini-van shuttle staring out the window curiously. I scanned the landscape. It was at the same intersection I passed through whenever I went food shopping. A diner with a huge “under new management” sign that had been up for a year. A gas station. A Boston Market promoting two complete meals for $20. Standard setting to me, but interesting to this traveler. Was she visiting our area for the first time or was she from here and just seeing it from a new perspective, high up in a vehicle filled with strangers, all on different journeys? Just the way I saw my house when I drove by it in a yellow school bus when I was on a fifth-grade field trip. We were driving to the interstate, which would take us from the country to the city, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My mother had just stepped out onto the porch at that moment, and for the first time, I saw her — and the willow trees I sat under in summer when I wanted to hide from everyone — through the eyes of an observer, not a daughter.

Such episodes of clear perspective, free of baggage or of an opinion on what’s going on, deliver travel at its optimal value.

As a luxury travel provider, it’s important you devise an itinerary free of clutter, devoid of angst or turmoil. This means ensuring an experience is seamless, that you’ve anticipated barriers and either cleared them or managed your clients’ expectations so they’ll be ready for reality. Keeping them stress-free means hiring a private guide to usher them through a crowded visitor attraction or getting them after-hours access to a place that’s exclusively open for them. Ditto for the private car and driver that will whisk them away from the madding crowd at a congested cruise stop. It means bringing quietude to a noisy place that’s been transformed by you and your insider contacts. Convincing them of the value of this service is where your skills are needed.

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Cocooning your clients is what you’re all about. But let’s talk about letting them get lost a little on the way, giving them a thrill so they’re out of their comfort zones.

Do you always book them in “safety” hotels that could be anywhere? Or have you researched boutique and design properties that will put your people in the midst of a locale that’s buzzing with humanity? As long as it’s quiet and safe inside their accommodations, it might be worth pushing the envelope a bit.

We recently met with Catherine Heald and Alistair Ballantine of Remote Lands. Based in New York, the company provides bespoke custom experiences throughout Asia. Heald, a known intrepid traveler, says she’ll be going to Japan and China in the coming months, seeking out lesser-known destinations for her clientele. On the rise for Remote Lands is interest in Burma, with its trending river cruises; Kyushu and Shikoku in Japan; and Borneo and Komodo in Indonesia. And while the vast majority of her trips are FIT, Heald says that small exotic group travel is also on the rise as clients push the boundaries of what they’re used to.

Consider pushing your clients’ boundaries a bit. They might not know what’s available unless you tell them what’s possible. Make their trips so enchanting that their love for travel will be reignited, so that their trips will not be just about rest and relaxation but a challenge to their souls. That’s the magic of a luxury travel advisor.

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