Luxury Trend: Small and Exotic Travel


Ruthanne Terrero
I am shown here on a lovely Sunday morning in Barcelona on the new Oceania Riviera. For my review of the ship, see the August issue of Luxury Travel Advisor.

Your client has sailed every luxury line and they have selected their favorite. They’ve journeyed to the Med every summer and to South America each winter. They’ve hit the major Asian destinations, even those that are still emerging. Heck, they’ve even gone to every luxury resort in the United States and the Caribbean.

Congratulations. You, as a luxury travel advisor, have done a fantastic job. But what in the world can you sell these people next?

If you want the latest trend, the recurring theme at Virtuoso Week last month was small, exotic, luxury. This niche has been around for years but never before have I seen such a keen attention to it. Mary Ann Ramsey, president of Betty Maclean Travel says that’s her main focus these days. “I’m not even using the word ‘luxury.’ That’s a given. Small and exotic is the lifeblood of the industry,” she said as she met with Dianne Moore, president of Paul Gauguin Cruises in the Cruise Café at Virtuoso Week.

If you think about it, there is a need to fill the gap for the client who has already done it all, taken traditional cruises and visited the majority of mainstream destinations. Indeed, that’s why Francesco Galli Zugaro, CEO of Aqua Expeditions, is expanding his operations from Peru, where his river cruise vessels the MV/Aqua and the MV/Aria sail the Amazon—Aqua is building a ship to sail on the Mekong in Southeast Asia. “I had repeat business and nothing to offer them,” he told a media audience at Virtuoso Week. Zugaro’s clientele is always seeking the next thing, he said, traveling from South America, to Southeast Asia and next to South Africa for their vacations. The Aqua Mekong will set sail in January 2014. “The more off the wall it is, the better it is for our clients,” Zugaro added.

An operator that’s always served up the exotic is Epic Private Journeys, whose no two trips are the same. Still, Pedro O’Connor, director of Australian Inbound, says he sees the demand for exotic customized travel growing even more. Recently he arranged for a family to spend time in Papua New Guinea. “This was a raw, non-contrived cultural immersion,” O’Connor told me at Virtuoso Week. The cost of the trip? $40,000 and that’s just one of the trips they took that year.

My thinking is you can’t underestimate your clients. They may love marble-floor bathrooms and chilled Champagne in the Club Lounge of The Ritz-Carlton, but they may also want to get down and dirty, in the most refined manner possible, on an exotic vacation that takes them to the most remote areas of the world. Don’t underrate them, either, on what they’re willing to pay for a trip, even if they don’t come across as big spenders. At Virtuoso Week, a panel on how fashion and travel trends mirror one another comprised representatives from Neiman Marcus. Their message to the travel advisors in the room was that you shouldn’t be shy about pushing new product to your clientele. Just because a shopper is looking only at the store’s topline items that are on sale doesn’t mean she isn’t going to be wowed by that $5,000 gown that’s just come in off the runways and buy it. 

Your takeaway? Don’t try to decide on your own which trips will speak to your client That’s as bad as selling them with your own pocketbook. Help them to expand their boundaries, whether they’re real or imagined.

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