Up Close With Elizabeth Gordon, Extraordinary Journeys

Luxury Travel Advisor had the chance to speak with Elizabeth Gordon, co-founder and CEO of Extraordinary Journeys. She was born in Kenya, raised in Paris and worked in Namibia, before starting Extraordinary Journeys with her mother, Marcia. Gordon has visited over 40 countries and taken over 30 trips to Africa. She is active in the Association for the Promotion of Tourism in Africa and Safari Professionals of the Americas. Additionally, she was one Travel Agent Magazine's “30 Under 30.”

What are some up-and-coming destinations or new trends that you’re seeing?

So, there are quite a few of those. Kenya has made a huge comeback. We’re seeing a huge number of requests again for Kenya. And the draw on Kenya is it's become a really, really great destination. We're getting a lot of very high-end clients who don't care about luxury properties but are looking for luxury experiences, which are going to be helicopters going through remote places, doing something that's just off the beaten path. And Kenya has a lot of great options for that.

Are travelers completely abandoning luxury accommodations? Where are they staying?

No, it's not like they're roughing it entirely. What I'm seeing is a mix and match where they will end up in a place like a Singita at the end or something very high-end but they're also quite open to trying something a little bit different and new so if they have to rough it a little bit to get something that's very unique they'll do it. They may not have a spa in the hotel but they'll have home-cooked meals, and everything will be tasteful and they'll be very well taken care of but it's going to allow them to go somewhere, for example to Lake Turkana. They're okay with that because they get the bragging rights of going out to a place and just having fun and doing something that's simpler.

Another big trend I've just started now and I'm seeing a lot of as well in our high-end clients are they want to get involved, especially with Africa—it comes to conservation of communities. One client, she's been to Africa four times, she wants to do a “protecting the rhino” program. I have another very high-end client, she wants to take her daughter to something where they are engaged and not just regular tourists—so just wanting to be part of something bigger.

Are there any other new destinations that you're seeing becoming more popular?

So, for example, Democratic Republic of Congo for the gorillas is really picking up because Rwanda's quite expensive now because they increased their permits by $1,500 per person per permit and the Democratic Republic of Congo is $400 per person to see the gorillas so that's really picked up and been in just because it's something kind of different and also doesn't break the bank.

Zambia and Zimbabwe are having a huge renaissance because, in Zambia, there are a lot of new camps opening up. For example, King Lewanika is a new camp in Liuwa Plains at the holy area right that's starting to pick up. And Zimbabwe, just because, again, lots of new camps are opening up, and the word's coming out and people are looking to go to Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe just because of the amazing wildlife you can see there.

We're seeing also, for beaches, Seychelles had a huge uptick again so we're seeing a lot happening in the Seychelles. It's back on people's radars. Not a new camp but definitely a renaissance.

Is Africa your largest destination?

That's our largest destination because we don't do Europe but ... And then outside, Chile is probably our number-one mostly because people are avoiding Zika and it's totally Zika-free so we're seeing a lot of demand.

Are you seeing similar trends outside of Africa—those same types of experiential travel as opposed to staying in a luxury resort?

Yeah. Absolutely. What we're seeing are people who are willing to pay to just kind of do something a little different. They want the luxury, they will stay at a Vira Vira, they will stay at an Awasi in Chile, but then they're going to want to go hiking for two days or go somewhere where it's not going to be as luxurious or they're going to go to Carretera Central, which doesn't have the high-end accommodation but people like the idea of not doing what everyone else is doing.

Is there any either safari or camp, going back to Africa, that recently opened or is opening soon that you're very much looking forward to?

I am very much looking forward to seeing King Lewanika in Zambia. In Zimbabwe, Thorntree River Lodge is a new camp at Victoria Falls in Livingston. Mombo Camp, in Botswana, is the flagship property of Wilderness Safaris. In the Seychelles, the Four Seasons is new. 

In Madagascar, Miavana is a property that had a lot of buzz and has started picking up some interest. It's always a little slower at the beginning but the word's starting to get out.

And then you have a whole series of new camps, for example, Sable Alley in Botswana. One of the founders of Wilderness Safaris started a new company and that's his. The whole concept is based on high-end, experiential travel. So, they're really into getting people to hike and get out of the vehicle, to do something fun and different.

What's a destination that maybe hasn't emerged yet that you think is going to be very popular soon?

One that we're seeing a lot—and it's already popular now—Sri Lanka keeps on making the list. That's pretty exciting. In Africa, again, I think places like Zimbabwe. Because what's happening in Africa is prices are getting very, very expensive and countries like Zimbabwe are offering the same wildlife as, for example, Botswana but they're not quite the same price. And so, they're a little cheaper and that's been attractive to people.

What's a destination that you've gone to recently that you particularly enjoyed?

I just came back from Kenya again and I was just blown away by the fun experiences. I took a helicopter all the way up North and I still talk about it every day as one of my most fun, coolest experiences I've had in a long time. I just saw areas from above that you just don't see anymore. And it's all about just having fun again and not taking it so seriously and being like "life is fun and the world is beautiful." We went out with big personalities, people who love adventure and you're sharing a passion. I think a lot of people like properties where the owners are passionate. And I think passion is infectious, and really like that instead of like chain hotels which can be a little bit, sometimes, stale to certain people.

Another place that I rediscovered which was Lamu in Kenya. And I think I just was by far the best beach experience I've had in a long time. Not because the accommodation was per say, luxurious, it was Zanzibar without the crowds, without the tourists. It was authentic. The beaches were beautiful. It just felt like I was going back in time, they don't have cars. Just a very pristine island and that was very much a highlight in my trip.

This is not like "Oh, I rediscovered Africa,” it's “I go to Africa four times a year.” When I get excited about something, it has to really be different.

What tips would you offer someone that hasn't done one of these safari or experiential travels before?

First of all, don't try to see everything. The worst thing is doing two nights, two nights, two nights. It takes time to kind of settle in and to get to know the area. So, whether it's the wildlife, or the people, or the culture, if you move around all the time, you're missing out on half of the experience. It's all about slowing down and you may just go to two places. It's like, slow down, get to see two areas and do it really well.

Number two, work with a specialist. And I know it sounds cliché and everything and everyone probably says it. If you think you're only going to do it once, do it once and do it right. Because you don't get a second chance and if you mess it up, you don't get that time back, you don't get that trip back. So, it is worth working with someone who has actually been there and can actually give you a lot of first-hand knowledge.

And then the last one is, you can mix and match and that makes it fun. The way I like to say it is, you don't have to go to a five-star restaurant every night, it's okay to go to a local bistro because it's fun and it's an experience and then to do then splurge at a five-star restaurant the next day. If you're always doing five stars, sometimes you kind of miss out on the full fun of it.

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