“I honestly don’t believe in competition. I believe there is enough for everyone!” That’s Rani Cheema of Cheema’s Travel, an affiliate of Tzell, on how she sees the climate for luxury travel advisors these days.
What sets her apart? “My level of honesty,” says Cheema. “I keep it super real.” She also only takes on clients “if they are interesting and would have fun planning the itinerary,” she says, noting that her niche is small group culinary trips around the world. She adds most people don’t think of joining group trips, especially as a solo traveler.
“I’m obsessed with food,” she tells us. “I will talk to a client about the best kebab I ever had in Gaziantep, Turkey and will convince them to go get that kebab.”
Because of her focus on culinary, she books a lot of Relais & Chateaux and hotels with either fabulous food or hotels in great foodie-friendly neighborhoods, she says. “I specifically love planning trips to South Korea, Japan, Italy, South Africa, France and Iran. I have a feeling Taiwan is going to be the next big thing! Honeymoons are fun, too, because I get to have extra-special surprises waiting in the couples’ rooms.”
Cheema’s goal is to change the way people think about luxury travel.
“The word ‘luxury’ scares people. They are thinking of ‘old-money luxury.’ I’m thinking ‘new-money luxury.’ Luxury also means gaining access to experiences that no one else can do for them except for me,” she adds.
Her clients are former backpackers who are grown and have money, she tells us. “They want luxury properties, to be taken care of (but not too much service), they want to experience local life and feel part of the community. They are eaters, foodies, chefs, food-makers and drinkers. They love and appreciate life.”
To grow her business, Cheema plans to create personal foodie maps for cities she’s eaten her way through and to upload them to her website.
“I had one culinary trip go out this year to South Korea and one of the travelers was Michelin-star chef Sarah Henke [from] Germany. She loved it so much she mentioned Cheema’s Travel in her cookbook, ‘Korea.’” She plans on putting together several more of these trips in 2019.
Before entering the travel business, Cheema received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. She’s worked on developing brands, posters and other collateral for Broadway shows, including “Avenue Q,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Frost Nixon.” She even spent five years as an art director for the Food Network and Cooking Channel before deciding it was time to move on. She is now based out of San Francisco and is a member of The Young Travel Professionals and AMIKO, an exclusive social network for modern travel advisors. In addition, she is a certified South Africa, Japan, N.Y.C. and South Korea specialist.