Specialist guides, VIP access to sights, life goals up for grabs: welcome to the new era of hyper-personalised, tailor-made tours.
National Geographic prepared a nice work about tailor-made (bespoke) tours with experts help. Once more, it shows the differents between regular travels where you can see “VIP” adjective all the time, everywhere and the real luxury tailor-made travels.
As far as final resting places go, the side of a Shell garage on the road out of Inverness isn’t exactly what you’d expect for one of Scotland’s most famous kings. But this is where Aeneas O’Hara has taken me to see the gravestone of King Duncan, slain by Macbeth near Elgin in the 11th-century. This place isn’t in any guidebooks, but O’Hara’s bespoke travel company, Away from the Ordinary, is one of a growing number of companies specialising in arranging tailor-made trips to off-the-beaten-track locations. If you’ve got the money, you can choose your own adventure. From petrol station to polar region, luxury travel operators are increasingly going to the ends of the earth to curate completely personalised trips to inaccessible destinations.
“Holiday time is becoming increasingly precious and people no longer want the generic, one-size-fits-all approach,” says O’Hara, who specialises in Scotland tours. He recently organised an Outlander tour with the guide who took the author Diana Gabaldon around the Highlands, a helicopter ride to remote whisky distilleries and a pilgrimage to visit Aberdeen Angus cows. “Before I start planning a trip, I’ll have a few conversations with the individual to get to know their style, what excites them, what they don’t like. Luxury means different things to different people — some will be really happy in a Michelin-starred restaurant, others will prefer cooking over an open fire on the beach. It’s about creating unique experiences for the client.”
The demand for made-to-measure experiences means holidays are no longer booked, they’re curated. Travel agents have been elevated to travel designers who can arrange access to places that would be out of bounds to most of us. Paris-based Traveller Made is an elite network of the world’s top travel designers who draw on each other’s little black books to make seemingly impossible holiday fantasies a reality. Even mainstream tour operators are catering to the demand for super-bespoke trips. Abercrombie & Kent, for example, offers ‘Inspiring Expeditions’, which are all personally designed and accompanied by its esteemed founder Geoffrey Kent.
Bespoke Italian operator Bellini Travel, meanwhile, specialises in exclusive insider experiences, such as an after-hours, candle-lit tour of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice or a private dinner for two in the Sistine Chapel. “We all want to feel like we’ve escaped the crowds and had an authentic experience when we travel,” says founder Emily FitzRoy. “This trend is partly down to our social media identity and experience culture, and it’s also just the bragging rights of having done something none of your friends have.”
But when there’s little, if any, of the world left to map, there’s real currency in finding uniquely focused ways to experience it. “Our personalised planning service is becoming more and more popular,” says Jenny Graham, director of Quintessentially Travel, a luxury travel concierge company. “It’s all about what you can do in familiar destinations to make them exclusive and extraordinary.” If money is no object, then nothing and nowhere is off-limits. “We’ve arranged for clients to travel around Rajasthan by rickshaw, to take part in the Baja Challenge (an off-road buggy race in Mexico) and for one City boy to spend seven days living with a tribe in Ethiopia,” says Graham. “One honeymooning couple went deep sea diving to remote archipelagos in Indonesia with marine photographer Shawn Heinrichs. You’re talking over £100,000 per person, per week for that kind of experience.”
Away from the Ordinary’s experiences start at a rather more affordable £4,000 per couple, per week, depending on the activities. Aeneas O’Hara says that although planning personalised adventures is a lot more work, he wouldn’t be interested in generic Scottish trips. “From my perspective, the trend for bespoke travel keeps things interesting,” he says. “Who wants to do whisky, golf, castle on repeat?”