“There are places in the world that we, as a company, go where luxury is the sense of being there—it’s not about the thread count, it’s not about the club level, it’s not about a room with a view, so to speak,” explains Jerre Fuqua, president of Travcoa. “It’s about being there in the first place. And that, for the truly adventurous world traveler, remains more important in many hearts and minds than does that new hotel.”
That’s a mantra the company has held from their very first journeys when they traveled overland through the Khyber Pass along the ancient Silk Route; in Nepal stayed at the Maharajah’s palace in Kathmandu; and hired pygmy guides for a gorilla tracking safari in Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Today, the company is still utilizing its pioneering experience within experiential travel with a new product. “We looked at what we do, we looked at how we do what we do and this year in our new portfolio of Escorted Journeys, we created a group of what we’re calling ‘Over the Top,’” says Fuqua.
The collection—which includes everything from insider access to Italy’s Ferrari and Lamborghini factories to a personal welcome from members of New Zealand’s Maori tribe—features experiences, the company says, that are designed to engage and amaze. Other journey highlights include dining at the legendary Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca, meeting American emigrants in Jerusalem for an in-depth conversation about living in Israel, and visiting the spectacular Taktsang “Tiger’s Nest” Monastery in Bhutan.
The Over the Top Collection includes the 14-day Italy’s Heart & Soul, priced from $15,290; the 15-day Grand Safari: Kenya & Tanzania, priced from $10,990; the 12-day Minarets & Medinas of Morocco, priced from $8,525; the 10-day Mystical Israel, priced from $6,495; the 15-day Mystifying Bhutan, priced from $11,995; and the 19-day Ultimate Australia & New Zealand, priced from $22,995.
But while one-of-a-kind experiential travel is important in the luxury market, the “hardware” aspect of it is important, as well, and, as Fuqua points out, that’s constantly evolving.
“I think there’s been a transformational shift in the quality of the lodges, the safari camps and hotels, and there’s been a race, if you will, to create new brands within the accommodations segment,” pointing to the fact that he can now select from among some wonderful properties that 10 years ago didn’t even exist. “Or, the ones that did exist 10 years ago have to look at the competitive landscape and look at themselves and say, ‘How do we become or remain on level. How do we become something that people are interested in?’”
Of course, Fuqua admits, the same thing applies to tour operators, and a number of tour operators are looking to participate in this segment of the market. “It’s a challenging segment,” he says. “The expectations are high and you have to deliver an outstanding experience, because the competitors you deal with are also getting quite good.”
And yet, while many of Travcoa’s trips are pricey, the value and the experiential aspect of those trips make them worthwhile. Still Fuqua points out, “We have some great trips that are very competitive with the other guys. But one of the things that makes us really unique is that our Escorted Journeys are the smallest in terms of group size and everything’s included, including our Dine-Around program.
“We have a travel director on our Escorted Journeys that is [the clients’] personal concierge, their ambassador. We are really gifted in being able to do that and in some cases, we’re not any more expensive than other guys who offer a lot less.”
But, he concedes, the quality and the experiential factor are still the biggest factor in drawing the high-end traveler, and the agents who get that are the company’s best sales associates.
“The best agents who successfully sell our most expensive journeys each year—whether they be the custom stuff we do or anything in between,” Fuqua says, “they never worry about the price value proposition. It’s more about what the guest wants to do, what kind of experiences are they looking for and how much time they have. The rest sorts itself out. And the ones who are the most successful and continually grow their business, they understand—it’s that simple.”