At the same time, Beattie says, she’s had a very positive response from clients by mixing accommodation levels in the tour, depending on the destination. In her view, it’s best to save the five-star bookings for the Marrakech part of the tour because of the truly luxurious riads you can find there, and use the three- and four-star properties in the other destinations. And it’s not just for pricing purposes, Beattie says, it’s because the three- and four-star properties afford more exposure to the culture.
She says she tells clients, “Well, in Marrakech, you want to stay in a really nice place and in Essaouira (a port town on the north coast) and Fez, we might do a three-star and kind of mix and match. And that’s been quite successful, and I see that being a lot more successful this coming season because I’ve done a lot more that way. I’ve got two tours that are basically the same,” she adds, “and one is a four-star and the other’s a five and they’re both selling exactly the same. But again, I do the same thing there—I’ll take the four-star and then in Marrakech I’ll up it to a five-star only because they’ve heard about these incredible properties.”
Beattie also points out that clients are opting more to do day excursions out of Marrakech and often stay an extra day or two to do an excursion high up into the High Atlas Mountains or even go over to Essaouira for the day and come back to Marrakech. “We do some of the 4-hour treks up in the High Atlas Mountains and what we do is walk through the villages, especially if you time it when village markets are going on—clients love that and then they can still go back to Marrakech for the night and not have to schlep from hotel to hotel.”
But there’s also another aspect of luxury, no matter what level, that’s an absolute must—a sense of exclusivity and there’s nothing that solidifies that perception of exclusivity more than a private car and driver. “All of our clients go with a private car and driver and what we also do, we have a National Tourist Escort Guide traveling with them from beginning to end. It’s a really great deal in my estimation and 99 percent of our clients when they come back say they wouldn’t do it any other way,” Beattie says. “There’s a continuity to the information that’s given, but even better, the clients have the ability to have a person who speaks excellent English and it gives them the opportunity to get to know the locals, the culture and the customs.…”
artisans of leisure Ashley Ganz, president of Artisans of Leisure, doesn’t put that much emphasis on the riads, although she will book them for the client and says her company uses several five-star riads in Marrakech they like. Her emphasis is on five-star properties such as La Mamounia or Amanjena in Marrakech and Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot in the High Atlas Mountains—a property he bought, by the way, after spotting it when he passed over it in his balloon.
“For us, we’re only booking five-star properties but our clients prioritize locations so if they want to go to the desert, for example, and the only thing that’s available is the most basic tented camp, they’ll go there. But when they have options for places that really reflect the local design and culture and it’s a five-star property, that’s what they want,” Ganz explains. “The riads are good for the right kind of traveler, for people who like small properties. You know riads are like Moroccan bed and breakfasts and so it has to be the right kind of traveler. We do a lot with Richard Branson’s property; we send a lot of clients there. It’s great, in fact, it’s excellent and very conveniently located, which is another plus because it’s not far from Marrakech. Typically they’ll do two nights but a lot of people only have time for one night and it’s still very worthwhile. We do some great tours on the way there and back.”
In terms of her perspective on luxury product and prospects for that market segment, Ganz says, “Our clients are willing to spend as long as they feel like if the product is superb—the accommodations and guides have been very carefully chosen and the travel specialist they’re working with here really knows the destination and can offer them a lot of insight and connections they wouldn’t have been able to do on their own. Luxury travelers may be traveling less often to certain destinations, but our business has been just as steady as it has been in previous years. They’re still very attracted to the type of product we offer…. They’re still doing the international trips. We had a great year and it’s looking very good for next year. They’re already booking for 2011.”