Recommend had a chance to get the 4-1-1 on National Geographic’s new Unique Lodges of the World concept. Lynn Cutter, executive v.p. travel and licensing, National Geographic Society, gave our Associate Editor the scoop on everything you need to know about how it works, where to book, and what to expect.
Michelle Arean (MA): Can you tell us about the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World concept?
Lynn Cutter (LC): National Geographic has been celebrating exploration throughout its 126 year history, so travel is a natural fit with our brand. We already have a robust travel offering, committed to providing authentic, meaningful, and engaging travel experiences across all phases of the travel process-—dream, plan, share, and go. We offer travel guide books, a dynamic travel web site, and various travel apps, as well as guided trips ranging from family, small ship and active adventure to photography courses, and student trips.
We saw an increase in demand to travel with National Geographic on independent or private trips. As both a leading non-profit scientific organization, and a global media organization, we felt like we have a unique opportunity to shine a spotlight on these spectacular properties. Our research also supported the idea—more than 80 percent indicated they would be more likely or much more likely to book a hotel that had been vetted by National Geographic and was identified as a member of National Geographic’s hotel program. All our lodges offer high quality guest services, authentic and meaningful experiences, and embrace Sustainable Tourism Practices.
MA: What requirements does a hotel property have to meet to be considered a Unique Lodges of the World? The press release included the criteria—the property, guest experience/quality of service, and sustainable tourism practices—but what types of properties make this collection unique? What standard of guest service or guest experiences make these properties stand out from others?
LC: We vetted each property based upon the three key pillars of sustainable tourism best practices—environmentally-friendly operations, support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage, and direct and tangible social and economic benefits to local people. The vetting process has been led by Costas Christ, a consultant to National Geographic Traveler magazine and one of the world’s top sustainable tourism experts, who also helped establish the United Nations Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. This collection is unique in the depth and thoroughness of our vetting process, and in the breadth of qualities we’re looking for in our member properties. We assessed the properties based not just on green operations, but also on how a property is enhancing and supporting cultural heritage, how they are engaged in biodiversity conservation, and in what ways they are ensuring local peoples’ livelihoods. We’ve looked at all of that along side their commitment to great service and unique guest activities. Our goal with this criteria is to identify properties whose values and priorities align with those of National Geographic. So, the sustainable tourism aspect of the criteria is critical, but we also want to ensure that the level of quality and guest experience means the standards that we know our travelers expect of us.
MA: Can you give us a couple of examples of the experiences guests can expect to take part in staying at a Unique Lodges of the World property?
LC: Guests have access to a diverse range of experiences at our Unique Lodges. Though our member lodges share a commitment to sustainable tourism best practices and top quality guest service and authentic experiences, each are one-of-a-kind, and offer experiences unique to the destination and surroundings. For example, just to name a few, guests can have tea in a local home in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains when staying at Kasbah du Toubkal; they can go on safari by horseback at South Africa’s Tswalu Kalahari; they can observe sea turtles nesting on the beach at The Brando; and they can experience Mongolia’s Naadam festival at Three Camel Lodge. We’ve built our website to showcase all of these experiences. On our site, each Lodge has it’s own “The Experience” page listing all of the activities available to guests.
MA: In the press release it states that, “Each lodge offers a special National Geographic Exclusive experience to guests who book their stay through National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.” What are these National Geographic Exclusive experiences?
LC: National Geographic Exclusives are unique, complimentary experiences that guests can only get when booking a stay through National Geographic. We’ve worked with each lodge to craft these special experiences for guests, each of which showcases what is special about the destination. For instance, at the The Brando in French Polynesia, guests have the exclusive opportunity to step behind the scenes on a private, guided visit of the Ecostation that is part of the lodge, then sit down to a meal or go on a walk with one of the center’s researchers to get an insider’s perspective on ongoing projects—such as introducing sustainable fishing initiatives and protecting green sea turtle populations. At Pacuare Lodge in Costa Rica, guests will meet with the son of a local shaman to learn about his culture.
MA: What is the partnership with Virtuoso agents and the new Private Expeditions? How is this related to the Unique Lodges of the World concept?
LC: National Geographic Private Expeditions is a new line of trips geared toward independent travelers, which we launched at the same time as Unique Lodges of the World in early January. Both Unique Lodges and Private Expeditions represent an expansion of our current travel program, allowing us to better cater to travelers who wish to explore independently rather than part of a group. Private Expeditions are offered in partnership with Virtuoso. When our travelers book a Private Expedition, National Geographic Expeditions works together with a Virtuoso agent to handle all of the logistics and details to deliver a seamless experience. Unique Lodges and Private Expeditions are complimentary programs—11 of our 13 Private Expeditions itineraries feature Unique Lodge properties.
MA: Are bookings agent commissionable?
LC: Yes. Travel agents receive a commission on both Private Expeditions bookings and Unique Lodges bookings.
MA: How important are travel agents to bookings?
LC: Travel agents are a very important part of the travel industry. Our new partnership with Virtuoso is a high priority for us, and we look forward continuing to build great relationships with travel agents. From our travelers’ perspective, our diverse range of clients includes travelers who prefer to use agents, as well as many travelers who prefer to book with us directly. We are able to accommodate our travelers’ needs either way, whether they book through an agent or directly. For more information, visit nationalgeographiclodges.com.