Artisans of Leisure

Occasionally, travel agents are faced with extraordinary requests that tax patience, knowledge and expertise. A client may stipulate special activities that vary depending on whims, preconceived notions of the preferred destination, or specific interests the client may have.

On top of that, the client might insist on traveling alone to places distant from mainstream destinations or prefer to be part only of a small, select group sharing similar interests. While these demands might put off some travel agents, no need to fret as there are numerous tour operators that delight in pleasing even the most capricious demand.

Tour operators generally rely on experience, along with their knowledge of a particular region or country, to design specialty trips for travelers with high and demanding standards. Among the most successful of these is Artisans of Leisure, a self-described, “boutique tour operator” specializing in both luxury travel and private tours to exotic international destinations.

Artisans of Leisure is one of those extraordinary companies that manages to echo its owner’s personality and outlook along with its product. It was founded in 2003 by Ashley Isaacs Ganz, a Philadelphian who spent more than a decade roaming the globe and consequently acquired a colorful and eclectic travel resume that includes semesters of studying aboriginal art at the University of Sydney, elephant trekking in the Golden Triangle, working for two years at the Japanese Ministry of Education’s JET program, hiking Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain, a stint studying the differences of goat cheeses and olive oils at outdoor markets in Provence, becoming skilled on the nuances of Thai cuisine while living in Bangkok, and hunting down rare Berber rugs in Morocco.

While working on her thesis on the sociological study of luxury travel at the London School of Economics, Ganz was determined to found a company that would “significantly enhance and redefine the future of luxury travel.” Artisans of Leisure was the result.

“I was always trying to find the most interesting, off-the-map and out-of-the-guidebook people and places, such as colorful village markets, renowned craftsmen, little-known museums and talking with local experts on local traditions. I felt that sophisticated travelers needed a tour company that accented the type of travel that I love—private, luxurious international tours focusing on authentic cultural experiences.”

According to the many accolades that Artisans of Leisure has received, Ganz has succeeded far beyond her expectations. Some travel industry insiders go as far as saying that Artisans of Leisure hasn’t merely raised the bar when it comes to private touring—they claim Artisans of Leisure is the bar.

What separates the company from other tour operators is that Artisans of Leisure’s specialty lies almost exclusively on custom-designed travel while relying heavily on a highly trained and motivated foreign staff to meet the needs of even the most fastidious client.

Some of the company’s most popular destinations include Japan, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Bhutan, India, China, Australia, Peru, Argentina, Russia, Egypt, Dubai and the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

tours to consider

Its popular Family Tour of Southeast Asia, a 14-day journey that takes small groups and families to hidden corners of the region, begins in Saigon, proceeds north to Hanoi and winds through Cambodia and Thailand before arriving at its last stop, Bangkok.

Travelers are lodged in top-notch hotels, including the Park Hyatt in Saigon, the Sofitel Metropole in Hanoi, the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor in Siem Reap, the Four Seasons resort in Chiang Mai and the majestic Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok.

The cost for this tour is $10,630 pp dbl and provides engrossed travelers with a wealth of information about the destinations.

For those interested in the other side of the world, Artisans of Leisure features its popular Highlights of the Baltic States, a made-to-order tour of Vilnius, Riga, Parnu, Saaremaa Island, Tallinn and Helsinki.

Like all Artisans of Leisure tours, the itinerary is highly flexible and offers private guides, interpreters and drivers. The tour, which costs $12,175 pp dbl, highlights important regional historical sites. Highly knowledgeable local guides explain both the significance and the cultural importance of such sites. Incidentally, this tour is especially popular with persons interested in researching their Jewish family heritage.

According to Ganz, Artisans of Leisure “works very closely with travel agents” while organizing a particular schedule. Once the preliminary arrangements have been made, she explains, travel agents receive a comprehensive, detailed and confirmed itinerary. This usually includes a wealth of information about the countries the client will visit and whatever bureaucratic forms are required to visit the country.