Is it the destination or is it the journey?
With Insight Vacations & Luxury Gold, it may just be both
Sometimes how you travel can be just as important as where you actually go.
Such was the case for Insight Vacations & Luxury Gold president Brad Ford, who embarked on Luxury Gold’s Ultimate Italy journey and saw the popular European destination in a new light.
“I’ve been to Italy many, many, many times before, and I saw Italy through new eyes on this journey. It was a paradigm shift. It was a revelation, and that was because never before have I felt that I’ve had such a VIP exquisite experience that was customized to my needs,” he told Canadian Travel Press. “I travelled to Italy at probably one of the busiest times, crowds everywhere. I didn’t really notice the crowds because we were absolutely treated like celebrities – out-of-hours visits to some primary locations, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum – just these experiences where you’re walking through and you don’t see other people. It’s incredible, and I mean I’ve been in these experiences before where you don’t have that same kind of treatment. You know, you’re jostling, you’re shoulder to shoulder to try to get to the Statue of David.”
According to Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold’s new global CEO Ulla Hefel Böhler, who took over the reigns from John Boulding nine months ago, but is no stranger to the company, having worked across various TTC brands since 2005, this focus on the guest experience and personalization will remain at the heart of both brands moving forward.
“Yes, they’re travelling in a group, at the end of the day what matters is that you as an individual get the personal experience, and your personal dreams and inspirations are met and exceeded,” she says. “That is something our travel directors are absolutely focused on.”
Moving into a milestone year for Insight Vacations – April marks the brand’s 40th anniversary – clients can expect a celebratory campaign looking back at some of the innovations that have shaped the brand into what it is today.
“To be precise, the 13th of April 1978 was when Insight Vacations was founded in the UK, and in the last few weeks, we’ve had a lot of fun looking back at those 40 years and at some of those amazing memories and innovations that have really paved the way for our present brand,” she says. “And now, it’s obviously my opportunity and my pleasure of really taking Insight into the future.”
As for the trade, Hefel Böhler said she’s 100% convinced travel agents will continue to play a very important role for the travel industry.
“Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold have always been very trade-centric. I have absolutely no intention of ever changing that,” she says. “I do believe the world we live in nowadays, the trusted travel advisor will continue to play an even more important role. We live in volatile times, and you want a trusted partner that can give you advice, that can give you recommendations, that knows you, that can really recommend the perfect holiday for you. We’re all time-poor nowadays, and if you have the travel agent who knows what ticks your boxes, what makes you happy, and gives you a perfect recommendation, I mean what a gift, right?”
What’s new at Insight Vacations
In total, Insight, Vacations is offering 100 guided vacations across four styles of distinctive journeys. New this year are eight Discovery Journeys with stops in trending destinations such as Cinque Terre and San Sebastian. The journeys include the 9-day Taste of Europe, 10-day European Rhapsody, 14-day Splendid Europe, 16-day European Discovery, 18-day Mediterranean Journey, and the 12-day European Dream.
“For the premium escorted journeys, we’re very excited to be really the only choice for premium guided vacations in the market,” says vice-president of sales Carla Brake. “Our trips are really all about the guests, and the biggest thing we like to focus on is the experiences that we offer our guests. They’re now called Insight Experiences, and we have over 70 of them in our collection. What these are really are carefully curated collections that really give them the opportunity to meet with locals, give them that authentic experience in the destination, and it’s things that they really can’t put together on their own, that’s what really makes those things stand out.”
These experiences include meeting an apple cider maker near a Norwegian fjord, encountering an olive farmer in picturesque Italy or getting to know Scottish Baronet Sir Ludovic at his family castle in Ardgowan, Scotland.
Upping its food game even further, more authentic dining experiences are also part of the offer, from Dine-At-Home experiences through a partnership with VizEat in the likes of Budapest, Salzburg and Rome, or Farm-to-Table dining on all Country Road itineraries.
“VizEat specializes in connecting travellers with local foodies,” she says. “So, we’re again bringing people into their homes, to really just give them the opportunity to relate with them, try an authentic dish, and really see how locals live, I think is the big thing, which is really, really important for that experiential travel now.”
Luxury Gold brings back the Golden Era of travel
With a new brochure designed to look more like a lifestyle magazine, Luxury Gold’s 2018 worldwide Luxury Escorted Journeys focuses on bringing back the golden era of travel across an exclusive collection of VIP experiences, such as small group access to popular tourist attractions.
“Luxury Gold, it’s really just a whole new era, a whole new – as we say bringing back the golden era of travel,” says Ford. “It’s a whole new experience where you have a gorgeous, sumptuous, exquisite experience from start to finish. It’s very seamless.”
Forty-two small group journeys are available across Europe, Britain, Africa, India, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, and North America. New tours include itineraries across Scandinavia, Croatia and Montenegro, Costa Rica, New Zealand, South Africa, Britain, France, and Japan.
For Ford, what made his trip to Italy stand out was how the travel concierge got to know all 21 guests on his journey and customized experiences around their specific needs and interests.
“It was really phenomenal,” he says. “I’ve never travelled to Italy like this before, and it has now set a whole new level of expectation.
I must do every single one of the Luxury Gold journeys. We have 42 of them, and I plan on journeying on every single one.”
The brochure also includes a new range of even more exclusive experiences part of the Chairman’s Collection, curated by the Travel Corporation’s Chairman, Stanley Tollman, such as dining with a French Count at Paris’s oldest café or joining Princess Anita von Hohenberg for a drinks reception at Artstetten Castle.
“It really comes down to the guest experience doesn’t it,” says Ford. “We are able to, with confidence, provide a real vacation voyage journey that is special, that is absolutely unlike others out there and that’s what I came away with on my journey with Luxury Gold. I think that that is something we need to speak about more, that there are more and more travellers that are looking for an elevated experience.”
Luxury Gold also announced some bespoke options available in Ireland, Scotland and South Africa.
The appeal of luxury travel
As for the appeal of luxury travel, Brett Tollman, the CEO of The Travel Corporation, says it comes down to being able to spoil yourself.
“In today’s world, there are so many challenges in one’s daily life whether you’re a parent or just working, and it’s the opportunity to save up and be spoiled,” he says. “We read more about how people are obviously saving up to have life-changing experiences such as a vacation rather than material goods, so I just think we’re in an incredible space because we’re delivering remarkable, quality, consistent, life-changing experiences and value, and doing it in a luxurious or premium way. I think at the end of the holiday it really gives you the sense of ‘I really got my money’s worth.’ ”
When asked if he feels pressure knowing guests can save up for a long time to participate in one of the company’s journeys, Tollman exclaimed: absolutely.
“It’s a remarkable responsibility we have, and opportunity, recognizing that someone has saved up potentially for a number of years, and that’s why our companies core beliefs and values put the customer at the heart of everything we do,” he says. “We work tirelessly and passionately to make sure everything is right, every person is treated as an individual and has a great time. That’s why we’re very proud of and confident in what experiences we have.”
TTC Travel Talk
How many days do you spend on the road per year?
Brake: Probably half a year.
Ford: I’m a passionate traveller. I travel almost all year around.
Tollman: 250 days.
Do you keep track of the the places you’ve been?
Ford: To be honest with you, I stopped tracking when I was at Contiki and I was around 60 at that time. But I can definitely say there are a few more than that.
Brake: It’s still low enough. I have lots of places to see yet.
Tollman: It’s more about the bucket list items, what’s next.
So then, what’s still on your bucket list?
Tollman: I’m going on a ME to WE trip with Craig and Marc Kielburger next July.
Ford: Having been to Italy before and again, having seen it this way, through Luxury Gold, in a manner that I never imagined, I’m actually looking at a lot of places that I’ve already experienced before, but with Luxury Gold.
Brake: My list changes daily. Peru, visiting the Incas was very high on my list. Now that we’ve introduced Japan, I’m leaning towards that.
Do you have any travel rituals?
Brake: I always try to buy a piece of art, some type of painting from every destination.
Ford: I’m all about food. I absolutely need to eat like a local.
Tollman: Mine are more about adjusting one’s time to local destinations. On the plane — a couple of glasses of red wine and always sleeping on the flight and then staying up until 10 or 11 o’clock at night in the new destination. Those are the key rituals from a flying standpoint.
What are your top picks for a more off-the-beaten-path country you think will be popular?
Tollman: Egypt is coming back. We’ve got some wonderful trips to Southeast Asia.
Brake: I think parts of Eastern Europe are gems that people are looking forward to.