I went to dinner the other night with some industry friends, and one of them interrupted the love affair I was just beginning with a pecan chocolate tart to ask me who my favorite all-time clients might be.
Most of my clients are not super-rich, though I dabble in that market. We are blessed with some characters who could have appeared on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." Some are corporate giants, and somehow we have attracted a nice mix of folks who earn their livings in the arts and entertainment fields.
In the moments I had to think the question through, Mr. and Mrs. C. came to mind. He is a corporate executive out west whose name and title you'd recognize. Last year, he decided to take his family of five to southern Africa to celebrate his son's high school graduation.
There was never any question that we would go custom, using some of the best camps and arranging things that the average safari traveler would never see. The trip very quickly rose to more than six figures and kept climbing as we added more once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
I had, over the years, spoken to this client exactly once. I deal with his staff, and we operate on the assumption that "no communication means you're doing great."
The plan for this trip was that my clients would fly to New York on their private jet and overnight on their own. I took over with their flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, the next day.
Everything went extremely well. But on the morning after they arrived in New York and were scheduled to depart for Africa, my emergency cell rang and I got to speak to this client for the second time in my life.
They had arrived in New York as scheduled. They had asked the hotel concierge to book them into New York's top-rated restaurant. Now it appeared that the son had food poisoning. The client would advise.
An hour later, the phone rang again. Now three members of the family had food poisoning, including the father. He could barely speak. But he did manage to whisper through his obvious pain, "Cancel the trip. There's no way we're going to Africa today. We're flying home to see our doctor."
Then, about 30 minutes later, as I was in the midst of notifying everyone in Africa about what had transpired, the phone rang again.
"Oh, one more thing, Richard," he said, and I could feel the pain in his voice. "Don't you spend one minute trying to get me any money back. I won't accept it. But I do want you to do one thing for me. Find out about all the workers and staff in the camps. The folks I would have tipped. Make sure that everyone is covered. Just find out what a typical tip is, and then double it. Bill me for the total. I don't want any low-paid workers suffering because we couldn't make the trip."
That was our last conversation, and it taught me a few things about class and character.
But even Mr. C. was not my all-time favorite client.
That, I told my friends at the table, would have to be Mrs. S. She scrimped and saved for a cruise with another couple two decades ago. It was just a seven-night Caribbean cruise, and they were just simple folks. But I remember the first time they sat in my office and I asked them to describe their travel experiences.
"We've traveled the world," Mrs. S. responded, "but always in the company of James Michener. I love his books, but we've never been able to afford to go to any of the places he writes about, so we just travel through his words."
They insisted on a table of four for the cruise. But when they boarded the ship, their table had been set for six. They were, Mrs. S. explained to me after they returned from their cruise, "really angry" at me "since we really wanted to just sit in the dining room with our friends."
And then the third couple approached the table. Mr. and Mrs. James Michener sat down, and I could hardly get the rest of the details as Mrs. S. broke down in tears telling us the story.
We had written a note to the cruise line about how important this cruise was for these two couples. And, I suppose, I had included her words about what Michener's writing had meant to her. Someone at the cruise line knew Michener would actually be onboard and made the connection.
That booking remains my favorite. It means much more to me than any work with celebrities or corporate big wigs.
It is hard to really please the jaded traveler. It is much more rewarding to take folks who might have little travel experience but who carry around big dreams.
Sometimes, when the person seated next to me on a plane asks me what I do for a living, I say I am in the dream fulfillment business. When I say that, I always think first of Mrs. S.
And dreamers number in the tens of millions.
Contributing editor Richard Turen owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm that has been named to Conde Nast Traveler's list of the World's Top Travel Specialists since the list began. Contact him at email@example.com.