NextGreatPlace's Tom Filippini

TOM FILIPPINILast week saw the launch of NextGreatPlace, the latest iteration of a travel business set up like a club, with a membership fee and hand-picked products on offer. Travel Weekly's Nadine Godwin spoke to Tom Filippini, NextGreatPlace's president and co-founder, and the founder of Exclusive Resorts, about the operation.

Q: Who had the idea for NextGreatPlace?

I did. It's a funny story, although it wasn't funny at the time. After leaving Exclusive Resorts, our family wanted a vacation to a new destination and settled on Belize.

It took me two weeks to identify good options, but I never felt comfortable, and this would be a two-month trip.

So I spent a week in Belize on my own visiting the places identified on the Web. In seven of 10 cases, if we had booked the places, it would have been a disaster. The Web was overselling, or properties were near dangerous areas.

I thought, then I'll create a service to do this [inspections] for others, to make trip planning effortless for the customer.

Q: When was this, and what happened?

It was 2010. In Belize, we went to one property I had not visited. At check-in, we saw seven monkeys chained to a fence and a jaguar behind chicken wire. It was disgusting. We left in an hour. TripAdvisor had given this place four-and-a-half stars.

Q: So, you sell only products that NextGreatPlace has vetted and accredited?

Yes, but we are growing that list aggressively. If we don't have a product for the destination a member wants, we refer that business to a travel agent with expertise in the area.

Q: Who are these agents?

We don't have official relationships with specific agents. We heavily research the options to find the experts for members.

Q: As I understand it, you are creating a database just for the products you have accredited, and the travelers can book those products, right?

Yes, they can book any of the properties or experiences, but there are manual components. Each new member is assigned a ... PlaceMaker [travel counselor] who is the relationship manager and handles the manual components.

Q: Where are the PlaceMakers based?

There are five at the moment, and they work in our office in Denver. We've seen cross-training opportunities and value in having travel planners onsite.

Q: What kind of trips are you selling?

Our trips are more focused on FITs and not too much on inclusives. Our niche is a "curated vacation network." We are trying to carve out a new niche [combining] simple but high technology with traditional high-touch services.

For destinations, we are really focused now on the U.S., Central America and the Caribbean, but Europe will follow quickly behind those.

Q: It costs $500 a year to belong to NextGreatPlace. What is your market?

Our target travelers are in the 35-to-55 age range, [they are] families and groups that travel together. The income level would be $100,000 to $125,000 per household.

Q: You are creating a database of vetted, relatively high-end travel options with booking capabilities. Is it a wild idea to offer that database to other agents?

It is an interesting idea and not that wild. We have thought of it, but we are not prepared to explore it further now. We need to launch this business first. It could be possible later.

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