The rise of customization and small-group tours

The Travel Corporation's Luxury Gold itineraries feature VIP tours of Doge's Palace in Venice.
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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

The Travel Corporation's ultra-luxe division Luxury Gold is expanding its small-group journeys, adding several exclusive Chairman's Collection itineraries and expanding into private trips as high-end travelers increasingly seek out more intimate exclusive experiences.

The personalized itineraries are being launched with the release of Luxury Gold's 2018 collection in three destinations that president Phil Cappelli said were selected in direct response to customer demand.

"Our guests asked for it," Cappelli said. "And they asked for certain destinations. And that's why it might seem a little strange that the three destinations are South Africa, Scotland and Ireland. That's where they said they wanted us to help them with personalized itineraries."

Indeed, as luxury travelers raise the bar on experiences, Jeff Roy, vice president of marketing and sales for the boutique European tour operator Eurobound, said his company was also seeing more demand for individual and very small group tours.

"And with individuals, they want everything customized," he said, noting his company has had requests from customers who have wanted to do everything from march in the Bastille Day parade in Paris to play the role of Marie Antoinette riding a horse drawn carriage into Versailles. (For the parade, he said, the company compromised by finding an apartment filled with historical memorabilia and a birds-eye view.)

Such demands, Roy said, underscore the value of companies that offer agents on-the-ground assistance developing itineraries that go far beyond off-the-shelf product.

With the support and expertise of sister brand Insight Vacations and the larger umbrella of the Travel Corporation, Cappelli said he was confident in Luxury Gold's ability to expand its offerings and help agents develop the custom and small-group trips demanded by luxury travelers.

"You have to do more than just show people the place," he said. He noted the company now partners with VizEat, a program where travelers can dine in local homes, as well as local experts. "You have to get them involved with the local culture, with the local people.

"We've always had great properties. Now we mix in the culinary, experiences and storytelling, and I think that's what changes people and they come back."

Cappelli said initial response to the company's custom itineraries has been strong.

Additionally, he said, Luxury Gold has added for 2018 nine itineraries to its collection of 42 small-group journeys, as well as a Chairman's Collection of trips developed by Travel Corp. chairman Stanley Tollman. On those departures, guests will have the chance to lunch with an Italian count at his grand Tuscan villas, visit the gardens of Alnwick Castle with the Duchess of Northumberland, dine with a French noble at Paris's oldest cafe and attend a cocktail with reception with Princess Anita von Hohenberg at Artstetten Castle.

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