Former Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod and
Joan Roca, whose background is in online travel, have launched Essentialist, a
bespoke travel-planning company that uses a network of in-destination experts
to plan unique experiences.
"In its simplest form, we're an agency, but we are
drawing upon a global network of non-agents," Novogrod said.
Essentialist is a members-only company with an annual fee of
$1,400 per individual, couple or family. Members gain access to a proprietary
digital platform that includes their itinerary as well as access to
Essentialist's "personal travel designers," who plan and book trips.
In many cases, Novogrod said the travel designers are former
travel agents; Essentialist operates like a standard agency in terms of
Amy Parsons, head of membership, said Essentialist has domestic
and international travel designers. She or a member of her team first speak
with new members to get an idea of what they like to do when traveling. Then,
they connect the member with the travel designer who is a good fit for them.
The travel designer then taps into Essentialist's network of in-destination
experts during the process of trip-planning.
"We're a full-service travel agency, so we can do
everything like the flights, the hotels, the transfers, the guides, but really
what sets us apart is the network that we have," Parsons said.
Novogrod said many members of that network are former
editors that worked at Travel + Leisure or at other travel publications. They
have knowledge about destinations that translates into unique experiences for
"They live in the destinations they cover and they
curate them as insiders," she said. "So though we work with travel
specialists in many cases, DMCs, we're always seeding itineraries with content
that relates to a very access-oriented, distinctive experience of place."
Essentialist hand-picked the properties it works with and
formed partnerships with the hotels, Novogrod said. She called its collection "highly
According to Novogrod, Essentialist's target member is a
sophisticated, passionate traveler who seeks unique experiences.
"I believe a lot in aspirational travelers," she
said. "I'm certainly interested in young people who have just the
beginning of an opportunity to really embrace the world in that way."
While she said that age
isn't necessarily a factor in who that target member is, Essentialist's
membership fee does keep some from joining.
"But I think, you know, it's that old thing about
value," Novogrod said. "It's not about dollars, it's about value, and
we are offering very real value to the members in terms of what we deliver in