Former travel editor launches members-only agency

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Essentialist founders Joan Roca (left) and Nancy Novogrod.
Essentialist founders Joan Roca (left) and Nancy Novogrod.

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 commissions.

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 Essentialist members.

"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 curated."

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 experiences."

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