Sienna Charles: The luxury agents next door


When Jaclyn Sienna India and her husband and business partner, Freddy Charles Reinert, decided to target high-end clients for their luxury travel business, Sienna Charles, they didn't just market to them. They moved in with them. And not just in one city but two.

Bucking the move-home and virtualization trend of retail travel, the couple opened two storefronts, and the possibility of a third hovers on the horizon.

India and Reinert operate out of offices in Palm Beach, Fla., and in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, where apartments that range from $3 million to $70 million are shooting up like bamboo in the Hamptons. This is a neighborhood for the jet set, with buildings like Soori High Line, where 16 of 27 residences have their own private pools, and where "starchitect" Zaha Hadid is designing her first New York building.

"They want the best of the best," India said. "So it's perfect for us."

Freddy Charles Reinert and Jaclyn Sienna India in their Palm Beach, Fla., office.Their New York office is a palette of pristine whites, dove grays and soft pinks on walls, couch, coffee table and desk. Brightly colored Trey Speegle paintings hang on the walls, though they have a rotating display of art. It looks more like a gallery than a travel agency. Not one travel photo is on display at either office.

A key marketing tool is SC, their own glossy magazine about their travels. Coffee table quality, its contents consist of nothing but stories and photos about the trips they have made to more than 70 countries. The two saw how travel stories moved their clientele. Many would walk in with travel features from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times that had inspired them to take a trip.

"We knew how media could drive business," Reinert said. "So we thought maybe we should do something with our travels."

India added: "We're honest. If we don't like something, we say so."

But if they do like something, "we're blabbermouths," Reinert said.

Right now they're "blabbing about Patagonia," he said.

Neither India nor Reinert were born into the Town & Country crowd. She grew up in a middle-class family; he was the first in his family to attend college.

They met while working in Le Bec-Fin, a five-star restaurant in Philadelphia, which was the first encounter with luxury for either of them, and grew accustomed to '96 Bordeaux and dealing with high-end clients.

"We became obsessed with service," India recalled.

While attending the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, India would walk past a travel agency and think how cool it would be to write up airline tickets, sending people all over the world. Her first job out of college was with Vista Travel in Palm Beach, where she found it "amazing" to work in travel.

However, she wanted to be able to recommend destinations and hotels she had actually visited to discerning clients, a type she knew from her days at Le Bec-Fin.

"We knew how high-touch works," she said.

She started her own travel agency in 2008, the start of the global economic downturn. But rather than running scared and booking anything for anyone, she held out for the right clients.

India and Reinert said Palm Beach is a very guarded community, and it takes time for residents to accept newcomers. But gradually, as locals got used to seeing them doing things like walking their dog or getting coffee, they gained the community's trust, they said.

Meanwhile, if the phone wasn't ringing, they were traveling, packing as much into every itinerary as possible. They continue to travel. Over Labor Day weekend, they went to Scandinavia, visiting Oslo and Stockholm, then hopped over to Paris, because they have two sets of clients going there soon.

Whenever they return from Europe, they do a layover in London, giving them enough time to dash into the city in order to see four or five hotels.

"She's crazy," Reinert said. "I think we've seen a thousand hotels."

"I am very hotel-driven," India acknowledged. "That is what brings a destination to life for me." She will not recommend a hotel she has not seen.

They always meet clients face to face, even flying to London if necessary. They provide individually designed itineraries to their clients and will visit destinations in advance when planning major trips. They charge a fee of $500 per client.

Access is as important to them as service. That can mean breakfast with the Hermes family, private meals at the Louis Vuitton house or hiring "Bizarre Foods" host Andrew Zimmern to conduct a walking tour of Chinatown.

"We know who to call," Reinert said.

Those kinds of standards helped them land former President George W. Bush as a client, booking a one-week trip to Ethiopia for the former president, his wife, Laura, and 10 of their friends plus 30 Secret Service agents and other staff.

The Bushes, who used Sienna Charles because another client recommended the agency, were fascinated with Ethiopia for its rich and ancient history. When India and Reinert couldn't find a destination management company to work with on the trip, "We DMCed it ourselves," Reinert said.

In seven days, they crisscrossed Ethiopia in an operation that included helicopters, Toyota Land Cruisers, boats and a private plane. They built a camp for the group on the Omo River and tracked the movements of remote tribes such as the Mursi and Surma so the Bushes could meet them.

Meanwhile, their research continues. One of their current raves is Segera Retreat in Kenya. Built around the "4C" concept -- community, commerce, culture and conservation -- it's a luxurious sanctuary set in a 50,000-acre wildlife preserve.

Up next: Provence, Tuscany, Milan and Indonesia.


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