Go one better than individualising your holiday itinerary: get inside knowledge that you won't find on the internet, with a bespoke holiday organiser. By Oliver Bennett
When searching for a holiday, most of us used to go to something called a ‘travel agent’, gazed at a picture of some Eldorado hotel with a pool of impossible blue, and bought the package. It was essentially a passive process, measured in weeks and fortnights, with the tantalising possibility of an ‘excursion’ on the Thursday afternoon.
Now, of course, the process has changed. We want difference, dynamism and distinction. From the low-cost mini-breaker, stitching together an itinerary on the internet, to the high-roller giving instructions to a concierge-style provider, we like to customise our travel.
Jill Nash, a travel writer who publishes Luxury Backpackers, has recently branched out into ‘bespoke travel itineraries’. She says: “This has become an incredible and lucrative business for us. We’re taking on more than 30 itineraries per week.”
Bespoke for Bloomers
It is particularly big with the high50 generation and, in particular, the ‘post-family’ market, as Rosena Charmoy of Moroccan bespoke company Boutique Souk calls it. “We’ve had a big increase in demand in that segment for bespoke travel services in Morocco,” she says. They can tailor trips to the Bloomer’s specific interests, from visiting Essouaira, the area that inspired Jimi Hendrix to write Castle Made of Sand, to sourcing the perfect goatskin bag.
A vital advantage of the bespokers is that you get autonomy without the drag of spending your evenings planning it all on the computer. “Even the most independent and adventurous travellers want the itinerary and logistics taken off their hands,” says Jonny Bealby of intrepid travel company Wild Frontiers. “They want to experience the country in depth but not, for example, to worry about changing money.”
It enables the traveller to relax a bit: after all, who wants to experience character-forming queues? “A bespoke holiday is never as easy to book as it appears,” says Rory Pilkington of Bailey Robinson, a tailor-made holiday specialist. “It can mean a complicated itinerary with many transfers and different hotels to be booked. Let us make the calls in foreign languages, and book that special restaurant.”
It saves time, lessens exposure to hidden extras, and will (mostly) be covered by industry protection. Vitally, too, it means that you don’t have to spend evenings on the internet, struggling to calibrate flight with hotel.
The market value of the custom boom also lies in the bespokers knowing more than you do. Andrew Loyd of luxury house-letting company LTR says: “The internet is brilliant for information but this shouldn’t be confused with knowledge. High-end travel is rarely straightforward.” Indeed, and as I can testify, low-end travel is also a tough call.
A little place I know…
With this consultant knowledge comes tips and the ‘little place I know’ factor. Unsurprisingly, the bespoke boom has coincided with the trend for travel authenticity. Caribbean enthusiast Jackie Michael has set up Holidays to Feed Your Soul for precisely this reason.
“My family comes from Jamaica and on my visits we’d head off into the countryside,“ says Jackie. “I was surprised to find that the majority of people visiting Jamaica didn’t do this, so I started the company to enable holidaymakers to break away from all-inclusive resorts and experience the authentic Caribbean.”
Even if you do go it alone, finding the best places on the internet is like searching for a boutique needle in a hospitality haystack. “We’re so bombarded with information now that looking for just one hotel can yield hundreds of results,” says Antonio Cresce of Experto Italy, which organises tailor-made holidays to regions including Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. “The amount of information is limitless.”
Hence the rise of the local specialist, who will meet your needs and pick up on your special interest of wine, food or art. This is particularly crucial in countries that can be, shall we say, lost in translation. Inside Japan Tours, for example, takes people to that somewhat opaque country.
“Many customers come to us saying, ‘I would usually do this myself’,” says the company’s James Mundy. “But in the case of Japan, with the language and cultural barriers, they feel safer with a specialist tailoring a trip. So we offer hidden gems alongside ‘must see’ favourites. We find the secretive traditional ryokan guest houses and temple lodgings – and all without the need for a word of Japanese.”
Bespoke has come of age, then, and inevitably has led to a small boom in travel advisors, concierges, ambassadors and specialists who know about small hotels and genuine eating places. “More and more people are giving their holiday time the same level of importance as other areas of their lives for which they seek a professional advisor,” says Andrea Grisdale, CEO of luxury Italian travel service IC Bellagio.
Bespoke is about giving a feel of place. It’s about ‘bragging rights’. And ultimately, it’s about having a more memorable time.