Making it happen

Organizing tours for the discerning set.


WORDS  ZSARLENE B. CHUA

Welcome to the travels of the luxe set where chartering flights and eating in Michelin-starred restaurants are commonplace. “The people who travel in luxury want to be taken care of, they want to be able to do what they want to do and we have to make it all happen,” said Aileen Clemente, chairman and president of Rajah Travel Corporation, a travel agency that’s been in the business for 45 years.

“Making it all happen” might entail arranging a last-minute helicopter ride just to see the sunset or getting a massage on a boat in the middle of the ocean. “It’s rare, but it happens and when we get requests like that, we have to arrange it,” she said, matter-of-factly.

There are also those who eschew all the planning on their own and let Ms. Clemente and her team fashion the entire itinerary for them. “Some clients give us free rein. You just really have to know what kind of experience they want out of it. You have to profile your clients and know what they need,” she said, adding that she needs to know the basics: a particular site they really want to visit on this trip or a particular experience around which they can create an itinerary.

If a client wants to visit Lourdes or Fatima or Venice, for example, booking the nearest acceptable hotel or castle becomes a priority. “We don’t cut corners on the kind of experience our clients want,” she said. The biggest perk of customized trips is flexibility: when plans suddenly change and clients want to visit a site not on the original itinerary, a travel coordinator is on hand to arrange it.

Lest people think that those who shell out US$8,000 per person on a 10-day journey through the Balkans, are demanding and exacting taskmasters, Ms. Clemente said most of them are “very humble” though they can be quite insistent on getting what they want. “Usually these trips are done to celebrate an occasion: a birthday, an anniversary or a graduation,” she explained.

There are those who prefer to customize their trips, like the aforementioned clients—a family of five who took the 10-day Balkan trip —and there are those like a family of coffee-growers and manufacturers of fertilizer from Batangas who booked 10 rooms in a yacht cruise along the rivers of France (which can cost from US$3,000 to US$8,000) who prefer going on a predetermined itinerary. “That’s what we usually recommend to them because most of the time, the sites they want to visit are already included in a package,” Ms. Clemente said.

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Above: Gullfoss is located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. The water plummets down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon which walls reach up to 70 meters in height. On a sunny day, a shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls.

Filipinos, she observed, have always been partial to European countries (“they find it romantic”). Russia is viewed as mystical; Italy is always a reliable draw; the Balkans and the Northern Lights—Iceland, in particular—are relatively recent favorites.

Beyond the usual jaunts to London and Paris for staycations, many are looking for a different kind of experience: say, a meal shared with the survivors of the Bosnian War in Sarajevo.

“The group is split up to different homes where people share a meal while they tell of how they survived the war. It can be a bit dark, but the travelers get to hear the story of how people rebuilt their lives and they like it,” she said, adding that catering to this segment is about taking the immersive experience a notch higher (a tour in South America offers them a chance to meet a national artist, for example).

An itinerary included in the 2017 Luxury Gold Worldwide brochure curated by Insight Vacations, a partner of Rajah Travels, offers a 10-day “Jewels of Aegean” trip (US$4,325 to US$5,250 per person) that includes an intimate tour of the Acropolis and the Parthenon with a historian as tour guide, capped by a Michelin-starred dinner overlooking the Mikrolimano Marina.

Also available is a 12-day Italian tour (US$5,350 to US$6,725), which starts in Rome and ends in Venice, with exclusive access to Vatican City before it opens to the public, a stay on the island of Capri, and a private evening tour of Venice’s Doge’s Palace.

But not everything is planned as the luxe segment “like a mix of organized activities and room for spontaneity,” as Jaclynn Sienna India of the Sienna Charles Consultancy—the go-to travel consultancy for the global finance industry’s jetsetters—told Bloomberg (see “A revealing look at CEO  travel habits,” pp. 38-39).

Privacy is also of utmost importance as those who travel in luxury tend to “stay under the radar and focus on their family rather than who they are,” said Ms. India, adding they often travel with their pets “just because they can.”

They are also not ones to post excessively on social media, remarked Ms. Clemente, as they are all about the experience of traveling. This is also the reason why their market grows mostly by word-of-mouth. “It’s not something you advertise, it’s just something people know,” she said. “They tell their friends and families that ‘Rajah arranged this for us’ and that’s how we get more clients as well as repeat ones,” she said.