Slow Food Travel has partnered with Brendan Vacations' Boutique Journeys to offer itineraries in France and Italy that visit sustainable markets with local vendors and produce. // (c) 2012 Brendan Vacations
Brendan's newest launch is taking its tourism offerings to an entirely different level - the 36 itineraries that make up the Boutique Journeys catalogue took two years to put together, spans 30 countries and, most significantly, seems to meet nearly every demand of today's traveler. Does your client seek an immersive, intimate group tour with like-minded individuals? Boutique Journeys has a maximum capacity of 24 guests and itinerary themes ensure a common frame of mind.
Culinary travel isn't a new theme, but Brendan offers a fresh twist on the niche with itineraries created with partner Slow Food Travel, the international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting good, clean and fair food for all. And, of course, Boutique Journeys meets the other items on today's traveler's wish lists: guaranteed departures, access to unique and off-the-beaten path areas and more. Brendan Vacations' president Nico Zenner explains the new product and how travel agents can earn upward of $500 selling the Boutique Journeys portfolio.
Where did the idea for Boutique Journeys originate?
A few years ago, we launched an immersive, leisurely-paced Guided Vacation experience in Ireland with a maximum of 24 guests, staying at higher-end properties - such as castles and manors - with access to different and more remote areas and the opportunity to engage with locals and travel with more like-minded guests. Travel agents and travelers loved the idea and kept asking us if we could roll out this concept in other destinations. It took us about two years to do just that and here it is - 36 itineraries in just about 30 countries.
What do all the Boutique Journeys have in common?
They are all small in scale and unique in features. They all have guaranteed departures and will travel with between two and 24 guests. All itineraries have a theme: Slow Food in France and Italy, nature and soft adventure in Iceland and Greenland and Whales in Baja California. All itineraries are unique and stay at more boutique-style properties. It's a small scale program, not just because of the small number of participants, but also because quite a few itineraries can only be enjoyed during certain times of the year such as whale watching and visiting the Gobi desert in Mongolia. Many itineraries are leisurely paced - mostly hub-and-spoke on our Italy and France Slow Food programs; lots of two and three night stays; all itineraries, except for one, have private transfers; and many itineraries can be taken back to back.
Was Brendan unable to capture certain clients before? Are the journeys an effort to capture an untapped market?
Brendan always had the type of clients that we think are looking for the kind of experience our Boutique Journeys offer. Our clients who previously traveled on a Brendan South America FIT vacation, an Ireland Boutique Journey or a guided Europe vacation are likely clients that will graduate to Boutique Journeys. By offering a wider range of destinations, we give our clients more and more exciting options and we will of course welcome new clients who are looking for an unusual vacation or destination or want to experience the type of travel style we offer.
How are the Boutique Journeys different than other Brendan itineraries? Are these Brendan's smallest groups?
In terms of the number of guests, Boutique Journeys are indeed the smallest Guided Vacations Brendan offers. They are different because all of the Boutique Journeys are guaranteed to depart, even if there are only two participants; they are more high-end, more unusual, more immersive, themed and they go off-the-beaten track to unusual and emerging destinations. We believe they are also different in the sense that they will appeal to a more seasoned traveler. Boutique Journeys include an amazing variety of World Heritage sites.
How did Brendan and Slow Food Travel, a partner in several Boutique Journeys, begin their collaboration?
Through quite a bit of research and validation. Food ranks very high on customers' wish lists when they travel. We wanted to do something different in France and Italy, two of Europe's most-traveled to destinations. We liked the Slow Foods philosophy of 'clean, fair and good food.' We also know that customers want to participate and experience new things. By having them shop and cook, sample desserts, gelato and wine, and learn about food, food preparation, foods that are unique or almost extinct to that region, we will delight customers. We also thought that the more regional travel experience and the choice to stay at the same hotel for most of the stay would make for a more relaxing experience. And we wanted to make sure we have the right balance between the culinary theme and the destination. We visit the large city or cities in the region so no one will miss out on the cultural and architectural beauty of destinations such as Florence and Rome.
What role does Slow Food play in the Slow Food hosted itineraries?
Quite a big role actually. All of the inclusions on the itinerary have to be approved by Slow Foods. That means that the wineries, the hotels, the pastry shops, the chocolate manufacturer, the gelato maker and the restaurants - we feature a Michelin star restaurant for dinner on one of our French itineraries - have to have Slow Foods' endorsement.Does Slow Food Travel ever work independently, or can guests only book a trip with Slow Food Travel through Brendan?
The Italy and France itineraries as presented in our Boutique Journeys brochure can only be booked through Brendan in the U.S. Brendan's partnership is with Slow Food Italia. Other Slow Food presidia may have travel products in the market but we have no information on those.
What other organizations, if any, has Brendan partnered with for the Boutique Journeys?
We've contracted with highly specialized travel companies in all destinations where we offer Boutique Journeys itineraries - specialized in the sense that they know that destination inside and out, have people on the ground and do not sell destinations outside of their area. The company we work with in South Africa only offers Southern Africa, and the company we work with in Greece only offers Greece. Our partnership with Slow Food is, however, unique, and we've not engaged in another such partnership elsewhere.
Besides the foodie-oriented Slow Food Travel trips, do any other Boutique Journeys follow a theme?
Nearly all of our Boutique Journeys have a theme. In Iceland, it is 'ice and fire' [nature]; in Baja, it's all about whale watching. Mongolia, Bolivia and Myanmar for the unusual and less traveled path. Nature and Spanish colonial cities in Columbia, Guatemala and the Andes, with Maya history of course. A more spiritual experience in India with Varanasi. Romance in Germany with the Romantic Route, and a cross section of South Africa with the World in One Country itinerary.
Do any Boutique Journeys travel to destinations that Brendan has never traveled to?
Brendan always had a very extensive program in Central and South America and up until a few years ago, we did sell, quite successfully, South Africa. We are adding a few new destinations such as Myanmar, Mongolia, Iceland/Greenland and India.
Are the Boutique Journeys a reaction to guest or travel agent attitudes and preferences over the last few years?
Well, the guest experience and the guest feedback we have received from our Ireland Boutique Journeys, which we launched two years ago, were so tremendous that we had to expand. So yes, it's because of customer demand and agent demand that we have developed and launched Boutique Journeys.
Are the Boutique Journeys a reaction to travel trends for 2013?
We've had a lot of customer feedback, and solicited even more, from clients on how they prefer to travel, where they would like to travel and what they would like to experience. What we heard and what we've seen is that our customers want the comfort of a travel director and the worry-free travel experience that comes with a guided vacation. They also asked for a different set of destinations; fewer fellow passengers; the ability to participate, touch, feel, eat, see things that are unique; and to engage with the locals as well as see or have access to things that are not usually available on a large scale. A more boutique travel experience of sorts - a bit higher-end with a theme, but still well priced.
Are Boutique Journeys appropriate for more novice travelers, or are they geared to more experienced travelers?
Because of the nature of the activities and because of the selection of destinations, we believe that the Boutique Journeys product is more suited for more experienced travelers. While our Slow Foods itineraries, our Castles and Manors vacation, the Ancient Roads of Greece and the Romantic Roads of Bavaria are very well suited for first-time travelers, other more exotic and unusual vacations are probably a better fit for seasoned travelers. Staying at a Ger in Mongolia, spending a few nights in Varanasi, getting used to the high altitude in Peru or Bolivia, or perhaps the time it takes flying from the U.S. to Namibia may all be reasons that novice travelers may opt to ease into those destinations after they've discovered other countries.
What tips do you have for travel agents who are attempting the Boutique Journeys Travel Agent Challenge, which awards agents with a $500 gift card by completing five deposited Boutique Journey bookings?
Travel agents know their customers and by listening to clients' needs, agents will be in an ideal position to delight them with Brendan's Boutique Journeys. Travel agents tell us that they are participating in the destination selection and that they help customers cut through a lot of online information and clutter. Brendan's Boutique Journeys offers unique itineraries that are well priced and guaranteed. The fact that all of our departures are guaranteed means that agents and customers get peace of mind. No departure will be canceled which means vacation time and airline tickets can be scheduled and purchased. Many itineraries can be sold back to back: two Slow Food trips such as Umbria and Tuscany, China with Mongolia, add Belize to Guatemala, add Namibia to South Africa, add three Agean Islands to mainland Greece. For the most part, the airfare will be the same for a longer vacation as for a shorter one. Some itineraries are extremely well-suited for small groups of friends or extended families and for foodies.