Another new high-end travel consultancy is open for business. But this one has a unique twist: Headed up by Nancy Novogrod, Essentialist will use both traditional travel advisors and lifestyle experts and journalists who have written for publications like Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler, and Travel + Leisure. Add the latest digital tools to the mix and you have a new entrant in the world of bespoke travel planning.
If her name sounds familiar, it’s because Novogrod spend 21 years as editor in chief of Travel + Leisure. Novogrod left T + L in 2014. The following year, Joan Roca, a Spaniard with considerable experience in online travel, approached her with an idea. “After years of working for online travel companies, I wanted to move away from treating travel as a commodity and instead put technology in the service of the true essence of travel—providing unforgettable experiences that transform our members’ understanding of the world,: says Roca. He enlisted Novogrod to help him create Essentialist, a digital venture enhanced by high-touch human contact. The site officially launched June 20.
Experienced travel planners, led by Travel Design Director Lisa Lindblad, develop trips for clients willing to pay an annual membership fee of $1400. That fee provides each member a dedicated trip planner, who creates itineraries based on interests, as well as personalized suggestions from the Essentialist network of experts. There’s also a members-only website and a proprietary app to allow members to be in touch at all times.
We spoke with Novogrod about her new business and how she views the evolution of luxury travel since pre-Internet days.
Skift: How has luxury travel changed during the 25 years you have been in the business of covering travel?
Nancy Novogrod: People have gotten more sophisticated about luxury and about questioning of the old indicators of luxury. Prior to the 1990s, overstuffed and over-decorated style choices equated with luxury. You had to push pillows aside just to sit down on a couch. Being at a luxury resort back then felt like being on a cruise ship, totally divorced from the true nature of a destination.
Skift: When did the perception of luxury start changing?
Novogrod: Among the pioneers that were game-changers in the luxury space were Aman and Park Hyatt. The Aman resort style, which was so innovative in the 1980s, impacted resorts everywhere. Park Hyatt’s more pared-down aesthetic, forward-thinking, contemporary design impacted consumer values of what we consider elegant. In the 1990s, the boutique hotel phenomenon did a lot to change perception of design, and to place a new emphasis on the experiential.
Skift: What has happened to luxury travel since 2000?
Novogrod: 9/11 ushered in a desire for simplicity — even highly expensive simplicity. People started to emphasize consumption of experiences rather than tangible goods. They started to realize that spending time indulging themselves in different worlds and removing oneself from the everyday had greater value than buying the latest watch, car, or handbag. Creating memories and respites from the everyday became more appealing.
At the same time, technology has become more pervasive in everyday life, the world has become increasingly 24/7. A lot of what has happened–people are overwhelmed with information and work, and they can’t disconnect. So, the desire for escape and a simpler environment continues to exist.
Skift: Tell us about Essentialist.
Novogrod: We are developing an ever-expanding network of experienced insiders who can curate destinations and experiences not easily accessed by the general public. They are often journalists from leading travel and lifestyle publications who live in the regions they cover. They curate neighborhoods, arts and culture, restaurants and shops all catering to sophisticated traveler.
We are trying to get away from the usual suspects — the five-star hotels and top restaurants. We are looking for the local, hidden and insider favorites that give texture to a place. We are trying to bring people the opportunity for discovery and an experience of place that is a privilege that requires knowledge.
Anyone can curate content, but to be doing it with people who are experienced insiders is very different. These insiders have covered the luxury travel and lifestyle beat for years, often from the places in which they live. An added advantages of using writers is they can provide deep, rich content for website.