As the world of luxury travel becomes an established niche, there’s more room in the market for events that hone in on the high-end offerings of a single country or focus specifically on cutting-edge travel experiences. That’s where small, highly selective luxury conferences like Duco Travel Summit and Pure come into the picture.

Serge Dive, the creator of Pure, was actually the founder of ILTM. When that event launched in 2002, Dive said, “The perception had been that luxury travel was only the Ritz and The Dorchester and the Crillon, and that the market was too small to sustain a conference of its own.” But ILTM’s success proved that perception wrong.

Dive sold ILTM in 2004 and started thinking about his next venture. Luxury at that time was mostly about destinations and hotels. But a change was in the air. So again, Dive caught a wave and rode with it. “When Pure was created, we were looking at a market that was not very well-served. We realized that the actual destination (travelers were seeking) was transformation. How can you go somewhere with the purpose to alter your life and better connect with loved ones or the world at large?” A big part of the answer to that question was to focus on meaningful travel experiences rather than destinations per se.

Luxury Travel as Personal Fulfillment

When Pure opened its doors in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2009, 600 people attended. The number of delegates today has nearly tripled to 1,700. It’s an invitation-only, exclusive affair.

According to Dive, “Suppliers mainly need to impress us by how they can change the life of guests, staff, and community. They have to convince us they are good enough to be part of the marketplace.” How? Sustainability credentials help. Originality does as well. “As the market is changing, suppliers have to define themselves,” said Dive. “There’s no room for copycats.”

In terms of who attends Pure, 65 percent of the buyers are from the developed world while the rest come from emerging markets. Suppliers include expedition boats, destination marketing organizations, and accommodations, the latter of which make up 60 percent of the roster. The vast majority of those lodging establishments host fewer than 20 guests. A select group of journalists also take part.

According to attendees, it’s quite a ride — much like the luxury travel offerings that the event showcases. Chase Poffenberger is executive vice president of Academic Travel Abroad. “Pure is over-the-top luxury. It’s super-custom, super-experiential.”  Poffenberger added, “As the definition of luxury is changing, this conference is on the forefront of the change. Serge’s genius is that he taps into the energy of the future. They are always pursuing what’s the next step in this niche industry. And that’s why Pure attracts the most creative experiential travel developers” around the world.”

That’s Dive’s goal. “We don’t want to become big,” he said. “We want to stay exclusive and experiential. When people go to Pure, what they will find is a sense of belonging and a community. And they go home feeling elevated.” Dive added that it’s his belief  that while the big trade events are analogous to speed dating, making connections at small shows is more like falling in love.

Deep Dive into La Dolce Vita

Duco Travel Summit is even smaller and more specialized than Pure. The annual conference takes a deep dive into Italy.

Carolina Perez worked in her family’s travel agency business for many years while living in her native Brazil. She was noticing in 2009, however, that luxury hoteliers visiting Brazil were having little success reaching travel agents throughout the country. So Perez started Travel Week São Paolo, which brought in luxury travel agents from Mexico and Central and South America to meet with international suppliers.

Given the show’s success, it was purchased in 2013. Perez’ next step was to revisit her Italian roots. Her grandmother was Italian, and she “had had a thing for Italy all her life.” She decided to “do a destination-oriented event, where we go deep into a culture.” Attendees would have the chance to immerse themselves in that country while meeting with local suppliers.

Duco, she said, is Latin for to build or to construct. And when she built it, people came. The first conference, held in Florence in 2018, attracted more than 350 people. There is careful curation on both the supplier and buyer sides. “We are very picky on attendee profiles,” said Perez. Most of the agent attendees are North American, English, and Australian. The vast majority of the Italian suppliers are hotels, with some destination marketing organizations and experiential travel companies making up the rest.

The conference showcases Italy’s best assets over four days. Appointments take place in different properties each day, including the Four Seasons and The St. Regis, both located in former palazzos. Nighttime events are often held in exclusive venues.

When she started Duco Travel Summit, Perez didn’t know if a single-destination luxury show “would be appealing. But it’s amazing to see how attendees appreciate the depth of knowledge of destination.”

Luxury travel advisor Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of Embark, confirmed that statement. “With shows getting larger, it becomes more difficult to have the important micro-moments that spark and maintain relationships. I love Duco because it is small and very focused. Both Duco and Pure are examples of smaller, more focused shows that usually result in finding great new product and build amazing new relationships.”

The next destination for Duco is France, which is appealing to Perez given the country’s mature luxury market. The first Duco Travel Summit in France will take place in Paris in October 2021. After that, Perez may stay put. As a small conference, “we don’t have to embrace the world but do well in what we are committed to do.”

Photo Credit: The Duco Travel Summit marketplace takes place in grand surroundings, like the St. Regis Florence. Duco Travel Summit