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The travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather on June 29–30 for our fourth annual Skift Forum Europe in Madrid. Skift's forums have become what media, speakers, and attendees expect will define the future of travel and are among the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry. Skift Forum Europe 2020 will take place at La Nave in Madrid and will feature speakers including CEOs and top executives from Booking.com, Accor, Emirates Airline, Expedia, Oyo, Ryanair, and many more.
The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.
With transformational travel in high demand these days, Black Tomato, one of the companies out in front on experiential, one-of-a-kind trips, is having a good run.
In fact, the luxury travel brand, founded in 2005, has sustained unprecedented growth and is still independently owned and operated by its founders. Tom Marchant, owner and co-founder, points to the brand’s ability to offer customized experiences with special access as a reason for its success in the luxury travel space.
“We spend a lot of our resources on product development, and we work tirelessly to unearth never-before-discovered experiences that will resonate with a specific client based on their individual passions and obsessions,” said Marchant.
Companies throw around the term “curation” a lot right now, but Black Tomato does set out to actually follow through on the concept. Its goal: to create unique luxury trips that not only home in on what a certain traveler wants but also what they didn’t even realize they wanted. Vacations, in turn, can feel exclusive and unique — hitting all the right buttons for a luxury traveler.
Recent partnerships with the likes of SoulCycle and Eater have also helped spread brand awareness and bring new clients into the fold. And Black Tomato’s Bring it Back series has touched on a recent trend to help travelers reinvent themselves and find answers to big questions when away.
We’ll ask Marchant what’s next for luxury and transformational travel at Skift Forum Europe, which takes place June 29–30 in Madrid. Here’s a preview of the discussion.
Skift Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Skift: A key topic at Skift Forum Europe this year centers around transformational travel. Black Tomato has Bring it Back trips, which focus on personal transformation. How do you make sure these trips actually transform?
Tom Marchant: A unanimous approach to travel at Black Tomato is of viewing travel as a vehicle to address emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual pillars of life that the stresses of daily schedules don’t allow time for. This is what originally inspired the concept of Bring it Back.
We want to encourage people to venture out into the world, experience something for themselves, and have personal, meaningful conversations with the people who have led their lives to tackle and address these key pillars of life, while in a particular destination that demonstrates these ideas. The idea being that the connections from time spent with real people can help travelers gain an authentic understanding of foreign principles and philosophy. Then travelers can return home and bring back these ideas and incorporate them into their daily life and way of thinking, elevating their time spent there beyond a vacation that starts and stops at the airport to a truly transformative experience.
To do this, we did over a year of boots-on-the-ground research and explored the areas, groups of people, and communities that get these concepts right, from sustainability to embracing creativity. We looked to the world’s tapestry of vibrant communities to find the local storytellers, tastemakers, scholars, and innovators who could impart their learnings and findings onto interested travelers and the amazing experiences we couldn’t imagine taking on without these experts.
We found picking the brain of the trailblazing business leaders who brought tourism to Iceland post-economic crash helped inspire our entrepreneurial side. We spent time with traditional nomadic Mongolian families whose culture assumes multigenerational living and gained appreciation for the communal and personal benefits of focusing on family.
Similar to visiting a doctor when you’re feeling out of sorts, we want travel to feel prescriptive, therapeutic, and entirely customized to each person. By crafting itineraries catering to a singular need, we can introduce this concept to inspire our clients in an extraordinary way. From there, we can customize their trip based on the complexities of what they’re looking to gain or solve.
Skift: There’s endless talk about travelers wanting novel experiences. Do you think there will ever be “experience fatigue,” when travelers want to shift to less experience-packed trips?
Marchant: The experience economy was built on the human desire for brief encounters with the spectacular, finding joy in spending resources on something they can participate in and gain self-betterment from rather than an object that provides fleeting pleasure. These “experiences” have become so prevalent, and consumers’ needs have evolved. Travelers in particular are now seeking more genuinely meaningful and long-term impact from these experiences, particularly rooted in spiritual, emotional, and physical transformation, which are part of a personal journey toward self-actualization.
The reality is we are overscheduled and overly stimulated in our working lives — especially us urban dwellers — so when it comes to travel, it’s critical to carve out time and space to simply “be there.” The word JOMO — joy of missing out — is starting to enter the consumer lexicon, but I see this type of travel more as “room to think.” To create an itinerary that feels different than daily life, we’re carving out time and options for travelers to have unscheduled parts of the day, anticipating how their mindset will change when they’re actually on the trip versus their “do-it-all” mentality they had when planning the trip.
When travelers give themselves time and space to truly achieve deeper relaxation, it is in the moments of downtime when there is processing and reflection, creating the counterpart of highly involved, authentic, immersive experiences that will create lasting transformation.
Skift: It seems like everyone in hospitality wants to get in on wellness travel. What approach is Black Tomato taking to tap this market?
Marchant: While we’ve always seen an interest in wellness experiences from certain clients, there is indeed a growing connection between certain types of travel and improved well-being. In fact, in our recent study with Euromonitor, we found that 65 percent of consumers agree that mental well-being equates to “being healthy.” The enormous potential in creating trips that speak to travelers’ cravings for serenity is clear.
Knowing that wellness is a spectrum based on a culmination of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, we even see Bring it Back as our answer to what wellness means to us, a journey dedicated to focusing on specific goals toward living a more satisfying and sound life.
This year, we’re tapping authentic experiences that combine elements of deep relaxation with nature. We’re quite literally mapping out the cleanest, freshest, and unspoiled destinations for clients in search of unfettered nature, clean air, and open skies.
We see a growing trend in preserving destinations with natural silence, specifically National Parks, as we start to understand the value of spending time in spaces with low noise, air, and light pollution. The growing data of the long-term effects on mental health and development from living among chronic noise, is serving as a catalyst for travelers to venture to quieter spaces to ease anxiety, stress, and even aggression. These pure destinations provide travelers, specifically children who have only ever known city life, the chance to appreciate star-gazing and natural silence.
From the Dolomites to Semuc Champey, we’re working with our team of travel experts and hyper-local fixers to introduce travelers to culturally authentic and sensitive traditional healing practices, to learn the relevant tools and skills to bring back to their hectic urban lives and support spiritual and mental well-being long after their trip is over.