Nov. 22, 2023: How memories are made for luxury travelers
Tom Marchant, co-founder and owner of Black Tomato, a luxury adventure travel firm, is in the game of making memories. He truly understands ultra-high-net-worth clients and how to bring them something they can’t get elsewhere, regardless of the price tag. Marchant talked about the key travel trends that multi-gen families of wealth are looking for today.
Ultra-high-net-worth individuals often look for unforgettable experiences when they travel — something they can’t get elsewhere. How do you help make this happen?
Creating unforgettable travel moments and rare experiences is central to Black Tomato’s DNA, and its innovation is fueled by extensive research conducted by our team and in creative collaboration with our vast network of global suppliers. As a travel-obsessed lot, we are constantly seeking out these extraordinary experiences through boots-on-the-ground research, identifying the best guides and local experts and test-driving ourselves to ensure they are inspiring, thoughtful, seamlessly delivered and smartly cadenced within an itinerary.
One example of how we make this happen was earlier this year when my fellow co-founder, James, and our head of special operations, Rob, along with some other team members scouted the Apurimac River experience as part of See You in the Moment’s [SYITM] "The Challenge." They were completely blown away by both the remoteness and beauty of the landscapes and worked hard to establish special access to camp out on the shores of this powerful river. The poignancy of this shared experience and adventure organically became one we want our travelers to share with those who matter most to them.
Similar to how we approach creating all new travel products, these moments have been experienced and vetted by members of the Black Tomato team in the 18 months of R&D spent on putting this together. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to experience several of these moments myself, and one of the most mind-blowing to me is the volcanic dinner in Iceland, which I experienced with a close-knit group of friends and colleagues. As you sweep over landscapes by helicopter and descend deep into the earth, greeted by twinkling lights and a locally sourced raw bar with music floating in and out — it’s something that I will never forget.
Tell us about the rise in multigenerational family travel trips.
Multigenerational families are one of the most important segments of travelers at Black Tomato and one that we’ve had specific expertise in delivering. Since our founding in 2005, our employees’ families at Black Tomato have grown, along with our clients. Multigenerational family travel now accounts for over half of our bookings, and this figure is climbing.
To captivate this burgeoning segment of our business, we’re constantly working to innovate and capture the imaginations of family travelers with itineraries and experiences designed to inspire.
As with everything we do, we track booking trends and listen to our clients' specific needs and desires to help shape our offerings. In early 2021, we saw firsthand with our own families and our clients that one painful vestige of our locked-down lives was the increasing reliance on children being glued to screens — from a combination of long months of homeschooling, shuttered lives and the inability to travel and see the world. That made families experience-deprived.
With multigenerational family travel at the time accounting for over 40% of our business, we saw a space to innovate and inspire. While it was ticking along behind the scenes and shaped over the course of two years prior, we launched Take Me on a Story to unearth meaningful experiences that engage children and reignite a passion for learning. The collection debuted with five immersive, bespoke itineraries inspired by beloved children’s stories, set in destinations that form the backdrop to these iconic tales. Many of these were stories we read together when hunkered down, and so we designed these to spark curiosity and bond adventure-deprived families through extraordinary experiences, whether swapping a hedgehog for a mallet on the croquet lawn during an interactive tea party inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or learning survival skills, dog-mushing and listening for the Call of the Wild in Alaska. And this is by no means a definitive list — we are planning to continue building out this offering in the near future.
While taking classroom curricula outside has been key to enriching a student's learning experience, we believe that to truly capture a child’s curiosity and bestow deep and meaningful knowledge, travel offers compelling tools. Through many internal conversations and hearing directly from our family travelers (and their children), one central need was to further their school-aged children’s personal and academic development. So we endeavored to deliver a fresh take on educational travel that would address the needs of socially minded, curious young adults.
That’s why we debuted Field Trip, a first-of-its-kind collection of immersive a la carte "classes" around the world, designed to fuel purpose-driven passion through educative experiential programming — including areas supporting positive social impact, such as sustainability, as well as spurring interest in history and the arts.
How are you able to weave luxury experiences into your group itineraries?
First, it’s developing an understanding of the space, and the true "luxury" itself is in sharing these rare, seminal moments together. To create these experiences that work best within group itineraries, one of the key places we start is by exploring motivating factors and popular themes, whether cultural immersion and celebration, an extraordinary meal or the growing desire for adventurous, pioneering travels. But also understanding there are various abilities, access points, desires and established pain points.
One of the biggest pain points of group travel includes a lack of flexibility with timing and experiences. More off-the-shelf group trip offerings follow fixed departures and rigid shared itineraries, where all parties meet at the same time each day and follow the same schedule and tours, regardless of nuanced personal preferences and interests. Traveling like this as a group can understandably lead to frustration and exhaustion, as it doesn’t address underlying passion points that can vary widely in a group, nor does it strike the right cadence.
Another pain point underlying traditional group travel is forced compromise across multiple days. Within groups — whether multigenerational, groups of friends and any combination — people have very specific ways of traveling, sleep schedules, routines, and ultimately passion points and specific interests that shape their needs. The differentiator and magic of SYITM and any itineraries we design for groups is allowing for utter flexibility of experiences in and around, before and after, a seminal shared moment, eliminating the need for compromise.
Give us an example of a specific "see you in the moment" experience.
In Thailand, we have what’s known as Thailand: The Golden Age of Rail. Guests will arrive at Hua Lamphong Station, Bangkok’s old railway station, which will have been closed down exclusively for them and transformed into a glamorous time machine reminiscent of 1920s rail travel, with live jazz music filling the air.
Here, they will board a historic train carriage that cannot be booked by public fare for a three-hour journey out of the city to Khao Yai. Guests will have two carriages all to themselves, with the first set up as an art deco bar complete with saloon-style seating and space for dancing. And the other will act as a restaurant car boasting a Wes Anderson-esque meal featuring a menu of 1920s flair and lost Thai flavors. This experience offers participants a chance to recapture the golden age of travel in a way that is not otherwise publicly available.
What are some of the key travel trends you’re looking to follow in 2024?
Increasingly, generations are connecting over a new shared activity or passion, which ultimately brings the family closer together. And frequently we’re seeing this generational connection manifest as teens getting their parents excited about something they love to do. What starts as their passion point — be it climbing, paddleboarding, mountain biking or an acute interest in cooking — becomes something the whole family can commit to experiencing together, bonding them in a strong and meaningful way. We’ve even received feedback from clients that having a shared passion for connecting and relating to each other alleviates some of the angst associated with the teenage years.
For experienced cyclists, we’re recommending a challenging heli-biking experience in Kenya. Journeying to 1,300 feet above sea level by helicopter and a euphoric, life-changing descent by mountain bike from the serrated peaks of sacred Mount Kenya instills a shared sense of achievement and synchronicity, along with an extreme pumping of adrenaline.
There’s also something quite amazing about the idea of modern-day pilgrimages. Seeing clients motivated to travel to a destination inspired by a revered restaurant they’re eager to dine at, that isn’t new. But more and more, travelers are taking their culinary passions a step further, and requests are increasingly more specific. For many, food has become deified and coveted with dishes — such as a particular type of ceviche, served at a remote, family-run restaurant in Peru, or a certain cheese that has been lauded for years in Sicily — driving people to travel to the places they’re able to relish these exceptional items in situ.
This trend of embarking on a type of "modern-day pilgrimage" not only applies to food but also in the wine and spirits world, where clients are seeking out a particular vintage. Amongst the most sought-after experiences on offer as part of our James Bond-inspired Assignment: Europe is an exclusive vintage martini master class with 007 expert guide and EON Productions-endorsed mixologist Erik Lorincz, who consulted on both recipes and bartending etiquette for "Skyfall." For martini aficionados, Erik tracked down vintage cocktail ingredients — including bottles of the ultrarare, discontinued Kina Lillet, a now-extinct liqueur listed as one of the main ingredients in the original Vesper Martini — for use in this special interactive master class, re-creating the truest expression of the drink. That these journeys have a particular purpose and represent something very few will ever get to experience has an enduring appeal.
While the travel industry has been saturated with the overwhelming promotion of holistic health and comprehensive well-being programs for years now, we believe the new well-being is the opposite of all-encompassing. Instead, we see a focus on reductionism where specificity is key. Rather than embarking on a full overhaul that’s impossible to uphold, we firmly believe that lasting transformation begins with addressing one key pillar of wellness, which is manageable to maintain. Taking a less-means-more approach makes goals targeted and accessible, and once the building blocks are right and baked into life, this then sets the foundation for homing in on other areas, if desired.
Post-pandemic, people are craving slower, more focused travel, and we’re now seeing the same with well-being. Whether looking to address sleep problems, anxiety or diet, specifically seeking to fix that issue makes achieving success more tangible and long-lasting.
Why Gen X and millennial investors are demanding sustainable portfolios
By SAMUEL ADAMS
Over the past five years, investors have been choosing sustainable investments over conventional ones in greater numbers. There have been record numbers of ESG funds and ETFs launched, with assets invested this way in the U.S. totaling more than $8 trillion.
Most wealth advisers say that only a few of their clients have asked them for a sustainable-investment portfolio. And yet when asked, the majority of investors say they are quite keen on the concept.
SURVEY SAYS ...
Morgan Stanley has been doing a biannual survey like this since 2015. The results consistently show that more than 70% of U.S. investors say they are interested in sustainable investing. Over 90% of millennial investors respond in the affirmative. Other surveys show similar results.
What gives? Why aren’t advisers hearing about this demand directly? Are clients uncomfortable asking advisers? Perhaps. But maybe the advisers and surveyors are talking with different investors.
A recent study by Stanford University and the Hoover Institution surveyed investors’ actual holdings, rather than just what they say they’re interested in. They asked investors whether they hold socially responsible funds in their portfolios now. The percentage who do, by generation, are:
- 19% of boomers
- 62% of Generation X
- 78% of millennials and Gen Z investors
This might explain why advisers’ clients haven’t shown much of an interest — they tend to be Boomers. But what about their future clients?
ALL IN ON CLIMATE CHANGE
It might seem obvious that younger generations are more interested in sustainable investing. After all, they are the ones who are going to have to deal with the effects of climate change. According to Yale’s semiannual "Global Warming’s Six Americas" study, the percentage of Americans alarmed or concerned about global warming breaks down like this:
- 59% of Millennials and Gen Z
- 53% of Gen X
- 53% of Boomers
It turns out the generational attitudes about climate change are not that different — and surely not enough to account for the stark split in demand for sustainable investing.
Many Boomers learned to invest around the turn of the century, long before the iPhone was invented. Back then, Modern Portfolio Theory was in the ascendancy. Diversification was sacrosanct. Index funds were getting more popular. Concentrated stock portfolios were old hat. Broad-based portfolios with 100s if not 1000s of stocks were the order of the day. This interaction with markets is mathematical and transactional in nature — I invest capital to receive returns. The idea of excluding an unwanted stock or industry for any reason other than financial wasn’t very popular. What if that excluded stock became the next Amazon? Perhaps it is this investment philosophy that keeps Boomers from investing sustainably.
Younger people probably learned their way around social media before they learned about investing. They learned to post likes and dislikes and share those with their friends. Maybe they liked a picture or product enough that when it blew up, they felt as if they were part of the success. Perhaps they bought something on a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. This interaction with markets is personal and participatory in nature — I invest capital to share in success. These savvy social media types would never intentionally "like" something that they didn’t want to see succeed. The idea of including an unwanted stock or industry in their portfolio is anathema. Perhaps it is this investment philosophy that makes sustainable investing so popular with younger investors.
The term ESG — or environmental, social and governance investing — was only invented in 2005. And for another decade, few ESG investment products were available. Before 2015, it was hard to find a sustainable fund with a good track record. Back then, advisers routinely discouraged investors from investing responsibly. The typical response to a request for a sustainable portfolio was, "You’d be better off investing conventionally and giving money to charity."
There are hundreds of sustainable-investment options now. Many have good long-term track records. Large institutional investors have embraced ESG investing. UBS, the world’s largest private wealth manager, announced in 2020 that it was making sustainable-investment portfolios its standard offering going forward. It is no longer a fringe or niche form of investing. Investors young and old who seek it out readily find solutions. If advisers want these investors as clients, they would do well to offer sustainable investing as an option. Or maybe, given the high interest, as the default.