Grigory was our first client - way back at the start of 2001. He and I were sitting at Auckland Airport and he was taking his leave before boarding his aircraft back to Russia. He had spent the morning out at Great Barrier Island surfing with New Zealand windsurfing icon Bruce Kendall. Bruce had mentioned the spot to him a few days before and he had turned to me - "can you set it up?". We'd got him a helicopter with surfboards, fishing gear, a gourmet picnic not forgetting Bruce Kendall too! Then a day room out near the airport for a shower, and a VIP escort to his aircraft. He didn't take the day room - he'd had enough hotels - preferring to up-end a bottle of water over his head at the Barrier.
He was telling me how much he'd enjoyed his time in New Zealand. "The best I've ever had", he said. I liked what I was hearing from someone who was a regular at all the top places around the world. I thought I'd better find out what we'd done right.
"So what did you think of Huka Lodge?"
Looks surprised, "Fine, no problem"
"And Timara Lodge?"
"Good, no problem" ...looking at me inquisitively.
Puzzled for a moment, then suddenly smiles as he thinks of something nice to say...."nice mountains"
OK - I give up. "So, you say you really enjoyed your time here - what was it that stands out?"
Suddenly animated "Windsurfing with Bruce and Barbara Kendall and eating pipis (shellfish) on the beach. Down in the Wairarapa with Chris Jolly where we dived and got some crayfish and then cooked them in the hunters cabin. And then today out at Barrier - brilliant!"
So that's where we started the strategy which has underpinned our company ever since. For the true VIP what we term the luxury basics are just that, basics. The accommodation is expected to be first class, as are the transportation, logistics, cooking, security etc. We make our difference with activities. We can all remember lovely days from our past where everything just flowed together and worked and we were happy to be alive. This is our ambition - this is what we try hard to create day after day with our clients. And often we succeed. As we say, a luxury trip in New Zealand starts with the lodges, it doesn't finish with them.