For the last few years people around the world have been debating what luxury means. I've stayed quiet (sort of) because I couldn't really make my mind up. I had scary incidences such as an aggressive lady calling from the US and demanding to know what "ahipara luxury travel" was about, and if it meant we charged lots. My reply of "it means whatever you want" confirmed in her unique brainspace that we were charlatans, so I haven't used that one again!! But now, coming back to it, I realise that my off-the-cuff comment was right, although not served to her in the way she would have liked.
Luxury is getting what you want. What does this mean?
- a client wanting to connect her daughter to the country was presented a special blessed piece of pounamu (greenstone) in a sacred place by a wonderful man
- a Bulgarian client was particularly interested in Maori and how they are currently integrated in the country. They had dinner with Boris Sokratov, former advertising guru and head of Maori Tourism Auckland. Our favourite Bulgarian Maori
- a private jet group wanted either the best accommodation in the country or "a tent". We didn't quite resort to a tent, but an absolutely authentic and really very rudimentary musterers hut came pretty close
- for some wonderfully adventurous National Geographic journalists/photographers, luxury meant following the weather and maximising useful time. As it was off-season and we are extremely well supported by our accommodation, helicopter and activity partners in New Zealand, we delivered this to them. Still pretty proud of what we achieved for them
- for a Canadian family, it meant blowing the kids socks off with something Hobbit-based. We hired Hobbiton at night, filled it with cast members, Weta Workshop specialists, Hobbit-themed food and music, make-up, costumes. Did them up, wined and dined them and blew them away. Expensive, that one, though
- someone else had a private island for their 50th and a Maori waka delivering museum pieces as presents
- and back at the other end of the cost spectrum, we discovered that some highly experienced African travelers had never fed lion cubs. We diverted on their last day for a couple of hours and had them bottle feed white lion cubs. Made them extremely happy (tearful :)) late for their cruise ship, and I picked up a speeding ticket. Cost to them - nothing. Value to us - it's what we love, it's what we do, we can't do any different
What do these examples mean? To me they mean that luxury is truly personal service underpinned by overwhelming know-how, attention to detail, and superb contacts. What I referred to years ago as the "luxury basics" - top-grade accommodation (be it 4,5, or 6 star), value for money, mastery of logistics, mastery of off-the-shelf activities - are still only the basics and pretty much as far as most people go. The new standard for luxury - and one we have been trumpeting for 12+ years - is the ability to fit a country-wide experience so smoothly and intelligently around one or more travellers that the experience becomes something transformational. Even for the terminally uninspired that transformational experience still comes over as a "nice time" and "good service", so that's not such a dead loss!