Chinese tourists are taking the world by storm. In fact, China accounts for the largest number of outbound tourists in the world. According to the World Tourism Organization, in 2016, that figure was estimated to be around 135 million.
Increasingly, travelling has become the new luxury status for affluent Chinese. Seeking out the most unique travel experiences that will impress friends on social media is a growing trend. Hiring private helicopters to go on safari or spending vast sums of money on getting exclusive access to places is surpassing fashion items and the status they once represented.
To help them achieve these once-in-a-lifetime trips, with access to places not listed on TripAdvisor, intrepid Chinese travellers are hiring luxury travel designers. These travel designers will utilise their network and contacts in the industry to get the best deals, rare access to places and provide private guided tours for those who don’t want to rub shoulders with tourists.
“With the right money you can really have very special experiences,” says Joyce Choi, a luxury travel designer who works for Jacada Travel out of their Hong Kong office.
Choi points out that many of her Asian clients wouldn’t go to a famous city like Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower, but the difference is they want to see popular tourist sites in a very exclusive way.
“I’ve inspected some amazing places in Paris – in some of these rooms, the view of the Eiffel Tower is unbelievable,” says Choi. “You can begin to imagine why some people will pay a quarter of a million Hong Kong dollars [during high season] just for a night to stay there. Your bathtub is directly facing Eiffel Tower – it’s so beautiful.”
With that said, there is one type of travel experience that has really taken off in recent years, and that’s the African safari.
“The whole safari trend has only just become really popular in Asia,” says Choi. “A decade or two ago, people with a lot of money would probably have spent it on buying a yacht and enjoyed their free time sailing around. Nowadays, for some reason, the whole safari experience has really hit.”
But Choi’s clients aren’t looking for any ordinary safari experience, as once again, exclusivity and specialisation are the key attributes.
“I talk through with my clients how they can increase their chances of catching the migration and river crossing,” says Choi. “For example, you can hire a helicopter, and the pilot would just be with you over the days that you’re catching the migration.”
This type of excursion means that you don’t have to go on a five- or six-hour car journey to catch the river crossing, and you don’t have to wake up so early to get there.
“Going to luxury safaris is already becoming a symbol of bragging rights, and then on top of that, they like these exclusive experiences to top it all off.”
For Choi, working as a luxury travel designer for her wealthy Asian clients has its perks, but it doesn’t involve as much travelling as one might think.
“Work trips tend to be less frequent. I do travel quite a bit personally, and it tends to be to destinations that we sell as well, but the actual time away from the office for most travel designers is actually not that much.”
Choi’s role involves a lot of networking with different suppliers and providers, making contacts and gaining insider knowledge so that she can craft the most unique and personalised trips for her clients. But it does mean that she gets to hear about the hottest places to visit before everyone else.
“The top destinations for our clients in recent years have been Peru, South Africa, and will most likely be Madagascar that we’ve just recently launched.”
“Iceland has never stopped being popular since we started offering private tours there in 2014. But we are just getting prepared so that once everyone has seen Iceland, we will start sending them out more north to Scandinavia and to Greenland.”
But for someone who has travelled the world, seen and done it all, what has been Choi’s favourite destination to visit?
“Kenya has been my personal highlight whilst working for Jacada. I thought I had seen it all and done it all, but going to Kenya for a work trip was a life-changing moment.”
Choi remembers the moment that defined the trip for her and completely changed her outlook on travel.
“I was on a camel back, and then I just burst into tears – I let the tears flow and then started thinking what was that about.”
“For me taking photographs is a huge distraction, even on a work trip; I take so much time taking photos and then I forgot to sit back and soak up everything. The camel trip did it for me because it was too bumpy to bring my camera, and suddenly because my mind wasn’t focused on photography, I really began to feel the presence of where I was, and that really got me.”
For Choi, that moment was a huge reminder of what she wants to achieve for her clients too.
“I realised that the moment when nothing is happening is the very special moment, especially since we live in the age of distraction,” says Choi.
But how does a luxury designer like Choi design the perfect trip? What is the secret ingredient?
“For a good trip to take place, a lot is down to ensuring a good execution,” says Choi. “We have that workflow in place to make sure that things work well. A client might have been on as many safaris as me – but they continue to let me design their trips because they know I will always have the contacts in the insider industry to really get the best for them and bargain for them.”