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New ways to create a luxury experience

Souflee Potato, courtesy Arnaud’s

What makes the difference between an ordinary trip and truly memorable travel? For more and more travelers today, it’s small touches and occasional indulgences that elevate a vacation into the realm of a luxury experience.

There was a time when the concept of luxury didn’t seem to fit with the group tourism industry. For much of the 20th century, group travel was presented as a value proposition to a generation of budget-conscious travelers. Today, though, as baby boomers become the dominating demographic in group travel, their tastes are redefining travel value. And the currency of this market seems to be high-end experiences.

Tourism destinations, attractions, tour operators and other travel industry companies have caught on to this trend and are racing to put together menus of luxuries to cater to that group of consumers. Although it’s always been easy enough to book a weekend at a luxury resort, those organizations are taking the idea of luxury and applying it to their products in unique ways that will appeal to a wide range of travelers.

As a result, today’s group travel planners have more luxury options at their disposal than ever before. Some of those experiences are limited to smaller groups or require special planning and creative thinking, not to mention a fair amount of money. But for travelers that value bragging rights, those products often prove the highlight of a tour.

To help inspire you to think creatively, we’ve found five diverse and distinct organizations that have all found ways to create luxury experiences for groups.

Gourmet Adventures
Georgia Pellegrini never intended to be a tour operator: After college she took a high-pressure job on Wall Street and then left the rat race a few years later to go to culinary school. After some time working in lofty Manhattan restaurants, she began traveling and writing books about her culinary experiences on the road. The books were hits, and the subsequent media exposure created opportunities for her to take fans on culinary adventures of their own.

“I’ve kind of become known for the convergence of food and travel,” Pellegrini said. “I was going on these adventures in search of ingredients, and I started getting a lot of requests from readers and strangers saying, ‘I want to go on an adventure with you.’”

In response to this demand, Pellegrini created what she called Adventure Getaways, weekend experiences that combine beautiful destinations, outdoor adventure and high cuisine.

“I planned the first one, and it completely blew up,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how popular they have become.”

Adventure Getaways take place at resorts that Pellegrini has visited in her travels, such as the Montana Sporting Club in Belt, Montana; Picosa Paloma Ranch in the Texas Hill Country; and Springbank Plantation in Adairsville, Georgia. Pellegrini personally selects the locales for their combination of adventure opportunities and luxury amenities.

“Some are rugged, and some are more refined,” she said. “You can get covered in dust during the day and then drink wonderful wine at night or have a bourbon dinner with live music. It’s a wonderful balance between pushing yourself and being really comfortable.”

Throughout the weekend, participants often learn new skills and activities, such as yoga, fly-fishing and horseback riding. Pellegrini leads cooking classes with help from the resort chefs, and the days usually end with decadent meals and entertainment.

Pellegrini said that she tries to keep trips at 15 to 20 guests. The experiences are most popular among professional women who are looking to get away from their urban homes for a few days, but they are also available to couples. She offers a number of scheduled events throughout the year, as well as custom programs for preformed groups.

“People want a guide to give them an adventure, but they want to do it with someone they love,” she said. “So we do trips for family reunions and a lot of bachelorette groups that decide they don’t want to go to Vegas or a spa. I have a whole series of packages and options for them, and I give them the ability to custom design their own adventures.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.