For most of us, spending a week in the winter at a beach resort in Mexico sounds dreamy — especially if there’s a swim-up bar involved.
But for the well-heeled in Kansas City, , that just won’t do. Some are booking at least two getaways during colder months: one with ski slopes and one with warm weather and beaches.
And they come with unique and luxurious accommodations, including butlers and private tours and tour guides.
“They’re not looking for a two-story Marriott on the beach,” says Mark Ebbitts, owner of Shelton Travel Service, which serves a high-end clientele. “They want privacy and a luxury 20-room inn.”
The travel agent has not gone the way of buggy whip makers. Online travel sites like TripAdvisor, Travelocity and Booking.com mean there are fewer agents than 15 years ago. But they’re still out there, and they serve a vital purpose: conjuring exotic and expensive vacations for those who can afford it.
Tim Burke of TMB Travel Concierge in Kansas City belongs to Virtuoso, a network of the best luxury travel agencies in the world. The network enables him to secure room upgrades, early check-in/late checkout and credits for food, beverages and spa treatments for clients. Burke just sent two families on separate high-end African safaris.
“Most people think of the beach, but it’s also a good time of year for safari,” Burke says. “One family is in South Africa. They were going to Botswana then Kruger National Park. Another family is in Tanzania.”
The family visiting safari camps in Botswana and South Africa shelled out more than $50,000 for the trip. One of those camps is the Lion Sands where reservations start at about $1,200 per person per night.
“Most people would call it glamping,” Burke says. “Accommodations are very nice. They have all the amenities of a five-star hotel in the lodge, with private butler service and early morning and late afternoon safaris. There are three meals a day and all beverages … it’s all-inclusive except tips.”
Burke arranged for yet another family to stay at a three-bedroom residence at The Sebastian in Vail, Colo. A one-bedroom residence at The Sebastian typically runs about $1,800 a night.
That same family, he notes, was in the Bahamas for the holidays at Baha Mar, a five-star hotel that opened in November, and they will probably go someplace warm again during spring break.
Ebbitts just sent a pair of newlyweds to stay for a week in a bungalow at a Four Seasons in the Maldives that sits out over the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. But first they stopped for three nights in Dubai where they stayed at the Burj Al Arab, which claims to be the most luxurious hotel in the world.
They flew first class on Emirates Air Lines which included use of private cubicles with beds, a shower and, according to the airline’s website, “Hydra Active Microcapsule lounge wear, designed to keep skin hydrated during the flight.”
The stop in Dubai, Burke says, includes a desert safari, “a tented dinner with entertainment, then snow skiing inside a building for half a day.”
They’ll round out the honeymoon with three nights in Hong Kong at The Peninsula Hotel overlooking the harbor and skyscrapers on the other side, he says, adding that the honeymoon cost more than $60,000.
“They wanted something nice where budget wasn’t an issue, so it’s an around-the-world trip,” he says. “This has been on the books since June. There were a lot of conversations and me showing pictures. We finished planning in early October.”
Some of the smaller touches make the trip extra special, Ebbitts says. For instance, he’ll have someone meet his clients with a golf cart right as they get off their flights behind security, rather than at customs or the baggage claim. He’s also set them up with a tour guide in Hong Kong.
“There is a cable car with two seats that gives you the best views of Hong Kong. This guide will put them in those seats,” he says. “It only costs $3 to ride, but he has the inside track.”
Ebbitts also has clients who take multiple vacations during winter months.
“We have clients who ski in February in Park City where they have a home, then they go to a Caribbean home for a week during spring break,” he says. “We’re seeing a lot more renting of private homes. And these are not your typical homes, these are super high-end luxurious homes. Justin Bieber has one in Turks for $80,000 a week that has its own staff, security guard, pool … very high-end.”
Burke believes that because the “economy is doing well, there’s more disposable income, and travel is a luxury that the well-heeled are gifting themselves.” And the more exotic, the better.
He booked a family of seven into the Pikaia Lodge on one of the Galapagos Islands.
“They’ll go to different islands by boat to see birds on their own private boat, with tour guide,” Ebbitts says. “It cost $65,000 to $70,000 just for the lodging.”
Cruises are also doing well especially on luxury lines such as Silversea and Seabourn, where there’s often a one-to-one staff/client ratio on the ships.
Service, Ebbitts notes, is such a priority that crew members covertly photograph clients as they board and post them on the inside of crew members’ doors so that within 24 hours their names and personal preferences are known to the staff.
“If you like two limes in your gin and tonic, the bartender doesn’t even ask. He just has it,” Ebbitts says. “If you want a certain deck chair facing a certain way, it’s there every morning. It’s a very high level of service. People who do this are used to that. It’s expected.”
He has a client who has been going on the same 130-day world cruise every year for the past seven years. Traveling, Ebbitts says, seems to bolster people’s status among their wealthy circles of friends.
“I think it’s like driving a Mercedes Benz versus an Acura,” he says. “Flying first class and going to exotic destination shows you’ve got more class and value. At least that’s how it appears to me.”