The Ends Of The Earth

What true ultra-luxury bespoke adventure travel means now…

Want to hop on a private jet, fly to an exotic destination and have an over-the-top vacation? All it takes these days is a decent credit limit. Thanks to a sort of dumbing down of luxury travel in recent years, what was once reserved for the elite traveller is now accessible to almost anyone, as brands try to appeal to a larger audience and, as a result, end up alienating top -tier clients.
“Luxury brands often miss the opportunities to reach the highest echelon of travellers by serving downmarket experiences,” as Wealth- X, a data company that curates intelligence on wealthy individuals from around the world, notes. “It’s the result of a troubling trend of mass market luxury, standardised luxury travel marketing [that] appeals to both high net worth [HNW] and ultra-high net worth [UHNW] individuals, and the homogenisation of luxury goods and services across these tiers of wealth.” The distinction is an important one as the HNW category includes those with a net worth of US$1 million to more than US$29 million while to qualify for UHNW status you must have US$30 million or more to your name.

Preparing for an underwater submarine excursion

Take for example a recent article in National Geographic UK that gushed that “Luxury travel operators are increasingly going to the ends of the earth to curate completely personalised trips to inaccessible destinations…. Travel agents have been elevated to travel designers who can arrange access to places that would be out of bounds to most of us.” We picture said “travel designers” with sleek offices dotted with lots of Italian leather chairs but little in the way of true bespoke offerings.
Exactly the kind of hype Wealth-X attributes to “a slew of societal, cultural and technological trends” that have unfolded in recent years, including the “ubiquitous exposure of digital platforms like Instagram and the rise of the sharing economy,” wherein every individual wants an Instagram feed that mirrors that of their favourite celebrity. All of which has led true bespoke adventure specialists to redefine the very concept of luxury travel.
These days, luxury, says London-based Momentum Adventure founder Matthew Robertson, “is about knowledge. We’re able to open doors to the inaccessible and make it possible. We strive for our clients to have an intrinsic experience.” Momentum specialises in true luxury bespoke adventures that are tailored to each client’s exacting desires, some of which can cost US$1 million or more and are therefore only within reach of the UHNW set. Many of Robertson’s clients turn to him after they’ve exhausted the limits of luxury travel agencies —sorry, “travel designers” — and their imported office furnishings. But the actual amount spent or even the flag planted on a remote peak isn’t as important as making the experience truly once-in-a-lifetime.
“It’s less about a goal such as climbing Mount Everest and more about truly engaging with the place you’re in,” Robertson tells us. And so much the better if it’s off the beaten path. “That could be Sweden, Namibia, Colorado or Scotland. The [true] luxury is the memories you create on the journey. That’s not to say our clients don’t use [private] jets and yachts. They most certainly do. But how they travelled or where they stayed is never what they talk about over dinner when they get home.”

Bikes and helicopters are the preferred mode of travel in some picturesque parts of Iceland

The experiences that are trending these days for Momentum clients include “submarines, culture immersion, challenges, food, foraging in the wild, [and] unique wildlife experiences,” Robertson tells us. In every locale “we work with the best of the best in the outdoors,” he notes, “from archaeologists and conservationists to ex-special forces and the highest accredited mountain guides and logisticians…. Momentum has spent 30 years building a global network of these people. Without an amazing team, a complicated trip just falls apart and therefore fails to deliver on its promise.”
With “personal” submarine technologically having come into its own lately, yet the vessels themselves remaining quite expensive, this is one area of travel that the ultra-wealthy still have to themselves. “We use three different subs, in the Azores [and] Costa Rica,” Robertson says. The company has been known to use Triton subs, the “world leader” in private submarines, whose two-person 7500 series underwater crafts reportedly started at US$5.8 million. The cost of Momentum’s bespoke submarine excursions vary, but Robertson says you should expect to pay US$100,000-plus to explore the ocean’s depths in style.

High-end 4x4s and snowmobiles make even the most inhospitable landscapes easy to traverse

Momentum is one of the few companies privately chartering subs in the Azores, a volcanic Portuguese archipelago in the mid-Atlantic known for its lush landscapes. The company only does these trips by special request, and attractions have included an underwater volcano and a German submarine sunk in 1942, which has been lying mostly undisturbed in over 2,000 ft. of water; the subs have been know to go below 3,000 ft., a depth that very few people have experienced. If land-based adventures are more your speed, for around US$1.2 million and up Momentum will set you up to compete in — and possibly even win — the legendary Dakar Rally, a true off-road endurance test that can make or break vehicle manufacturers’ reputations. The 2020 version of the iconic race will be talking place in Saudi Arabia for the first time, making it even more of an incomparable adventure. Momentum’s Dakar experience includes your own custom Land Rover Defender-based 4×4 designed by UK-based Bowler motorsport as well as all travel, accommodations, driver training, race support, administration and logistics.

Trekking in the remote Zanskar mountain range in the Himalayan region

“When we first talk to someone, they generally have no set ideas,” Robertson says, “only a desire to expand their horizons…. Our clients are looking for an authentic, inspirational experience. They want to do something truly different. Which is exactly what we offer — a bespoke adventure that happens just once: for the client.”
Few men know more about creating truly inspirational travel experiences than Abercrombie & Kent founder and cochairman Geoffrey Kent, widely credited with introducing the first luxury African photographic safari in 1962. “From the beginning, I’ve believed that true luxury is the privilege of discovery, adventure, relaxation and insight, enjoyed in a context that perfectly suits the experience,” Kent tells MAXIM. “Seamless service, safety and security are a given. But it is the unexpected that inspires a sense of wonder and elevates an adventure into a true luxury experience.”
Kent credits his success to an “adventure by day and comfort at night” philosophy. “Our guests travel to spectacular places in remote destinations with the finest wilderness guides and A&K’s trademark blend of privileged access, airtight organisation and outstanding service,” he says. Over the past decade, he adds, “the definition of luxury has changed. It has become much more flexible with an emphasis on experiences and personalized service, rather than the mere physical trappings of luxury.”

High-end 4x4s and snowmobiles make even the most inhospitable landscapes easy to traverse

Now, Kent says, “we find our guests are doing extensive research online and have a better idea of the kinds of experiences they want, requiring more customisation and knowledge than ever before. But when it comes to making the final decision, they want the peace of mind that comes from knowing their itinerary has been planned by a specialist, someone with firsthand knowledge and experience.”
Four years ago, Kent introduced his most impressive offering yet, Inspiring Expeditions, “for the modern adventurer who wants to explore the most spectacular lands and oceans on the planet, and meet the extraordinary people who live there.” For starters, “we recreated Jacques Cousteau’s famous expedition to Palau aboard an exclusively chartered superyacht,” he recounts. “Our guests enjoyed some of the finest scuba diving and snorkelling in the world. Then I led an expedition around the world by private jet with stops on the Hawaiian island of Lanai, Tasmania, Borneo, Everest base camp, Bhutan, Armenia and Iceland.”

This past October, Kent embarked on an expedition to Ethiopia with private helicopters holding just two guests apiece, travelling “from the churches of Lalibela to the Danakil Depression — [often called] the hottest place on Earth — to the Simien Mountains, and the tribal peoples in the Omo delta.” The trick, he says, “is to deliver an experience so exclusive and over-the- the-top that our guests never could have imagined it for themselves.”
That certainly applies to the Around the World with Geoffrey Kent: An Inspiring Expedition by Private Jet tour he has planned for October 2020, priced at $160,000 per person. In creating it, “I challenged myself to curate a new route that included destinations I’ve been fascinated with but haven’t had the opportunity to visit, such as Eritrea for its unique architecture; Benin, one of the epicentres of African voodoo; and Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Brazil, an incredible landscape of white sand dunes dotted with ponds of crystalclear waters,” Kent explains.
“This journey is not about checking items off a list,” Kent notes. “It is about discovering new experiences in destinations that most travellers completely overlook, and doing so in a way that never sacrifices comfort and style.” Try doing that at your local travel agent, no matter how many Italian leather chairs they have scattered around the place. ■


For the full article grab the May 2020 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

Nadine Nadia Bishay

Italian Iconoclast