Tourism is changing. Given time to pause, reflect and rethink, travellers want more meaningful connections and experiences out of every trip. A year of lockdowns, quarantines, and isolation means that the opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family now tops the list of travel priorities.
People are longing to see siblings, parents, and pals over the Trevi Fountain or Times Square. Graham Alderman is more tuned into this trend than most, he has recently launched FLOCK, exceptional luxury travel experiences for private groups.
Graham grew up listening to his father’s tales of the incredible trips he managed around the world, from long-haul trips for 650 people to flying The Beach Boys to the Bahamas. Continuing his father’s legacy, he’s now spent the best part of three decades creating and hosting luxury trips around the world – and loving every minute of it.
Graham told us why he and his team are on the ground throughout every FLOCK trip and why he feels confident in launching a new ultra-luxury travel business in the wake of the pandemic.
You had an early introduction to the travel industry thanks to your father and his far-flung voyages – how would you say the luxury market has evolved over the past three decades?
The biggest changes to the luxury travel market are down to personalisation and each individual’s unique perception of luxury. Thirty years ago, a large chain with a five-star rating was considered a luxury because of its reputation, its heritage, and the thread count of its linens.
As time has gone by and demands have changed, so has the definition of luxury. It is now about innovation, experience, and personality as much as comfort, service, and attention to detail. Travellers want the best but they do not want the same. Boutique boltholes are more luxurious to some than the Grand Dame hotels, to others, front-of-house staff in starched uniforms will always win over touchpad check-ins.
People enjoy luxury in many different forms and it is our experience that allows us to understand this. The vital first step in crafting any FLOCK trip is knowing what our guests like and more importantly, do not like. There is a luxury fit for everyone and this makes the luxury travel market an exciting place to be.
What led you to launch FLOCK during a pandemic?
I’ve spent the best part of my career focusing on designing and managing seamless, extraordinary incentive group travel experiences. The one constant throughout my company’s thirty years in business has been a desire to put together the perfect trip in the perfect location and to ensure that every single person enjoys every single minute.
For the past few years, I’ve also had the pleasure of running an annual ultra-luxury safari trip for a private group of twenty. As I returned from that trip early last year, feeling buoyed by what a wonderful time had been had by all, I made the decision to formally launch the private groups offering as FLOCK. Covid-19, of course, had other plans for last year, leading me to delay the launch to 2021.
Although it might appear brave to launch a new travel business in 2021, once travel restrictions are eased and the skies are open again, people yearning to make new memories with loved ones will be itching to book trips. The longer lockdowns go on, the more apparent it becomes that spending time with family, friends, or ‘bubbles’, will be top of everyone’s travel priority list, making our offering increasingly relevant.
Elite travellers will want to visit wild and open spaces but to feel safe in doing so, having FLOCK curate that experience for them provides the ultimate in reassurance. I firmly believe that seamless door-to-door travel and all of the first-rate safety and hygiene protocols that come with it will be more sought after than ever.
What sets FLOCK apart from the other luxury companies out there?
We do not book luxury trips, we are not a travel agent. FLOCK creates, plans, and executes private group travel experiences that are entirely bespoke at every stage. We are destination experts, tastemakers, and on-the-ground concierges in one.
I don’t believe that I, or anyone, can enhance a face-to-face encounter with a silverback gorilla, the great migration into Kenya, or a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel but my team works diligently to enhance every single layer of the experience around that.
From the initial planning stages to flying out to the destination ahead of our clients and producing every moment of every trip on the ground throughout, we strive for perfection. We push the boundaries of what’s been done before and we challenge our suppliers to surpass expectations. Decades of experience in the industry enables me to challenge the way things are done and ask the sensible questions that need asking to squeeze the last 1% out of every moment, making it the best it can be.
For our clients, it’s the knowledge and guarantee that FLOCK will take care of every last detail that adds a layer of protection to every trip, enabling them to truly relax and make the most of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
How do you set about planning the perfect trip for a new client?
We can’t plan anything until we know everything. So, we begin with a deep-dive with our client or their assistant, how they like spending their time, what cuisine and activities they enjoy, and exactly what details would make the trip a roaring success from their point of view. Using that information, we then draw on decades of knowledge and the little black book I’ve spent a lifetime nurturing, to craft entirely bespoke itineraries to put forward for the client’s consideration.
Attention to this level of detail from the outset sets the tone for our standards throughout what might easily be a twelve-month planning period. Just as important as the groundwork at the outset is the constant planning and re-planning throughout the duration of any experience. No matter how seamlessly a trip has run, I don’t consider the planning to be over until every guest is safely at home. It’s only then that my team and I will relax – and pour a large drink!
How do you think the pandemic and its repercussions have changed luxury travel?
The hiatus has reminded us all what a privilege it is to travel. It’s also redefined meaningful travel; after being isolated and separated from one another, there’s no doubt that the greatest luxury right now is quality time spent with loved ones.
After a year of restrictions, experience-driven travel will be a major trend with travel-starved globetrotters keen to get out into nature trying new things. The desire for open spaces and fresh air as well as once-in-a-lifetime trips bodes particularly well for safari and wilderness holidays which are socially distant in their very nature. In many reserves in Africa, you’re more likely to bump into an elephant than another human, and boutique lodges with six to ten rooms are perfectly set up for safe group travel in a breath-taking setting.
In the immediate future, ‘luxury’ will be inextricably linked to safety and hygiene. The traveller’s experience across every section of the journey will be under scrutiny as the world starts moving again. Chauffeur cars, fast-track security, airport lounges, priority boarding, and everything else that we associate with crowd control will be sought by all. First-class travel will be more prevalent in decision-making as space and privacy become top priorities. Ultra-high-net-worth individuals with the means to travel by private jet will do, bypassing airport check-ins and unnecessary extra contact points in the process.
As families seek to reunite and reconnect on multi-generational escapes, exclusive use properties will become huge players in the next 24 months – whether that’s eco-cabins in Cornwall, safari lodges in Kenya, or boutique hotels in Ibiza.
If you could spend lockdown in a hotel anywhere in the world where would it be?
Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, a next-level eco-hotel I’ve been lucky enough to take many a trip to. With the open game reserve in panorama, feet in the plunge pool, and champagne on ice I could sit on the terrace of one of their twenty rooms watching the greatest show on earth throughout infinite lockdowns.
What dream trip would you like to make next?
The Arctic Open played on the most northern 18-hole golf course in the world. As the sun hardly dips below the horizon in Iceland’s summer months, it creates a rare situation where golf can be teed off at midnight.
All imagery used in this article supplied by FLOCK.