To slake your wanderlust, Pritish Shah’s newly launched A Travel Circle offers customized, experiential travel in a post-Covid world to some of the world’s best resorts in private villas and exclusive surroundings for close, intimate gatherings.Rosewood Phuket, Thailand
With the travel industry constantly looking for new and innovative ways to reinvent itself post-Covid, luxury, bespoke travel has never been more coveted than it is today. A few pioneers are branching into this specialized niche of travel, to offer airtight solutions for the jet-setter who’s eager to stretch his or her legs, and literally escape – perhaps not in the carefree, pre-pandemic days, but a getaway nevertheless, one that is perfectly planned and well-executed. We speak to Pritish Shah, founder and CEO of A Travel Circle, that crafts thoughtfully planned, private holidays, for those who seek some of the most lust-worthy destinations around the world.
What has your decade in the luxury travel industry made you realize about customized travel?
The biggest realization for me has been that we don't sell travel experiences as a business, but rather manage customer expectations. If you truly want to customize a journey, firstly you need to establish yourself as an authoritarian on the subject, this is where all our travel experience comes into play. Our team was out on at least 18-20 trips internationally every year before Covid-19, searching for new experiences, and networking with A-list suppliers from across the globe. Secondly, the ability to understand each consumer – their personalities, likes, and dislikes – and to match them with the right destination and experiences. A large part of the success we have achieved is purely because of the meticulous level of detailing that we get into.Mahika and family, Jaipur Rugs – Soneva Kiri in Thailand
Did you launch A Travel Circle with the changes to world travel during and post Covid, or was this something you were planning for a while?
To be honest, we had some really interesting expansion plans originally, which included A Travel Circle (ATC) as a part of it. With the change in dynamics due to Covid we realized ATC would be an apt brand, keeping the restrictions in mind for future travels. Before we launched ATC, we conducted a comprehensive market research to better understand the evolving preferences of this segment. Spending quality time in a fabulous setting and more importantly, to be able to bond with loved ones – emerged as the most prominent trend. The pandemic has fast-tracked us to launch ATC, as the changing travel expectations in the new normal world align very well with our key product offerings such as – private villas for social distancing, private jets to avoid commercial airports, and the highest standards in safety. Plus, with our access to a network of A-list suppliers worldwide, preferred partnerships with major global luxury hospitality and villa brands, and the fabulous creative team that we have, launching A Travel Circle felt like the right thing to do.Pritish Shah, A Travel Circle
Why are planned, intimate family holidays becoming so important?
As Indians we are a collective society and being social is a part of our upbringing in general. Multigenerational trips are not a new concept, however in India, we've seen a significant rise in this segment over the last 5-7 years. There are a few factors that have contributed towards this. Firstly, with more and more families scattered throughout the world, it has led to a trend of annual bonding getaways where families come together to catch up. The agenda is to spend quality time with each other. Secondly, the fast-paced lifestyle, pre-Covid, didn't allow people to spend enough time with their loved ones and hence getting away to spend quality time became popular. Lastly, personal milestones, be it an anniversary, birthday or engagement, these are occasions where one would want to celebrate with their loved ones. In the post-Covid scenario as we are more confined within our homes, our desire to be with our circle of close family and friends has only multiplied. When things stabilize, we expect a pent-up demand for people wanting to catch up on lost time and reconnect in beautiful surroundings.
The element of planning further helps the whole experience become hassle-free, so it's not just about a private villa or a hotel but rather how they are going to spend their much valued time together through curated, meaningful experiences which help them bond and create happy memories.Shailja Devi and family, Bulgari Resort Bali
What are the most popular special interest vacations that people are going for – is it resort weddings or bachelorette parties, or other celebrations?
So far, we have seen people heading for multigenerational trips, milestone getaways (birthdays and anniversaries), bachelor and bachelorette parties as common trends. Post-Covid we expect a few new trends emerging. With people picking up on work from home skills, it's also a realization that they can work from anywhere. This will certainly allow people to mix work and pleasure and go for longer getaways in the future – be it a group of friends, family, or even small corporate teams. Wellness is another area where we expect to see people going in smaller private groups for maintaining overall wellbeing and boosting immunity.
Are your clients from India – who is your typical customer for A Travel Circle?
Our ideal consumer base would be anywhere between 8-40 people, predominantly from India, USA, and UK, looking to rent out a private villa or a small boutique hotel for an intimate gathering. Our guests also enjoy all the finer things in life, so quality and service are paramount for them.Four Seasons Nam Hai
What is the benefit to a traveller to book with A Travel Circle rather than book directly with one of your partners, like Four Seasons, Marriott or Shangri-La?
We are preferred partners with major global luxury brands such as Four Seasons, Marriott, Shangri-La, and Rosewood, to name a few. As part of these partnerships, our guests get exclusive benefits like complimentary upgrades, complimentary breakfasts, US$100 USD or F&B credits, better allocations of rooms, and overall a great personalized experience. As one of our guests says, "Pritish, I may be able to get the room at a lower price but will never get the same kind of service." Hence, for us it’s all about detailing and privatizing the experience, and ensuring that it is relevant to that particular guest.
What are the advantages, I would like to add, to book a trip with A Travel Circle? And how do you make it #CovidSafeJourneys?
At ATC, we believe in providing a seamless experience with our approach of 4As – Advice, Advocacy, Access, and Accountability. We have a team of villa experts who curate a list of handpicked accommodation selections which are top of the line. We also have access to private villas internationally which are not available otherwise. For celebrations and special occasions, we have a dedicated team which conceptualizes each holiday based on the brief to create a ‘wow’ experience for our guests. We are also working on tech enhancements where we plan to go online with all our curated products and assets.
This will allow us to create an enhanced guest experience as we believe in marrying technology with human expertise to bring out the best of what we have to offer.
Safety and convenience are paramount for our guests. Regarding #CovidSafeJourneys we realized that we are not the actual provider of the experiences. As travel consultants, our task is to ensure that all the choices we make on behalf of our guests, we've taken into account the protocols that will be required to be followed in the new world. We will align closely with guidelines laid out by IATA, CDC, WHO, and WTTC as some of the important bodies within the tourism, aviation, and healthcare industries.
As a brand we've established efficient internal processes in the past, and we are working on recreating our processes once there is more clarity to ensure that guests' experience remains seamless.Ariara, Philippines
And could you please tell me what are the differences between A Travel Duet and A Travel Quest – do these continue alongside your new venture?
A Travel Duet is our brand that specializes in couples-only getaways with a focus on honeymooners, anniversary, babymoon trips. On the other hand, A Travel Quest specialises in immersive theme-based journeys to offbeat parts of the world for travellers seeking transformations. To give a perspective – we launched it last year with a design tour to Finland, as design is not just what appeals to the eye, but it's a way of life. It was an eye opener for the group who travelled with us. We have experts handling different brands, so these continue to work alongside our newest addition – A Travel Circle.
Which are the resorts in Vietnam and Thailand where you took them – and how were these places conducive to intimate holidays – was an entire villa booked? Were there any fun sports/activities that the group wanted?
For one of our family groups – they were 12 of them – Soneva Kiri in Thailand, an amazing über-luxury secluded beach resort, was a perfect choice for this group with its six-bedroom villa. The best part about the property is that it has massive villas and one can enjoy all the resort experiences like kids club, outdoor activities, gym, spa, and F&B outlets, to name a few. They were there for four nights and every night it was a surprise dining experience in different parts of the resort.
Another group travelled with us to Vietnam to celebrate 75th birthday of their grandfather. They were about 25 of them and we got them four units of four-bedroom villas at Four Seasons Da Nang. For a personalized birthday celebration, we'd arranged a lovely retro-themed surprise dinner in an open restaurant by the river. They also did some really fun activities and one that they specifically enjoyed was the Vespa tour around the town of Hoi An.
What’s the best compliment you have got from a customer?
When your entire business revolves around guest satisfaction it's hard to single out any one as we strive to get a compliment for every trip we execute. The bigger realization is that we are adding value and making a positive impact in our client's life, which is the biggest motivational factor for the team.Soneva Fushi Maldives
Personally, if you were to take your family or best friends, where would you go right now and why? I'm a big fan of Soneva, particularly Soneva Fushi in Maldives. Their villas are one-of-a-kind, ranging from 1 to 9 bedrooms and more importantly, their service is one of the best that I've come across. And to top it all, they are leading from the front in the sustainable travel space, which makes a visit here even more worthwhile.Soori Bali, Indonesia
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It’s an exciting time for brands all over the world. With change comes opportunity. With the global ‘reset’ and uncertainty on many fronts, there is a chance to write a new script. Let’s be those pioneers.
A bit about me:
A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.
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