Q&A with EnVogue Travel founder Emma Higgins

Female entrepreneur Emma Higgins founded tour operator EnVogue Travel last April in a bid to “bridge the gap” between luxury and adventure. Less than a year since launching, her high-net-worth client base has traversed the globe on itineraries ranging from road trips across Turkey to safaris in South Africa. Higgins sits down with Aspire to discuss her plans for 2023, which include growing the team and connecting with luxury travel agents.  


Q. Can you tell us a bit about your background in travel and where the inspiration for EnVogue Travel came from?

A. I've always travelled from a young age so it started from that being my passion and from loving adventure, loving pushing the boundaries and challenging myself, and trying to incorporate different activities into my travels. I worked for several years for Pelorus where I was working with a lot of high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth clients and building up some lovely relationships. That's one thing I love is that you really get to know the clients… once you've booked one of their trips, you learn so much about them. I was just really loving the relationships I'd built and felt that I wanted to do it myself. I felt that as much as that brand was great, I wanted to have my own direction, my own ideas and so EnVogue Travel came about. We have the background to the EnVogue Travel brand with [sister company and creative agency] EnVogue Media, which has been established for about five years. They work with loads of luxury brands so it was a great way of tying in and accessing that high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth circle and network that EnVogue Media had built in London, Switzerland and around Europe. They are two separate companies - one is a creative agency and one is travel but they're able to bounce off each other with partnerships and come up with amazing ideas.

 

Q. How did the partnership with EnVogue Media come about?  

A. EnVogue Media was founded by my twin brother James so we work very closely together. James gets involved a bit with partnerships on the EnVogue Travel side and then I also get involved in introducing him to potential hotels that can become clients so it's quite reciprocal. We introduce each other to people in our network, but also use both brains to come up with new ideas. I'm very travel focused and he's very creative media focused so we're definitely in the right skill set, but it's always good for him to be able to say, ‘what do you think about this pitch?’ or for me to say, ‘I think I'm going to send them to this destination, what do you think?’

 

Q. You say you want to bridge the gap between adventure and luxury. Why is that a key focus for you and how are you planning on doing that?

A. The thing that stands out to me is often when clients want to do adventure, they want to get off the beaten track and it can be really difficult to guarantee luxury. An example would be this trip I did to Turkey in August. The high-net-worth client wanted comfort and luxury everywhere they went but they also didn't want to be surrounded by tourists; they wanted a fast-paced adventure itinerary. So I flew out there in June before they travelled, hired a car and did the road trip route they were going to be doing. One of the places they were camping were these thatched huts in the mountains. It was the most amazing location - you have to off-road to get there - but when I arrived, it was really quite basic. We cleaned it up, brought in new mattresses and bedding, and spruced it up so that when they came, it was very clean and comfortable. It was by no means luxury but the luxury experience really came from the adventure side of it. So the bridging the gap is just ensuring clients are confident that wherever they go, they're going to be safe, comfortable and in a form of luxury. A lot of high-net-worths spend so much time living in luxury - their everyday life is luxury - so when they go away, it's actually about having more of an adventure and pushing themselves a bit more than they usually would.

 

Q. What do you think sets you apart from other tour operators in the sector? 

A. The service and the personalised side of the company. Guaranteeing that level of service and being on hand for the clients 24/7, making sure they don't feel restricted to contact you within office hours, that they know when they're away, if they want to call or WhatsApp you, you're going to be there. It's about taking away any stress and pressure so they don't have anything to worry about. It's that exceptional, elite service and attention to detail that sets us apart. And on top of that, the brand is driven by elegance and sophistication. There's a lot of [adventure] brands out there that are quite ex-Army, ex-military which is great but I really wanted to set us apart with having a more chic image.

 

Q. How has business been since launching?

A. I officially launched in April/May and it’s been brilliant since launching. For me, luxury is different for everyone; the word luxury can mean such different things. For some people it means a five-star Four Seasons hotel, for some people it means camping in the mountains in Turkey in the middle of nowhere in a tent that will be considered quite basic, but the luxury for them comes off being with nature and connecting with a really remote ecosystem. So whilst we're obviously focused on luxury, it's wide reaching, and I'm very keen to get to know the clients and understand what luxury means to them. 

 

Q. Can you give us some examples of the trips you’ve sent clients on so far? 

A. We’ve organised some really interesting trips. It's been a real mixture. The top standout one was this road trip in Turkey and Georgia for 16 clients. They all knew each other but they were living in different countries. We started in Istanbul and we drove across the entire country of Turkey to Georgia in two weeks. We shipped their cars (Mercedes G Wagons, Dodge Rams) from Italy to Istanbul. We moved every night. It was really amazing because we went in the Black Sea region of Turkey and the mountains of Georgia which are less known than the Mediterranean. We really connected with the culture and they didn't see any other tourists. The group was made up of couples, families and friends [with ages] ranging from 11 to 45. 

 

Q. How have you discovered new clients?

A. That group came from someone who me and my brother had got to know really well. She lives in Switzerland and has a family office. We told her about EnVogue Travel and two days later she came back and said, ‘My friend wants to go to Turkey.’ Since then, some trips have been from EnVogue Media connections, some have been from partnerships we've done. For example, we did a partnership with an NFT project, Private Jet Pyjama Party, who are based in Switzerland and have a lot of clients who love travelling. It's really a private member's club community so we've done a few trips for them ranging from a week-long road trip in Italy to a safari in South Africa. We’ve also worked with some lifestyle concierge services, family offices and agencies so it's a real mix, which I love.

 

Q. So it’s mainly word of mouth rather than actively marketing the brand?

A. Word of mouth and the official launch event we held in November, which was really great at generating new enquiries and something we’re keen to keep up because it’s a great way of getting to know people. The event was held at Alex Dilling at Hotel Café Royal for 36 people. We had aviation companies there, family offices, people who were in private equity and venture capital. We hired the room and Alex put on an amazing three-course lunch. We did a short presentation and showed a video that we had put together [showcasing previous trips]. We’ve had quite a few trips that we've sent an EnVogue Media photographer on so we were able to show everyone what we’ve been doing. We've had a lot of good feedback. 

 

Q. Where is the company currently based?

A. We currently have a shared space in Mayfair. Most of the time, I go in three times a week. It’s got a restaurant which we use for meetings but meetings tend to be a bit more 'wining and dining' so last night I was at The Dorchester with a client and tonight I’m going to The Connaught with another so we’re quite flexible. 

 

Q. Can you talk us through what the current team set-up looks like?

A. At the moment, we are very small. On the travel side of things, it is just me. Hopefully next year we can start to bring someone in as demand builds. We then have someone on the content side of things, which is great. It’s lovely for me to have that side of things covered because marketing and content is so different to the operational side I'm doing. James does a lot of the partnerships. We've also got someone on finance and legal. 

 

Q. What are your plans to work with luxury travel agents?

A. I've spoken to a few agents and lifestyle concierge companies. It’s definitely something that we're looking at and are very open to. I've done white labelled projects in the past so it's something I feel very comfortable with. I think [agent partnerships] will be something we’ll look to add in 2023. I take each relationship from scratch and build it and see what works for both sides of the agreement. In terms of going out and finding agents, [we’ll invite them to events], which gives them an opportunity to see and hear more about what we do so they're comfortable working with us. And then it’s about getting to know them from there, sitting down together, talking about their clientele, talking about the types of trips we do and seeing how we can add as much value as possible.

 

Q. Finally, what are your aims and goals for 2023? 

A. It's been a great start with lots of exciting ideas and projects. My main goals this year are definitely to expand the team. In terms of trips, I’ve got some milestone and goal trips coming up, so I’m doing a 30th birthday celebration trip for 80 to 100 people travelling to Morocco. That's a huge project to be working on and something that is going to be a big goal to tick. I love working on events in travel so it's always been part of the goal. And then I also want to build our client portfolio and build relationships. I'm really looking forward to getting the brand out there more and getting in front of clients. 

 

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