Custom travel agents put the personal in VIP


When planning a vacation most consumers simply choose a destination and book accommodations online, maybe taking it to the next level with a luxury travel agent’s help.

Some, however, take their holiday to the ultimate level and enlist an expert to create a custom and exclusive experience just for them. 

“The great thing about traveling is that you can always make it an incredibly personal experience,” said Mike Salvadore, owner and co-president of the Washington-based 58 Stars Travel. “You don’t have to follow the common playbook or book the standard packages that everyone has access to.”

Making the magic

A personalized vacation experience means endless options. Consumers can choose to do just about anything they can, or cannot, think of in terms of bespoke options.

“We can adapt to every situation and every request,” said Catalin Buzatu, who travels between Spain and Miami, Florida as founder/CEO of Excellence VIP Services. “Our team can make it happen.”

Sometimes a client wants to tick off a bucket list item such as getting to the top of Mount Everest, while others let the travel experts spin the globe for them and plan a chef’s tour of Italy.

A private dinner on a private island – anything can be arranged for a custom vacation. Image credit: Getty Images

“We start from the beginning,” Mr. Buzatu said, and “create something unbelievable.”

Planning such a tailored trip starts with finding out what the clients want to do and why they want to do it. The experience they are looking for may be a longtime fantasy, something for their family or just a taste of excitement. 

“We ask a lot of questions, provide ideas and then ultimately work with our partners and contacts throughout the world to create the perfect vacation,” Mr. Salvadore said.

“We want them to experience the destination the way they want to experience it, but with the expertise of someone who understands how to make their decisions come to life,” he said. 

“We’re always looking for opportunities to take the nuggets of information that a client provides us and figuring out how and where to complete the task.”

Custom trips are created within any budget, of course, but according to Mr. Buzatu, an extremely unique idea could cost up to a few million dollars and take a year of planning.

But most do not have access to the kinds of connections and resources to make it happen themselves and with an unlimited budget “we can almost make the impossible possible,” Mr. Buzatu said.

Choose an adventure

All of that work pays off, leading to once-in-a-lifetime trips, wishes fulfilled and memories guaranteed. 

“We like to say that there isn’t an experience that can’t be created,” Mr. Salvadore said. “Well, there are some limits, but we really try to figure out how to turn a simple idea or dream into something magical.”

These vacations are not just about private jets and yachts, although often include those details. Travelers can live out castaway dreams on a private island or feel like royalty with a castle all to themselves.

Travelers on custom vacations can sleep just about anywhere. Image credit: Getty Images

A famous building could be shut down for a private tour with a renowned architect, or maybe a client requests a meeting with her idol. 

A travel agency such as 58 Stars or Excellence VIP has the ability to cater to nearly every travel whim, gaining clients access to usually unreachable people, places and events. 

Mr. Salvadore has booked special dinners for clients with their favorite chefs inside a closed-down museum or at a stadium after a big game. 

Guests can even shut down an opera house for a private showing or have a pop star sing for them during their dinner with a Michelin-starred chef, Mr. Buzatu said. 

If a client wants to walk the red carpet with the movie stars at the Cannes Film Festival, they can make it happen.

“They don’t have anything to do with the movie industry, but they want to go have the experience,” Mr. Buzatu said.

Excellence VIP can organize a true movie-star experience, having clients dropped off on the red carpet, sitting next to celebrities during the event, enjoying meet-and-greets with actors and getting access to the after parties. 

Both companies often create experiences for their VIP clients that are so exclusive they cannot talk about them, the memory for the client alone. 

“We create something very unique, the client will only experience it once, and we never do it for another client,” Mr. Buzatu said. “I do this with a lot of passion and I never get tired of it.”

Those who choose such a personal experience get to explore more of the world and get to do things they never thought possible, he said. 

“While a trip to Cancun is nice, when you work with a specialist to create a custom-crafted travel experience, it’s something that you will be talking about for the rest of your life,” Mr. Salvadore said.