Every year, the world’s top luxury travel agents and advisors gather for a week in Las Vegas for networking, education and meetings with hotel companies, cruise lines and the best tour operators. It’s put on by Virtuoso, the best-known consortium of luxury travel agents, and these folks are such big hitters that the CEOs, Presidents and top executives of global brands like Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Regent Seven Seas Cruises come to Nevada to chat with them. Big new initiatives and other newsworthy happenings in the travel world are announced, and press come from all over the world to see what the latest and great happenings are. In the world of luxury travel, Virtuoso Travel Week is a big deal.
I’ve written here before about why you should still be using a travel agent even in (especially in!) the digital age if you care about the quality of your business and leisure travel. I’ve written about what Virtuoso can do for you, such as the unique hotel search engine they debuted last year that gets you the same rates at many of the world’s best hotels as other sites, but with valuable extras and freebies that can be worth hundreds of dollars. And last year I wrote about how an enterprising travel advisor in Phoenix, Chad Clark, has introduced a new system for “certifying” all sorts of unique travel experiences, ranging for simple add-ons like mixology classes or special meals to entire vacations. One of the hottest trends in travel over recent years has been “experiential,” the desire among vacationers to actually do things instead of laying on the beach with a book, and Clark tapped into this early when he began to build his certified program. Then last year he expanded the concept by opening up an industry nomination process for the first annual Chad Clark Certified 25. The program was launched at the Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas last summer, describing itself as “the first-of-its-kind travel initiative that annually lists the top 25 travel experiences and products throughout the world.”
I’ve personally known Clark, the owner of Phoenix-based Chad Clark Travel Ventures, for years. I turn to him for advice on various travel topics for my own work, and he helped me put together a great learn to surf trip for a magazine assignment a few years ago. While he covers all aspects of luxury travel, his focus is on his own experiential passions, which include food, golf, adventure/active travel, and Bucket List sporting events.
One interesting thing about the list is that it changes in its entirety every year, and the second annual slate of experiences was just announced today to a standing room only industry audience in Bellagio. Another unique wrinkle is that it is focused on actual experiences, not best hotels or destinations, for which there are already plenty of lists (though some of the experiences are unique to particular hotels). But as Clark told me, his favorite thing about the process is that “We are focusing on top travel experiences that are totally unique, and the average traveler just doesn’t even know that these jaw dropping experiences are available!” At the very least, the list makes for idea inspiring travel planning.
As soon as I looked at the 2018-19 list I was sold, because the first winner I saw was the “Explore Remote Botswana by Foot and Canoe” package from Great Plains Conservation. Great Plains is a non-profit founded by a couple who are among the leading big cat conservationists on earth, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, acclaimed Emmy and Peabody award winning filmmakers, photographers and National Geographic Explorers in Residence. I have written about their non-profit, which operates three luxury safari lodges on an immense private reserve in Botswana, a few times – most recently just days ago for World Lion Day. Great Plains’ Zarafa lodge is easily one of the elite best-in-class luxury safari lodges on earth, so Clark’s selection process seems to be spot on.
Some other winners include:
Paraglide into your Hotel Arrival Experience at Six Senses Zighy Bay, Oman: Yep, that definitely qualifies as a unique travel experience.
Jet Boat Training Session & Pop-Up Picnic, New Zealand: Lots of visitors to New Zealand have jet boating trip on their to-do list, but what about piloting the boat yourself? After you receive your pilot’s license, celebrate with a “pop up” barbecue in the wild.
Ultimate Himalayan Village-to-Village Walk, India: If cultural immersion is your thing, what about a private expertly guided village-to-village walk while staying in three renovated houses in remote villages across India’s Himalayas after days are spent trekking in a remote and beautiful region?
The entire list is on Clark’s Certified 25 website and will be updated annually.