Why Savile Row Travel is the destination for your next vacation
As Founder of Savile Row Travel, there’s not much that Giles Hoff doesn’t know about curating the perfect luxury trip – from picking the ideal destination, to creating bespoke private tours, to combining hands-on service with the latest technology, to offering an on-call service to clients 24 hours a day. Here, he explains the best way to book a break, the emergence of current travel trends, and the most luxurious request he’s ever had from a client….
What can you offer a client that they can’t get from just booking a holiday on the internet?
Well, there are two angles here. Firstly, we are competing with OTAs (Online Travel Agencies), who typically offer beach holidays, and secondly, when people package their own holiday, going direct to the airline and hotel. Either way, what we offer is a personal service with a direct line through to your consultant and immediate assistance if ever there is a problem. Our direct contact with hotels allows us to get our clients really looked after, often resulting in a good room upgrade or other benefits. We have a degree of objectivity, too – there are 5* hotels and there are 5* hotels, and we fit the right product to the client’s tastes and previously enjoyed experiences.
Separately, our wholesale rates on airlines, hotels and ground services (such as English speaking drivers and guides, transport, and entrance fees) are much lower than what you’d find online. Our wholesale hotel rates are typically 30% lower than what a hotel will offer directly. With airlines, and in Business and First Class particularly, we can be about £2,000 less. We can also arrange unique experiences, which could be getting the best balcony at Palio Di Siena, back stage passes at the Emmys, or getting to go to the Oscars with on-camera seating with the stars.
Would it not be more cost effective for me to book my own journeys on the internet?
Okay, so now we get to the crux, the elephant in the room – price versus value for money. Basically, no. We get wholesale rates, whereas if you go to the hotels directly, they might entice you with an early booking discount or some other carrot but we will be getting those anyway, plus our wholesale rate. If the average mark-up is 20%, you should still be getting a 5-10% saving using us.
If you are booking somewhere you haven’t been before, we will be able to give you impartial advice on which hotel to stay at, depending on your criteria, saving you hours of research when you don’t actually really know what you are looking for. Classic mistakes people make are choosing a hotel because of the brand name, but ultimately they get a room with a courtyard view, and for half the price they could have had a sea view in the locally branded 5* next door. So no, it’s not cost effective, especially for HNWIs, who are time poor. If you do it yourself on the internet, you will waste a lot of time and you won’t get it any cheaper.
You say that when you started Savile Row Travel, you had a clear vision to create an out-of-this-world customer experience, unmatched by any other tour operator – can you explain what this means?
In the first year we operated, a client insisted on travelling Thai Airways to Bangkok. He would not accept any other airline. At the time, in 2007, Thai Economy did not have seat back TVs, but he said he would not sit for 11 hours without entertainment. The hotel he was booking cost about £15,000, so it was not a small booking. Eventually, I bought him a selection of DVDs and a portable DVD player for £40 (with a 15 hour battery life!). He was very chuffed and it was a case of problem solved.
In 2012, we introduced our concept of “first night back, no need to cook,” by giving our clients vouchers for take-out places in our local area of Henley – even though it is just a small gesture, the CEO of the UK’s largest advertising agency told us the idea was “just genius.”
Are people’s expectations higher than they used to be?
I think some people are getting used to the fact that the world has changed and the travel industry has been robbed of millions of employees worldwide, who went to work in other industries because of the pandemic and never looked back. However, at the top end, the expectation is still there for the same level of service as before and generally the top brand hotels are providing that, and in Business and First Class on the airlines. But lower than 5* and those two cabins, and you’ll find some standards of service are just appalling. Some people are expecting more because prices have risen, but that is subjective. Costs have risen, so prices have risen for the consumer. The product and service didn’t get better.
Wellness is now very much a part of a luxury travel experience, but how is that evolving?
There is a distinct difference between spa and wellness now. Every decent hotel has a spa, but few offer a proper wellness package. So hotels with spas are having to evolve and provide a more in-depth offering. Wellness retreats are upping their game even more and offering evermore quirky treatments, some of which work and some are a bit gimmicky. At Savile Row Travel, we are trying to use resorts that offer both a good wellness package and a spa, plus golf.
What was the most luxurious travel request you have had to arrange for one of your clients?
Probably a trip to Singita followed by Miavana, followed by the new Jumeirah in Capri. Quite a combination. The total was £130,000. We also once organised a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro for a single client who wanted to climb it, but in some kind of comfort so a group of porters followed her up and down for eight days, setting up a luxury camp every night and cooking top notch food. It wasn’t expensive for what it was, but it was a real one-off.
How can we make our travel more sustainable?
I think at the moment, it’s still very difficult. The only true green holidays are cycling and sailing, and from the UK you’ve got to get there to experience it, if you want decent weather and warm waters.
The industry is investing a lot of money on solving the problem of jet fuel pollution but it will take time. In the meantime, we have to accept that this is a consequence of travel, but focus on the good that travel does for the countries we visit. The good outweighs the bad 100% and I’ll tell you why. During the pandemic, people were quick to point out that all these planes not being in the sky was very good for the environment. Environmentalists went further by saying this had to be the dawn of a new era, where jet travel was frowned upon, and taxed higher. But you cannot simply stop international travel overnight. There are 330 million people directly employed in travel worldwide, and a further 420 million are employed in the supply chain that travel entities buy from. To suddenly curb travel drastically would have a catastrophic effect, as it did in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
That said, the hotel side of things is improving every month, especially at the top end. A lot of Maldivian resorts are now almost carbon neutral. The new Red Sea Project in Saudi Arabia will actually reverse the carbon footprint – so the ecology of the area will actually be better than when there was no resort there. The downside for the consumer is that this all costs a lot of money and somewhere along the line, the customer will pay for that, but people mind less when they know they are not damaging the environment.
Has social media had a lot to do with the way people book their travel or even changed the way we see travel?
Not really. It’s noise. Influencers are starting to lose their influence because people are realising that a) most of them are not travel experts and b) because the hotels also recognise that and are reluctant to hand these guys free holidays. Why? Because they are not seeing a tangible return on investment.
What are the surprises about the travel industry that you have encountered since you began Savile Row Travel?
Well, the first lesson I learned was that you need a very big marketing budget when you start out. We blew ours in the first three months, mainly on paper advertising (in decent papers), but it did not work. We should have realised that a new brand is going to get very little traction in national press. Conversely, I was surprised at the reception we got from the supply side, especially in Asia. They could not do enough to help and we were nobody in 2006. We spent three months travelling around, checking out places (with a one-year-old in tow!) and rarely paid for anything, except flights. It’s certainly different nowadays.
What I have always struggled with is a lack of pragmatism, even with key stakeholders, on the supply side. It’s generally been up to us to think of solutions for situations, whether logistical or in a resort. Luckily, I am very pragmatic!
If you could give a luxury traveller only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Push the boat out, because you never know what is around the corner….
Luxury means different things to different people, but what are your top luxuries when you travel?
A good question. What is luxury? Put simply, these days it has a different perception than it did 20 years ago, when luxury meant 6* and a bit of bling.
Luxury to me personally is being able to step out of my room door directly onto a white sand beach that is deserted. I like to swim first thing in the sea, and having to walk for ages to get to the seafront is a no-no for me. Food is also very important. It doesn’t need to be expensive and cordon bleu, but authentic and decent with a lot of seafood and fish on offer. Travelling business class really is a luxury these days and something I reserve for special occasions, or if the value is just too good to miss compared with premium or economy.
Finally, time; the commodity that we all have less of than generations before. But being able to slow that clock down and properly unwind is the ultimate luxury for me.
Savile Row Travel is offering an exclusive membership for readers of The Luxury Channel:
- Usually £1,500 a year, THE MEMBERSHIP FEE WILL BE WAIVED FOR THE FIRST YEAR FOR SUBSCRIBERS OF THE LUXURY CHANNEL
Benefits related specifically to your travel:- *
- Advance access to special deals, 48 hours before anyone else
- Complimentary room upgrades
- Full concierge service during your holiday for any foreign travel
- One key experience in resort (e.g. a spa treatment)
- “First night back, no need to cook” takeaway on every trip
- Private premium car airport transfers from and to your home, to any airport in the UK (typical cars include BMW 7 series or Mercedes S Class, or V Class AMG for larger parties)
- Surprise gift or enhancements for you and your family
- A dedicated team member to handle all your corporate and/or personal travel
- On-boarding meeting to understand your travel preferences and introduce the Savile Row Travel app
- Home meetings to discuss your plans, if more convenient than by phone or at the Savile Row Travel offices
- Full concierge service during your holiday for any foreign travel
- Advance invitation to quarterly member hosted events
- First access to any event where Savile Row Travel has an exclusive spot, such as Pro-Am golf days, F1, or film premieres
- First access to organised trips and events abroad
- Access to exclusives only found on the Savile Row Travel app
- A welcome gift on joining
- Invitation to at least one event hosted by Savile Row Travel each year, such as Henley Royal Regatta
*Qualification criteria for the above additional holiday benefits:- a 7-night holiday for 2 people or more, abroad, in a 4/5-star hotel including flights.
To take advantage of this exclusive offer, contact Savile Row Travel, quoting “The Luxury Channel.”
For further information, please visit: www.savilerowtravel.com.