Morgan Diolot: Adventure-seekers fuel Asian luxury growth

September 23, 2019

We speak to private travel designer Morgan Diolot of Brickell Travel Management about trends fuelling the growth in luxury travel to Asia.

Morgan has been in the travel industry for 16 years, beginning her career at Flight Center in Los Angeles before moving into luxury travel. She relocated to London last year to become Brickell’s UK operations director, offering all kinds of bespoke private travel to destinations worldwide.

Have you seen increased demand to visit Asia in the past few years?

For me, the increase in recent Asian bookings has been huge. I’ve had six different client bookings for Asia this year. Whereas last year it was all about luxury cruises, this year has all been about Asia.

What destinations and experiences in Asia are growing in popularity

Last winter, the biggest demand I saw for Asia was to India. That was a huge destination and where I personally sent the most people. Some clients want to do a whistle-stop tour because they have limited time, so they want to cover parts of Rajasthan, then visit Varanasi, Agra for the Taj Mahal and end their trip in Mumbai.

Rajasthan, India

I have clients who want to stay in opulent luxury, such as in palaces in Rajasthan, but there’s a slightly younger crowd who want to be a bit more adventurous and blend luxury and hands-on cultural experiences in one trip. They may want to have an authentic Indian adventure, perhaps experiencing an ashram for a night or two, then finish their trip in a super high-end hotel in one of the big cities, so they can be pampered too.

People increasingly want to visit very remote parts of India, which aren’t luxury or even tourist destinations, because they want to see the real India that not everyone gets to see. These are often places with no luxury accommodation, but where travellers get to meet isolated tribal communities and unique cultures that you won’t find on the tourist trail.

Buddhist monks in a remote temple

A person coming to me is probably someone who’s wanted to go to a particular destination for a long time but doesn’t know enough about it, so they seek out professional knowledge in order to feel more secure, and also to have someone they can call to fix issues if anything goes wrong. It’s all about trust, especially when it’s a destination they don’t know about

Our clients come back to us because we’re part of several global networks, such as Virtuoso, Traveller Made and American Express Travel, so we can back up our own knowledge with the expert local knowledge of travel advisors and guides on the ground who know all about destinations in their countries. Our knowledge is really our first selling point.

What places or experiences do you recommend to first-time Asia visitors?

It depends on the age of the people and how active they are, and whether they’re looking for something cultural or something more ‘touristy’.

I would suggest Thailand, the Philippines or Bali, but for different reasons. For a beachgoer who wants turquoise seas, clear blue skies and pristine beaches, I would recommend the Philippines. It’s the ideal place for unspoiled beauty, but it depends what you want. At more ‘touristy’ places you’ll find a higher standard of luxury than at locations off the beaten path.

In India you can have culture and luxury at the same time, so it can be a perfect choice for the right traveller. It’s all about qualifying what someone is looking for, whether they have a budget or whether cost is even an issue, or if they want to experience something specific while there, like photography or cuisine. There are so many reasons why to send someone to one location and not to another.

Are there any ‘hidden gems’ you recommend to clients looking for something new or different?

I’d recommend a couple of great destinations in the Philippines, again once I’ve qualified what my client wants.

Scuba diving in the Philippines

If someone is looking for pristine, crystal-clear water for scuba diving or snorkelling, for example, I’d recommend Coron in the Philippines. There are some great liveaboard boating experiences which are tailor-made for keen divers. There are a host of intact World War Two shipwrecks in the shallow waters around Coron, many of them intact with their original equipment onboard, nestling amongst corals and a whole ecosystem of tropical fish life. The boats hop from one unspoiled island to another, all with beautiful rock formations and stunning, emerald-green water.

El Nido, Philippines

El Nido is another great choice in the Philippines. It’s comprised of about 46 different islands. El Nido village itself is quaint and there are only four resorts across the 46 islands, which gives you a lot of space and pristine nature to explore. Most of the resorts are all-inclusive, and what I love is the way they blend in with nature. They haven’t brought in too much concrete, they’ve built over-water bungalows, they have great food and there are great water activities. They can take you from island to island or you can kayak from one island to another. The geology is incredible, with spectacular, ancient rock formations and stunning natural pools that feel like something out of Jurassic Park.

These destinations aren’t the easiest places to get to, but they have some pretty high standards of luxury and it’s absolutely worth the journey for such a unique experience.

What themes or trends have emerged recently in Asian travel?

There’s a more adventurous, younger breed of luxury traveller who want to visit more remote locations, which may not have any luxury accommodation or be on any tourist itinerary. They’re looking for a real, hands-on cultural experience in places that not everyone gets to see, where they get to meet communities and encounter cultures that you won’t find on the tourist trail.

Another theme I’ve noticed is how digital media affects our travel decisions, because we’re all so instantly connected to each other. Destinations increasingly become popular after celebrities share their latest holiday experience on social media, or after they’ve been portrayed on reality TV shows.

‘Giving back’ is definitely a theme in Asian travel, and it’s something I can relate to personally too. When I last went to the Philippines there had just been a massive earthquake and hurricane, so I took some time out to raise money for All Hands and Hearts. They guys fly in volunteers from all over the world and help the local people to rebuild after a catastrophe. When I visited Cebu, I was able to donate the money I had raised directly to the volunteers and then spend time with them clearing out debris from storm damage and doing our best to keep the houses standing.

Any time I go to a destination, I ask the hotel or lodge where I stay if there’s a local organisation that’s helping either kids or orphanages. Last time I went to Fiji, I discovered that local women were having a huge problem finding bras. So I arrived with a huge suitcase full of bras for them. I’m going to Morocco in two weeks so I’m gathering pens and papers to take to an orphanage.

What is something that might surprise us about luxury travel in Asia?

People used to always prefer recognisable brands in luxury travel because they felt safer or more at home in big hotels with 300 rooms, but now the personalised experience is more important to luxury travellers than the level of comfort. That may include something around wellness, something boutique, the authentic welcome or the personal attention. Luxury these days is leaving a place and wanting to go back immediately.

With our whole society now using social media and nobody talking to anyone face-to-face anymore, people want to go back to the roots of travel. That means they want to have a human experience with a genuine, personal connection. They want a beautiful room, but they also want to be given a personal experience by the owner of the hotel, or a chat with the gardener who’s been there for 30 years and has great stories to tell. This is the essence of luxury and the experience people are after.

What is the best VIP experience in Asia?

This isn’t specific to just Asia, but for me the best VIP experience anywhere is a helicopter transfer from the airport. To be able to arrive at your destination and be taken straight through passport control, without queuing, to your personal helicopter - that’s the best VIP experience anywhere.

What is the height of luxury in Asia?

Maharajah's palace, India

The height of luxury is exclusivity, so it would have to be something completely personalised and not accessible by everyone. If money is no object, all kinds of things can be arranged. It could be a romantic, private dinner in the Taj Mahal, when it is closed to the public. I know that staying with an Indian Maharajah in one of their palaces is a private experience that can be arranged. You can rent a palace for yourself complete with domestic staff and have the experience of living like a prince, including having dinner with the Maharajah and their family as their guest. That would be a true luxury experience.

What does luxury mean to you these days?

I think it means being able to have an experience that nobody else can have. It’s about having an exclusive experience, but it’s also about the personal connection. Luxury these days isn’t necessarily about a five-star hotel with people catering to your every need. People want a more personal and personable experience which sits somewhere between luxury and boutique. They want to feel at home wherever they go and feel that they are really experiencing the authentic culture of the destination.

book your place
Be at TFest
Join the global gathering of luxury travel professionals.