Location: New York, USA
In one line, what makes you a PUREist?
I think PUREists are adventurers at heart, travellers who see the world’s offerings as a rare gift that we share. PUREists think creatively and often independently, yet they respond selflessly to an unusual degree and act cooperatively. They are an inspiring, positive and joyous community.
Tell us your story – how did you get where you are today?
The pieces of the journey puzzle are these.
I travelled in Europe from the time I was little as my European father had an international property company. This is probably where my love of visiting hotels, houses, islands and boats comes from! At 20 I drove eight months across the African continent with $800 and nine fellow travellers I had met in London. I lived in the Serengeti National Park for many months working on a film shoot of cheetah for American television until, on the death of my Father, I returned to the US. At 21, I enrolled in Columbia University in their anthropology program. After my first year, I returned to Kenya’s Maasai Mara for 18 months, assisting my filmmaker friend, learning the ways of the Maasai and providing medicine to the nearby communities. When I returned to the States I finished up my undergraduate and graduate studies in Social Anthropology and Tourism and, in 1980, married Sven Lindblad. We raised two boys, while we launched the precursor to Lindblad Expeditions, and I produced and edited a handful of travel books and created a travel reading list enterprise, Travel Logs. In 1997, after our divorce, I launched Lisa Lindblad Travel Design. To my knowledge it was one of the first – if not the first – time that “design” had been used in tandem with travel.
Events may be the stepping-stones, but it is people and their philosophies that are the guiding light of a journey. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two individuals who shaped my views of and my trajectory in the travel business.
My Father travelled constantly and with great joy. I realize now that I not only inherited his love of moving but also his complete ease at being on the road. I am often asked what my favourite places are to travel to; I have them, no doubt, but my favourite thing, of all, is just to go.
My Father also taught me an important lesson regarding luxury. To him, quality and character were luxury, not quantity and commonality. He helped me to see that honesty in design is the ultimate goal, that simplicity of style is far more powerful than over decoration. And just as he felt that a tent could be as luxurious and beautiful as a palace, he also taught me that a tea shared with a Maasai woman under a shade tree was as exceptional as one shared with a queen. The lesson was one of specificity.
The other individual who marked my philosophy about travel was my father-in-law, the great explorer, Lars-Eric Lindblad. Lars held a similar definition of luxury to my Father’s, albeit targeted to the travel industry. To him, luxury resided in the knowledge contributed to a trip by the various travellers – be they guides or fellow guests – rather than in the décor and the amenities of the conveyances.
But Lars stood for something else that was ultimately far more critical. In the terrible debacle that forced Lindblad Travel to close – the dispute over sending travellers to Vietnam – Lars took a position (also held by President Kennedy) that was morally powerful and that coincided with a view on tourism that I had developed as an anthropologist at Columbia: International travel has the capacity to contribute to international world peace. It is a guiding principle of what I do and, if world peace may be a reach, the capacity that travel has to change people’s lives is certainly not. I believe that travel should be a requirement and not a privilege.
Can you share with us your single most life-enriching experience?
Travelling across the face of Africa and living with the Maasai were my most enriching experiences. Each taught me, in different ways, what my capacities were, what I was capable of doing. I believe that travel, in putting you in unfamiliar and often challenging situations, is the best training ground for these lessons.
What does the term ‘experiential travel’ mean to you?
I understand what experiential travel means as a concept, but what I have never understood is why people think this is so new? Lars Lindblad, and others, were offering participatory, interesting, challenging travel half a century ago. Indeed, even the Victorians were engaged in “experiential travel.” Frankly, I don’t understand how travel can not be an “experience”. Travel, etymologically, comes from the word “travail” “work”. Travel is work, is meant to be challenging. Even though the physical aspects of travel are no longer as difficult as they may once have been, the emotional and psychological dimensions of travel are sometimes hard. To remove yourself from your comfort zone, to open yourself to newness, to struggle to be flexible, open hearted and open minded, is not easy. But this is the REAL “experience” of travel. The activities that people now call the “experiences” are just these – activities, happenings, meetings, sightings, tastings, viewings… They should be talked about in those terms.
“I believe that travel should be a requirement and not a privilege.”
Describe your ideal client: how do they approach travel?
My ideal traveller is one who is not afraid, who has a sense of humour, who is curious. I love designing sabbatical trips because those clients usually exhibit these qualities. They are looking for something that they believe only travel can provide, and so they have already attributed to travel the power I believe it can have – and that is the capacity to change your life.
What made you decide to join PURE Life Experiences and how has doing so benefitted your business?
It has been wonderful being part of PURE. Of course it is interesting to meet new suppliers, and it is useful for business by widening the landscape of what I have to offer. It also is a wonderful venue in which to communicate with colleagues. But what I really love about PURE is listening to, and seeing, the creativity and the passion that so many young members show.
What role do you think PURE has to play in the high-end experiential travel industry?
PURE allows for a cross-fertilization of information and it stimulates creativity. I have known various suppliers who have joined forces to market their products after seeing their complementarities. This is a wonderful gift to suppliers who, head down in their own world, are unaware of like-minded individuals in the field. It is that… The field PURE offers for people to communicated.
What other brands and companies in high-end experiential travel do you admire the most?
Zita Cobb, who has created and launched Fogo Island Inn and the Foundation, is an inspiring individual and has created a remarkable product, I think. She articulates the vision of Fogo Island very well and has created something specific rather than generic, a product that works on many different levels. Her commitment to relevant design and style, to collaborative endeavor, and to the humanity of work is stunning to me.
If there were one thing you could change about the travel industry, what would it be?
I would love to see if the field on which travel agents, hotels, tour operators, and DMCs play could be more level when it comes to pricing. I am not that knowledgeable about the industry mechanics, but I find it incredibly frustrating that I cannot be commissioned at or near the rate of tour operators even though I bring to hotels their most desirable client other than one coming through a direct booking. Hotels potentially make more money out of me – even with small volume – than they do with higher volume operators because my hugely wealthy clients book top accommodations, and then spend lavishly on property for spa, activities, meals, etc. And, for this, hotels are only giving me 8-10%. I also find it incredibly frustrating that I am unable to be commissioned on activities that I book for my clients at certain hotels. These activities are often more expensive than the hotel suites I put them in. Helicopters, boats, guides – none of these in a number of hotels I use are offering us commission. I am told that I must book through a tour operator or DMC to get this commission but this route renders me just a pass through for my client, something that is not acceptable to me.
Finally, who is your experiential hero?
I have to think about this… I am not sure that it is anyone specifically or anyone you would know. I am more inclined to think of my ideal traveller a someone who knows how to mix the high and low, who has humor and courage and curiosity, who empathizes with the world she/he travels through.
“My ideal traveller is one who is not afraid, who has a sense of humour, who is curious.”