THE POWERS THAT DIVE
REFLECTIONS FROM PURE’S CEO AND FOUNDER, SERGE DIVE
Serge Dive founder and CEO of Beyond Luxury Media | PURE Life Experiences | LE Miami | We Are Africa
Since founding PURE Life Experiences with Sarah Ball in 2008, there hasn’t been much stopping for Serge Dive. At a time when the high-end travel market had become overwhelmed with an endless supply of over-commoditized, ‘cookie cutter’ offerings, Serge and Sarah maintained a firm belief that the travel industry has the ability to enrich lives, transform people and ultimately change the world for the better. The launch of PURE represented a new kind of travel movement; for an emerging industry that as yet had no dedicated marketplace, PURE became the home and the voice of high-end experiential travel.
Today, PURE Life Experiences is mere weeks away from celebrating its 5th Edition in Marrakech and the surge of enthusiasm shows no signs of waning. But with three show communities on his plate – PURE Life Experiences, LE Miami and most recently We Are Africa – how does the man behind multiple movements keep it up? We caught up for a chat about PURE’s past, present and future…
Why did you launch PURE?
Eight years ago I had a life-transforming holiday with my family in Africa. The results were long lasting and profound, and I truly believe that holiday changed my life for the better. It got me thinking: having worked in travel for many years, I knew there were already many events that dealt with generic ‘luxury’ and also shows which looked after the ‘adventure’ niche; however, there were none that focused on high-end, experiential travel.
By launching PURE we wanted to sift through the minefield of ‘very good’ suppliers, of which our world has plenty, and present a list of ‘truly remarkable’ suppliers – creating a definitive guide to inspiring, authentic, life-changing travel. We wanted to promote ‘experiential travel’ as an industry in its own right, by creating a marketplace where the industry’s visionaries connect and collaborate. We also wanted to highlight the importance of conservation – both of our natural environment and our communities – and to make it an important factor contributing to great travel, through our ‘High Emotion, Low Impact’ motto. Our aim was to inspire even better, more powerful offerings of transformational travel with a conscience.
What differentiates a PURE supplier from another?
It’s all very well having a beautiful hotel with faultless hardware, and we certainly take that into consideration, but our primary focus is what’s outside the box – the ability of a supplier to deliver a transformational, life-enriching experience. We invite those companies who are committed to changing the landscape of the travel industry – suppliers who share our vision of a travel world that is far more meaningful and in line with our High Emotion, Low Impact motto. Suppliers have to be remarkable: they must offer incredible guest experiences, a true opportunity for engagement and a guaranteed customer transformation.
Our suppliers have a passion for the travel that they curate. Talking to a hotelier and listening to them enthusiastically describe the experiences they offer is sometimes what it takes to discover if they are a true PUREist. And then obviously there are the PURE rules. We are committed to only accepting suppliers with less than 80 rooms, because we believe a property must be able to give each customer individual attention in order to provide a truly life enriching experience. Creativity is key – we are not looking for suppliers who are replicating something they’ve seen elsewhere. We are also looking for locally sensitive suppliers coherent with the destination and allow immersion in the culture in a High Emotion, Low Impact impact way.
Today’s sophisticated traveller sees through inauthenticity, so we’re looking for completely uncommoditized offerings.
Now in its 5th year, PURE has been incredibly successful – what’s your recipe?
I would say that staying true to our standards and never diluting our offering has been the secret to PURE’s success. While at times it may have seemed tempting for us to accept an application from a incredibly beautiful and unique hotel, if it didn’t fulfill our exacting criteria we have had to be strong and say no – hence our large ratio of applications to acceptances.
By being as limited as we have been, we’ve built an incredible community as enthusiastic and committed to our values as we are. Being a PUREist isn’t a ‘once-a-year’ thing – it seems to have almost become a religion for much of our community. Certainly, word-of-mouth has been invaluable to our success. We feel very privileged to receive yearlong interaction with this group of extraordinary travel visionaries.
What’s new for PURE 2013?
While PURE has been incredibly well received thus far, we realise we can’t sit still. We make an effort to continuously innovate and present something new and fresh for our community. In the run-up to PURE we have our first ever schedule of pan-Europe Pre and Post Tours – which offer PUREists an incredible opportunity to sample some of the world’s finest experiential hospitality en-route to or from the show – and the PURE Challenge.
This year we have some very exciting additions to the event – including an intriguing new dining experience, new breakout areas, a gastronomy bar and, of course, the PURE Awards. We’ve been overwhelmed by the number and standard of applications we’ve received; now we need to narrow it down to a very competitive shortlist, which will be judged by our outstanding panel.
Is experiential travel as relevant today as it was when you launched PURE five years ago?
I was say even more so; the trend towards experiential and adventure travel is growing, particularly amongst the super-rich. I read recently in Forbes that approximately 20% of private jet travellers take at least one experiential trip every year, spending an average of US$100,000 – that’s an awful lot of opportunity for the industry.
At this year’s PURE conference we will be hearing from Tom Shelley, President of Space Adventures – the company responsible for taking Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, video game designer Ricard Garriot and opera singer Sarah Brightman to space, for the modest price of US$25 million each. The super wealthy work hard for their money; when they take time out from busy jobs, they want to make it count.
In addition to PURE, you’ve recently launched a further two shows, LE Miami and We Are Africa. How do they operate symbiotically?
All the events Sarah Ball and I have launched with Beyond Luxury Media operate in specific niches of the luxury travel sector. PURE is strictly experiential, whereas LE Miami focuses on the very different sphere of contemporary luxury – connecting creative, design-led suppliers with influential buyers representing the creative class.
Our most recent launch, We Are Africa (due to be held in May 2014 in the Cape Town Stadium), will celebrate the best in breed of African travel – so not necessarily experiential, but just fantastic products in a class of their own that make Africa shine. In launching the show we have grasped the exciting opportunity to ‘re-brand’ Africa in a more positive and contemporary light, to move away from the clichés instead recognise the unique energy, incredible assets, unbeatable wildlife, diverse cultural heritage and incredible progressiveness it offers.
Our priority has always been to instigate movements and create incredible communities, and I believe we’ve done this.
Will the buyers attending PURE and We Are Africa differ?
In short, yes. In addition to having an exceptional understanding of life-enriching travel and a client list of high net worth individuals, a PURE buyer must buy travel globally. We do not let specialists into PURE – it’s very much a global show.
We Are Africa will welcome African specialists and buyers who have already made Africa a significant part of their business, along with those who want to make Africa one of their key focusses tomorrow. They could be from mature markets or existing ones. This is why We Are Africa and PURE compliment each other so well: a supplier can attend PURE to showcase their experiential offerings to generalist, global buyers and then meet a totally different group of African focussed buyers at We Are Africa.
Where do you see the future of PURE?
As mentioned, the secret behind PURE’s success is the undiluted excellence of the community we’ve curated. In order to keep this offering as ‘PURE’ as we’ve promised, we have had to make the difficult decision to cap the growth of the community after the 2013 show. This will mean that there will be even more pressure for each space at PURE’s 2014 event than in previous years, and our team will be assessing suppliers experiential credentials even more fiercely than before (if possible!).