Q&A for 'LIVE UNFORGETTABLE' magazine by WALDORF ASTORIA EDINBURGH for Jonny Stage – Founder and Director of Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions.
1. Tell us about your company and your role.
Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions creates industry-leading Scotland travel itineraries for clients from around the world. Our trips revolve around both professional and personal connections and we are fortunate to have links that spread out across the whole of Scotland. These links allow our guests to tap into a Scotland otherwise reserved for locals - a genuinely enriching Scotland that you will not find in the guide books. This is one of the fundamental differences that sets us truly apart from other travel brands.
I founded Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions in 2014 after nearly a decade working in the tailor-made travel industry, 3-years of which as an African safari guide deep in the South African bush. My passion for travel, wildlife, adventure and exploration eventually led me full circle back to majestic Scotland where we have it all right here on our doorstep! Drawing on my own travel experiences, I am now constantly looking to push the boundaries of what is possible here for the visitor to Scotland. Everyday we work hard to create unique, individual trips for our clients based on their very personal Scotland dream.
2. Tell us about how you got into this industry.
From a very young age I was conscious of how I appreciated just how much Scotland has to offer. This is in part due to numerous family holidays exploring the length and breadth of the country. So as a young twenty-something when I found myself creating tailor-made safaris, I thought how special it would be to be able to offer visitors to Scotland experiences that exceed all expectations, matching those of an exotic ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ destination perhaps reserved for a ‘honeymoon’. Today, I take real pride in producing industry-leading luxury Scotland itineraries for clients from around the globe, Sandgrouse Travel itineraries rival the most elaborate of journeys to be found anywhere in the world!
3. How has the industry changed over the year?
We have seen global interests in Scotland continue to rise. We have had clients from every continent, except Antarctica of course! Scotland is proving to be far more than just another trending destination found in your in-flight magazine. Scotland is a destination that is here to stay, with a host of genuine, established offerings and cross-over industries (whisky & golf for example) that cater for a wide variety of travellers needs and interests. Unlike other countries, Scotland seems to have become its own recognisable brand, exported and known the world over. In 2020 we foresee the growth curve continuing. For me, luxury travel in Scotland remains as much about high-end accommodation and genuine services as it is about connecting visitors with locals, experts and guides whom they may otherwise never know.
4. What is the process of creating luxury experiences?
Luxury is an overused, often misunderstood word. Luxury is very much a personal interpretation of an experience or product. At Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions we try to find out what makes our clients tick. To be able to offer a luxury experience we first find out our clients interests, personal preferences and even their previous travel experiences. From there we are able to build a unique Scottish travel itinerary that will truly wow even a seasoned travel veteran.
5. How do you adapt your experiences to guests’ wishes and taste?
Firstly by talking to them. By chatting at length with Sandgrouse Travel clients we are able to build a detailed picture of the clients. Each itinerary we produce is totally unique and that is because each one of our clients is unique. We all have different interests, tastes and dreams but realising them is often only possible through conversation with a travel planner who is genuinely interested. Secondly that travel planner has to have the connections on the ground to make anything happen. That’s where we differ from our competition - with a rich tapestry of spurious and magnificent connections across the whole of Scotland, where an individual thread may be the defining feature of a lucky client’s Scottish holiday.
6. Tell us about your most memorable experience/project.
Each Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions client is treated with the same care and attention, with the ambition of exceeding expectations on all fronts. We work with clients with budgets of all levels, however working with a number of the world’s most wealthy Royal families on their annual Scottish visits has certainly been memorable. We are proud to be able to offer a personalised, luxury Scotland for all.
7. What would be your dream luxury experience?
For me, it has to be 48-hours exploring historic and vibrant Edinburgh complete with a host of interesting pre-arranged private experiences before flying via private helicopter direct to an “off-market” luxury Highland Castle or Victorian Lodge. Once in the remote Scottish Highlands, I would enjoy some special days seemingly far away from the rest of the world. Here it is possible to truly reconnect with nature exploring mountain, river, sea and loch with a host of experts, local characters and guides brought in especially by Sandgrouse Travel & Expeditions.