Above: The Smiling Albino Team (that’s Queen in the blue dress on the far right).
Like many industries, the travel and tour business is a lot like an iceberg – what you see is only a small fraction of the whole package. From a client’s point of view, most any service they pay for – be it getting a package from FedEx, sending a text on their phone, or paddling a sea kayak into a limestone cave – is just one small part of a complex system that took a ton of planning and logistics to provide. That got us thinking – wouldn’t it be interesting to provide some insight into what exactly goes into a Smiling Albino trip?
In a four-part series, we’re going to take a look at the who, what, and how of crafting an Asian adventure, from the first contact email to the bittersweet hugs at the end.
Part I – Making Contact
So what actually happens when you press ‘send’ on your inquiry email to Smiling Albino? This goes to all of our fantastic Client Services Team who will read it and get the ball rolling.
“The first thing we do is reply as soon as we can with a standard email that asks the customer to give us a bit more information about them,” says Queen, one of Smiling Albino’s Client Services Team Leaders. “We do this to find out things like if they want their trip to be relaxing or strenuous, kid-friendly or geared toward grown-ups, and any special flourishes that we might need to get working on right away.”
The entire Client Services Team reviews the request, brainstorms for ideas and recommendations and selects the person who will lead the communication. Once the specifics are nailed down a very rough itinerary is drawn up and shared with Smiling Albino’s Client Services Coordinator (generally whoever is available. New people to the team begin in this role and currently there are 3 people who do this). Before anything else, they will make sure the itinerary is possible (for instance, if we were traveling in Thailand we wouldn’t plan a party night for an election day, as alcohol sales are banned). If everything checks out, the sales team tentatively books all necessary hotel rooms and holds them while the final details of the trip are confirmed with the customer.
“Once the details of the trip are finalized, we ask the customers to sign on the dotted line and agree to the terms and conditions of the trip. For instance, we require that every Smiling Albino guest be covered by travel insurance. Once the deposit is received, the trip coordinator goes through the itinerary step by step locking down hotel rooms, transportation, guides, and reservations for things like restaurants, bicycles, kayaks, etc,” says Queen.
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But as you may know, many Smiling Albino trips are not simply off-the-shelf cookie-cutter adventures, but custom-designed for each individual group. This is where things can get complicated – but it’s also where things can get amazing.
“We can coordinate many of the things that put the “V” in V.I.P.,” says Queen. “Helicopter transport, exotic car rentals, secluded dining at mind-blowing venues, or even arranging to have a public venue all to ourselves for a set period of time. We’ve arranged these before, many on extremely short notice. We dare say that very few companies – if any – are able to provide these types of services.”
Previous guests have also enjoyed private dinners with notable hosts upon request. Globe trotting travel journalists, media personalities, and distinguished cultural figures have all regaled guests with insights and stories of adventure over dinner and drinks in some of Asia’s finest establishments.
Most of it depends on what a guest desires, although occasionally special add-ons are suggested based on the customer survey, and that’s what Queen and her team specialize in.
“All of us have first-hand knowledge of every aspect of the trip, from hotels to restaurants to transport providers,” says Queen. “When it comes to V.I.P. trips that are designed from scratch, we often head out on survey trips to see how far we can push the envelope.
“This all comes back to our first contact with the customer and the amount of information they share. The more we have, the better we can be at crafting something truly unique and unforgettable.”
Next: Mapping out a trip. What do Smiling Albino’s trip coordinators do once Queen has gathered all the relevant info?