Virtuoso recently revealed a list of 50+ partners within its Ultraluxe Travel community. Two Australian companies made the elite invitation-only portfolio, including South Australia-based The Tailor – Australia.
So what does it take to be quantified as “ultraluxe”? LATTE chatted with Drew Kluska, the Founder and Managing Director of The Tailor to find out.
Drew, what is your background and how did you get into travel?
“I grew up on a sheep and wheat farm on the Eyre Peninsula, 150kms north of Port Lincoln. I went to boarding school and earned a degree in Agricultural Science. My undergraduate was in Agronomy and I worked for four years as an Agronomist.
“At 24 I bought a one-way ticket to Africa and found myself managing the flagship of East African Tourism, a place called Lewa Wilderness in a conservancy in Kenya. They were looking after the richest clients on the planet. Being a country boy from the bush I remember not being able to fathom that people had so much money. I could not comprehend it.”
I spent 1996 and most of ’97 there.
How did you land the role at Lewa Wilderness?
“The father of one of my best mates I went to uni with was one of the most famous safari guides on the planet, and he got me the job. You know the old saying – It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
“Lewa Wilderness is Kenya’s version of Singita and it is a very special place. The camp has been operating since 1972. They single-handedly saved the black rhino from extinction in East Africa.”
What was your basis for launching The Tailor?
“In December 1997, when I got back from Africa, I had the idea to showcase the best of Australia through the eyes of locals. I approached my mates from agricultural college and boarding school who were operating big stations around Australia. My big advantage, coming from the bush, was I knew a lot of people regionally. I knew people from all over Australia. People that had properties up near Ningaloo up in the Territory – and I’m still doing business with most of those guys today.
“I convinced Marlee and Franz [Ranacher] when they still owned Bullo River Station to go into tourism.
“I went to boarding school with Matt Rasheed who’s family owned Arkaba Station at the time, and it was me that convinced him to go down this line. Charlie [Carlow] has since bought it and taken it to the next level, however it was me that originally had the concept and got that all started.
“We were the first agents ever using Sab Lord [Lords Kakadu & Arnhemland Safaris].
“We were the first agent ever to use Haggerstone Island in Queensland back in 1997.
“Places like Kimberley Coastal Camp and Faraway Bay, we’ve been using since the late ’90s.”
Is The Tailor primarily targeting the FIT inbound market?
“It’s all FIT business out of the USA, UK, Europe, Middle East, as well as ad hoc bookings from the likes of Kazakhstan, China, the Philippines. Every couple of years we get two or three from Romania and Poland.
“But we were doing some domestic as well. What was very interesting was even though I built the product for international I ended up picking up a lot of domestic because people were looking for this kind of thing domestically.
“Pre COVID, 95% of our business was inbound.
“There’s actually a lot of demand for the kind of services that we offer. However, much of the domestic market is not understanding of how expensive it is to run a property of this nature, out in the remote bush/outback, so there’s people balking a bit. They would happily spend this money in Italy, France, the US, UK, Africa, South America, but not here.
“I think it’s because some Aussies have the mentality that I can go and do that myself.”
What is The Tailor’s point of difference?
“Those people that know, if you want to make the impossible possible, come to us.
“When we couldn’t get what we wanted, we created it ourselves.
“A lot of my friends are chief winemaker, chief viticulturist or owners of some of the most famous vineyards in Australia. We’re very fortunate that we can get that privileged access and that’s something that we really, really work hard on. Privileged access – things that you can’t find on Google.”
“The key thing to know is not to be overwhelmed by what people want. For example, if you put a very expensive trip in front of someone you’ve got to have the confidence to say that has the value because our clients aren’t price-conscious but they’re very value-conscious.
“A lot of people look at a journey through their own perspective. The budget of a person earning $150,000 a year is going to be very different to a billionaire.
“You have to have the insight to understand these clients and, understand that their home back where they come from, whether it be the UK, US, Middle East, Europe, wherever, is likely to be as good if not better than many of the lodges that they stay at.
“You have to give them experiences that they could not get at home. You have to understand the barbecue brag mentality. You have to elevate the experience to a level that is going to wow these people because many have done many things before.
“To put them in a Four Seasons or a Park Hyatt, or a five-star hotel is really not going to do it for them because they stay in those kinds of hotels all the time.
“A classic example, and one that is my pet hate, is a helicopter tour with a winery. That was brought home to me once by a client.
“I had arranged the largest helicopter available in Australia and the client arrived in Sydney, got out of their private jet, went to get in the helicopter and she said – “I’m not going in. That’s too small.”
“She was used to flying in a Sikorsky from the Hamptons to New York and landing on her own building.”
“So back to winery helicopter tours, suppliers really need to understand the client’s perspective. Will putting them in a Robinson R44 cut it, or are they used to something much larger?”
What’s your solution to blow the mind of that kind of client?
“If you put them in a helicopter often it’s not going to blow their socks off.
“What you have to do is choose the right people, guide, host, that will give them a personal connection. You have to choose people with passion, that can unveil their piece of paradise. Passion wins over everything.
“If someone’s extremely enthusiastic, articulate and loves what they do, you generally you’ll find that these A-type personalities are drawn towards them because they have very similar personalities because they’re extremely inquisitive people. Generally, they’ll reverse engineer someone’s business in about half an hour!”
Can you give me an example of a unique ultraluxe itinerary that The Tailor has designed?
“We’re always thinking of and looking for cutting-edge things that really elevate the experience.
“We’ve got a three-week air tour in progress at the moment for six people. They came into Adelaide and they met with Dr. Jared Thomas, a Nukunu man who is a South Australian museum curator. He took them on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Adelaide Museum which has the largest collection of human antiquities in the world.
“They then went straight up into the Flinders Ranges and met with Ross Fargher who discovered all those Ediacaran fossils that have just been World Heritage-listed, then into Arkaba Station where we handpicked the guide to look after them. Then out to Coober Pedy, out to the Breakaways, then out to Mount Eba Station, flew over the lake [Eyre] up to Innamincka for lunch, cruise the Cooper, landed at the Digtree and across to Birdsville. The next day out to see the sand dunes of Big Red outside Birdsville, near the Simpson, onto Longreach, then Winton to do view the dinosaur tracks, then Camden Park Station and Lorella Springs Wilderness Park.
“Next day they’re up to Lirrwi Tourism up near Gove, Nhulunbuy with the Aboriginal people – arguably the best indigenous experience in Australia – then on to Davidson’s in Mount Borradaile in Arnhem Land and then on to the Tiwi Islands, Bullo River, Kununurra.
“The itinerary is customised within an inch of its life!”
Do you think the word luxury is overused, and what is your definition?
“Totally. Everybody says they’re luxury, right?
“Luxury is about anticipation. The ability to see things that need to be done before they become an issue. It’s about surprise and delight for clients.
“It’s almost like being a mind reader in many ways. Interpreting that brief is the key and then reverse engineer it, and understand people’s wants. You have to have a lot of experience to be able to do that.”
What does being part of Virtuoso’s Ultraluxe community mean to you?
“We’ve been part of Virtuoso since 2005, so 16 years now.
“This admission into the Ultraluxe network formalises what we have done for a long time.
“Membership in the Virtuoso Ultraluxe community is notably the first time that advisors and travellers alike are accepted on a strict, by-invitation-only basis, ensuring every participant fits the criteria to access the highest standards of luxury travel today.
“We thank Virtuoso for our inclusion in this prestigious collection of professionals, and for recognising our efforts as Australia’s premier luxury five-star and experiential travel experts. We look forward to continuing to raise the bar for our clients.”