In 2019, when Virtuoso introduced the new Ultraluxe community, it was inbound travel specialist Southern Crossings that was invited to be the first on-site representative for the community in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.
For the unacquainted, Southern Crossings has over three decades of experience in creating customised, exclusive, luxury travel experiences for discerning travellers bound for the Oceania region. Founded in Auckland, New Zealand, the company celebrated its 35th anniversary in July, while its sister-office across the ditch here in Sydney marked its 20th year of operation in the same month.
To get a better understanding of what sets Southern Crossings apart from others in the high-end luxury space, and to get a taste of what a Southern Crossings Australian Ultraluxe travel experience entails, LATTE spoke with Stuart Rigg, Director of Southern Crossings earlier in the year after he’d returned from a top to bottom reconnaissance trip of his own in Western Australia, from Broome and Ningaloo Reef in the north to Esperance and Albany in the south.
“It was a long overdue trip. The West is somewhere I don’t get to as often as I’d like,” he admits. “I’ve been to Perth, Margaret River and the Kimberley a number of times, but wanted to take the opportunity explore further off the well-trodden paths.”
Taking advantage of the “strange period” impacting the domestic travel industry, his travels involved regions and activities in WA that he’d not yet experienced personally, to sharpen his knowledge on what’s available for high-end travellers.
While heading into its fourth year as an Ultraluxe Community member with Virtuoso, both in Australia and New Zealand, Southern Crossings has a deeply entrenched involvement with the network, with business traditionally primarily out of the US, UK and Europe. The company has been a Virtuoso Preferred Onsite partner for more than 25 years.
Additionally, Southern Crossings is part of the Signature Travel Network in North America, and Serandipians (formerly Traveller Made) and are SELECT in-country partners for the Travel Leaders Group.
Between them Rigg, and Southern Crossings’ owner in New Zealand, Sarah Farag, are also both preferred advisors of Conde Nast Traveler, Town & Country, Travel+Leisure and Wendy Perrin.
Perhaps it’s the way every new inquiry is handled that has forged the success of the company. Everything is fully customised and tailored. Every itinerary starts as a blank canvas with the Southern Crossing team gathering as one to discuss the prospect’s desire, reason and purpose for travelling and what they hope to achieve from their experience in Australia or New Zealand. Every client gets the combined knowledge, experience, creativity and perspective from the team sharing their input into the enquiry. And that input comes from all walks of life. From staff who are either independent, young and free, parents or baby boomers – all of those people’s thoughts and creative ideas are put into the pot before an itinerary is handcrafted. And it is that pride and point of difference, the unparalleled personalisation, that wows the client.
That means every morning at the Southern Crossings offices starts with a roundtable to discuss the new enquiries that have come in the day prior.
“That combination of having an Australian operation and a New Zealand operation that is the same business is certainly another strength of ours.”
“It’s not as if we work with another company, or another partner to do New Zealand (or vice versa), which a lot of other businesses do. We’ve got feet on the ground in both countries so for those internationals in particular who combine the destinations, along with the islands of the South Pacific, we can ensure it’s an absolutely seamless experience and that they’re avoiding duplication of experiences,” he said.
LATTE: Stuart, what sets Southern Crossings apart from its competitors?
Rigg: “Well, we’re one of the originators. We’re 35 years old and were founded in New Zealand at a time when people were doing anything but bespoke. At that time, travellers were following a trodden path on a fixed routing.
“At the time utilising private guides was rare, to be honest; and now of course, there is a much more prolific range of high-quality product right across the region for us to curate highly-personalised itineraries from.”
LATTE: Is Australia still proving popular in your core markets during the pandemic?
Rigg: “Throughout the COVID-induced international travel ban, we’ve certainly been keeping our brand and the destinations’ top of mind for potential travellers from across the globe – and all indications are already that the demand is going to be huge when our borders finally reopen. We’re going to be a hot destination, that’s for sure. We were anyway, but enthusiasm for this part of the world hasn’t lessened. If anything I think it’s grown through the pandemic.
Our Travel Design team is fielding constant, daily questions about Australia and New Zealand opening back up and when people will be able to commit. Without a firm timeframe, it makes the conversation more difficult, but we’re doing all we can to talk about it, maintaining the reasons that they should come and that at some point in the first half of 2022 it will be possible and now is the time to start planning to secure their preferred availability, especially for the 2022/23 festive season and summer months that are already proving popular.”
LATTE: Do you think that’s because people like the idea of us being so isolated?
Rigg: “They know we’ve got wide open spaces and sublimely socially distanced travel options. We’ve got access to an amazing lodge network and private homes, luxury cruisers, superyachts and private jets – as well as private touring options to take them off the beaten track to experience our spectacular nature. We’ve got what the overseas traveller is going to be looking for.”
LATTE: What’s proving hot for Southern Crossings at the moment?
Rigg: “Obviously we’re dealing with a domestic clientele at the moment, whilst continuing to keep the international flames alive.
So, there’s no surprise it’s not cities but anything regional is going pretty well. The Kimberley and the Ningaloo Reef region, the Top End and Tasmania are particularly popular destinations right now. The operators there are slammed and our issue is really not demand, as much as fulfilling it in a way that is reflective of what we traditionally do.”
LATTE: How do you define “ultra-luxury” travel?
Rigg: “Luxury and ultra-luxury are different things to different people, but I believe it is defined by a few pillars – unparalleled privacy, personalisation, world-class service, privileged access.
We’ve been utilising private houses and villas for a long time, certainly well before COVID, and those products have very much come to the fore now.
The Ultraluxe element really comes in delivering the next level – for example, we have refitted the gym of a private home to meet the clients’ exacting specifications.
Similarly, one particular client could only sleep at a certain room temperature and the air conditioner and the minimum setting was one degree above that, so we had to work out how we could get it one degree lower.
Private houses are private houses. Lodges are lodges – it’s all about how you amp it up. We have arranged private chefs and caterers, butlers and personal trainers to ensure that our clients’ every need and desire is met.
Outside of that in terms of privacy and unparalleled luxury, as you would expect, Ultraluxe is great vessels, private jets and private carriages on a train – that is certainly in vogue at the moment. Superyachts too.
Beyond this, Ultraluxe can mean going above and beyond to deliver unrivalled personalisation and “money can’t buy” experiences. I believe modern Ultraluxe travel is really about access rather than excess.
For example, for one couple visiting Australia for a significant wedding anniversary, they had wanted to revisit the apartment where they had flatted together as students when they first met in Sydney many years ago. So I went around to the house, knocked on the door and greeted the resident with a bit of a strange request, which resulted in being able to provide the opportunity for our clients to visit their old home and reminisce.
The ultraluxe client wants absolute privacy – it’s about them and their interests and their style, their duration, when they want to start and finish, and how we handle it in terms of bringing in specialists based on their interests. Whether it’s a pop-up wilderness camp with a wildlife focus, an amazing fishing guide or a extraordinary private culinary experience. That’s part and parcel of what we do in Ultraluxe level.
Ultraluxe is also anticipating needs before their even realised. We once arranged quite an amazing party for a client’s 50th birthday. We coordinated an exclusive island party on Sydney Harbor. We organised one of Sydney’s hottest chefs to arrange the catering out on the island for a spectacular longtable dinner, and there was a top-class DJ. Of course the one thing we couldn’t control was the weather and the rain came right on cue, so we had crew members for each guest with these huge golf umbrellas held above their heads. And they loved it. They were just so impressed with this classic image. The fact we’d thought ahead and had that ready blew their mind. Ultraluxe is just that level of preparedness that you’ve got to get right.
Privileged access is another key component of Ultraluxe.
I think the most used buzzword we’re hearing at the moment is people want something “non-Googleable” and that’s not just Ultraluxe. It’s thinking outside the box.
Anyone can go to the Australian Open, get tickets and hospitality, but ultraluxe is the next level – being creative and most importantly, thoughtful about what else you can do.
We’ve coordinated amazing things with people who’ve had an interest in behind-the-scenes and hitting with a pro, etc. We take great pride in being able to access the inaccessible and make the seemingly impossible, possible for our clients. We’ve even had clients get into the players’ welcome party, which they wouldn’t have ever dreamed of – or have been able to access independently.
It’s how you can bring things to the table that people wouldn’t realise they could do, and that’s how we try and approach Ultraluxe.”