Australian Luxury Escapes keen to chip away at domestic market

LATTE chats exclusively with Director Grant Charlesworth

Luxury touring specialist Australian Luxury Escapes has joined the Virtuoso regional network of partners in 2022, intent on tapping into a wider local audience seeking niche experiences.

Australian Luxury Escapes is a family-run business that has been in operation for more than 30 years. Director Grant Charlesworth, who joined the business ahead of the Sydney Olympics, took over the operation from his father in 2002. What was originally a 3.5-star outback touring company based in Sydney and trading as Wild Escapes and then Australian Wild Escapes, rebranded and repositioned to a 5-star day tour specialist with additional offices in Cairns, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth.

Guests on Australian Luxury Escapes' Cape York tour

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The company also offers extended tours in regions such as Western and Outback NSW, and Cape York in Queensland, alongside private touring and a walking company division in Sydney – the aptly named Sydney Walking Tours.

Grant’s wife, Elise, joined the company 10 years ago and is General Manager of Australian Luxury Escapes.

Transitioning from inbound to domestic

When Australia shut its international borders to overseas visitors in early 2020 due to the pandemic, the Charlesworths re-assessed and leant into the domestic market.

“We were 100% inbound. Not 90 or 95%, 100%,” Grant explained to LATTE last month.

North America had been the lifeblood for bookings at Australian Luxury Escapes, accounting for 85-90% of sales. The bulk of which came from high-net-worth-individuals out of the New York/Boston region, and Southern California.

Grant and Elise Charlesworth, Director and General Manager of Australian Luxury Escapes

The shut down of inbound tourism by the Australian Government “was a big shock to us and there was a period there where we weren’t sure what we were going to do,” he said.

“Then we transitioned into the domestic scene. We were able to pick up some really good wholesale partners and we developed some products based around what they were looking for.”

“We didn’t actually have things in hand when we sat down and met with the industry, but we asked them what they were looking for and we carved out our own niche.

“We really put the cart before the horse. We found the customers first and then worked out what they wanted, and then designed some programs around that.”

Charlesworth said the company was able to “reignite” a range of products, including a high-end Cape York safari which received “wonderful support”.

Now, with the recent reopening of Australia’s borders to vaccinated international tourists, the enquiries – and bookings – are starting to flow once again, with some confirmations for as early as April and May 2022.

“It’s very positive. There is pent-up demand and of course, we will go back to our day tours. They’ve always been there, we just haven’t turned a wheel in Sydney in the whole two years of the pandemic.”

Australian Luxury Escapes on the Daintree Wander tour

Partnering with Virtuoso

For Charlesworth, joining the Virtuoso Preferred Partner Program was a logical choice. Australian Luxury Escapes has long been associated with Virtuoso agency members in North America since the evolution of the name 22 years ago.

“We’ve been around that brand for quite some time and I’m very, very familiar with it. I’m familiar with the expectations of a Virtuoso traveller and I always felt like our product was a great fit for that kind of client.”

The benefits of being aligned with Virtuoso are already bringing rewards. When LATTE spoke with Grant in mid-February there had already been around a dozen “really solid enquiries”.

“I believe we’re filling a hole for a lot of Virtuoso clients. We seem to be in that space where agents may have a client that wants to travel overseas, or similarly wants to go on a luxury cruise, but they aren’t interested in travelling overseas yet and can’t cruise locally for the foreseeable future, so they’re looking for something for the clients to do, and that’s where we fit in.”

Australian Luxury Escapes air charter group

“Whether it’s a charter from Adelaide to Birdsville or a quick trip to Orange or Mudgee for two or three nights, we’ve got a huge footprint right across Australia.

“We can tailormake experiences to suit their individual needs, that are highly customised, highly personalised and it’s exactly what those clients are looking for.” 

“It’s funny because a lot of the comments I’ve had are like ‘Are you guys new?’or ‘I’ve never heard of you guys before’ – and that’s because we’ve never worked in the domestic space before.”

“It’s been quite surprising for people, only because we’ve always done all of our marketing internationally and never domestically. So to have the runs on the board and to be able to work with high net worth individuals out of North America, it fares very well for Virtuoso agents to have the confidence to work with us.”

“We’re not new in the luxury market. We’ve been in this space for 20 years or more.

“We understand, particularly our North American clients, what their expectations are, and we’re treating our Australian clients exactly the same. And they’re really appreciating the little things that we do in providing that.

Photo credit: @adzy_edwards

Charlesworth tells LATTE the arrangement with Virtuoso is therefore currently limited to the Regional Partner Program.

“We’ll wait and see how things pan out but I think for the time being we’ve got enough inquiry from the regional side of the business anyway and that I think will continue. It’s going to be a very interesting couple of years in the domestic and international tourism business – to see what happens and to see where the ebb and flow of demand goes.”

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people – a lot in their 70s who have said they’re probably good and wont travel overseas now, but instead spend their time and our money in Australia. I’ve had that conversation with several people in that demographic (that typically tends to be our prime audience: 65 to 75-year-olds) and I’ve been surprised with how many people have said that.”

“While we love the inbound business, and that’s what we’ve always done, we’ll certainly continue working on the domestic front as well because I really feel like we’re filling quite a niche as there’s not a lot of other companies doing what we do and providing the kinds of services that we can do.

“We’re not trying to market to the thousands. Our niche is very small, it’s a metre wide, but it’s a kilometre deep. And that’s what we’ll continue to chip away at,” Charlesworth said.

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