As Covid vaccines roll out more in the United States, more people are travelling again. Friday was the busiest day for airports in that country, since March 2020, when the travel industry went down the tubes. Luxury travel is poised to bounce back hard.
Lauren Pronger is watching all of this very carefully. Well Inspired Travels is the company she runs with husband Chris. the former NHL Hall-of-Fame defenceman, geared at the affluent traveller. The Prongers work with athletes as well as the business elite, mainly, covering all the bases for clientele looking for a private, exclusive, catered travel experience.
Health and wellness is a running theme through all the vacations the Prongers coordinate. But so are couples and family getaways. Check out the list of destinations and the properties they work with. No other time in memory has travel become this much of a focus. We are all in need of a vacation these days, right?
Health and wellness is the over-arching theme
A lot of the day-to-day challenges that pro athletes go through are similar to what senior level business execs work through. The uniqueness of the luxury travel experiences the Prongers curate for their clients makes what they do interesting. They can’t talk about clients specifically for privacy reasons, but we always enjoy speaking with the two of them about what is trending in luxury travel.
What are the popular luxury travel destinations these days where clients are looking to book?
“You know over the past months we have had a lot of people booking in the Caribbean, down in Turks and Caicos, even over in Mexico. And when the announcement came in the U.S. in January that you would need testing to get back into the States, that flipped our world upside down.
“We had to pull everyone back, and re-group and advise everyone to come back. And it was best for them to travel within the US. However we do also have some people who are willing to take that risk.”
“So we are now diverting people to unique places,” she says. “They were dead set on going to the Cayman Islands, or Turks, or Cabo San Lucas. And then we started enquiring about whether they would be interested in places like Sedona (Arizona), or something off the wall. We saw people then going to places like Phoenix, places in Florida, the Keys, even up to Montana, doing more of a ranch experience, with colder climate and snow. It’s all over the place.
“We are steering clear of California at the moment, unless clients are adamant about it. And just because California has some strict protocols in place. So it’s been an interesting, unique time to be booking for spring and summer. We had a lot of people booked all over the world in the past This is the first spring and summer where we are sticking close to home.
“We have great relationships with the properties in the States. It has made things pretty smooth for us. We have at least 10-15 that we feel really comfortable with and confident sending our clients to.”
Is it more a desire to just get out and live more, after lockdowns? What are clients telling you?
“With some it’s OMG, I just want to take my mask off. I just want to be in fresh air. Can you place me in more of a socially distant spot, out in nature, getting back to just wellness, breathing fresh air, not having a mask on. Being outdoors, with outdoor activities.”
“Then you have people who want to know about the cleaning in the room. Do they send the robots in advance? What kind of temperature readings do they take? But I would say that’s a small percentage. Most people who are willing and wanting to travel. They just want to get out. And they really don’t ask us about that. Even though we are willing and happy to provide a ton of details to make our clients feel as comfortable as possible.
“I definitely look for that to continue. We must take 10 calls per day and people are like I have revenge travel for 2021. Most of our clients have a pretty big travel budget that they allot every year. Some budget out 2 years. And they are ready to get it on, and break out, so that’s good for us. We are seeing that now. And we are booking big group celebrations, birthday celebrations. People are really ready to get out there.”
Are people looking at wellness more now with travel?
“Some of our big properties are ranches, offering socially distant, health and wellness, activities and adventure, spa and fitness offerings, which is exactly our wheelhouse. I started this 10 years ago, and knew this would be the rage of the future. When he played, Chris needed a gym. And travel was such a big part of my life. So if we were going to make this work, we needed to find places that offered these kinds of things.”
“Now properties have blown up with gyms. Back in the day they would give Chris a broom closet to work out in. Nowadays, the gyms are as big as some of their restaurants.”
“So it’s been cool to see how that has exploded, and will continue in that direction in the future, especially with Covid. With our area of expertise, and our networks and contacts, the people we talk to all the time, travel advisors, what we provide to our clients will be that much more valuable. So clients can trust where they are going, with classes, gyms, personal trainers.”
What are you hearing from CEOs and other high net worth individuals?
“We have noticed a big shift in referrals we have been getting from CEOs and high net worth individuals who are managing a lot of money. And they have the same stresses that professional athletes have, in terms of trying to create healthy habits like sleep management, and stress management. And just compartmentalizing that.
“The properties we send them to offer a guru or shaman, who can provide tools they can bring back into their everyday lives, to live a better life. As opposed to hey, let me escape on a vacation, then come back to my terrible habits.”
“It was interesting. When I started this business, I was dealing more with the wives and girlfriends. When Chris got involved, he amped up the game. Then we were talking to agents. Through these relationships, and working with pro athletes, it then transferred to referrals, when they were dealing with their money managers, or CEOs. We said of course we will take them on.
“Then we started seeing all these parallels, between CEOs and pro athletes, from a mental health standpoint. I lived it and witnessed it with Chris. And to go to these properties, where we can send somebody, when they tell us what they are dealing with, we can help curate and send them to properties where they have a specialist. And they will learn something. They will not just be sitting on a beach and turning their brain off, then come back home to the same deadly cycle.”
Luxury travel: Clients “upping” their game
“So it’s very important, for Chris and myself. Obviously Chris dealt a lot with head injuries, so that’s obviously a priority with him, working with high net worth executives and CEOs, sourcing those properties. A lot of time it’s helping them with sleep therapy, stress management, learning about acupuncture that will help them get to that deeper level of relaxation. Before some would never step out of their lives.
“In NYC, it’s go-go-go, non-stop. You think they will ever stop to go learn about acupuncture from a specialist? They would think that it’s weird, and I don’t have the time for that. Well if they put a pinky toe in on this vacation, it might spark something.
“One client of ours – all of a sudden he had the time to learn about this. He came back home and sourced someone in NYC to continue the education, implementing it into his life. Those are the special, unique services we provide.”
Pebble Beach, California. Image: Shutterstock
“There is a plan and strategy behind the holiday, then. The people who buy our service are used to having plans and strategies. And that’s the rewarding thing about what we do.
“Chris and I went into this as a passion project for me. For me in the past it was doing it for fun and for free for friends. And then it turned into ten clients, then 20. Chris says, Lauren, you need to turn this into a business. Chris had a lot of great contacts and made a lot of good money when he played, and had a wonderful career. So we are in this, obviously, we want to try to make some money, but our biggest motivation on a personal level is mentorship, helping people live their best lives.
“As we curate a trip for them, we create a friendship. The walls break down, and before you know it, the wife will say I know your husband had terrible concussions, a horrible concussion that ended his career. My husband is dealing with this, they say. Chris worked really hard to come to the other side of his concussion. So there is an opportunity to mentor.
“I love to share his story, and mine, how we came through it. When he had that awful concussion in Philly, I thought (it would impact us) the rest of our lives. He couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without buckling at the legs. When you are in the eye of the storm like that, to have someone who can tell you, for months and months that it was that bad, but look where we are now. I think that is an incredible thing.”
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