Sometimes you wish for the life of travel and luxury. Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to live it. Other times it’s a passion you turn into an occupation. Sienna Charles, the most elite brick and morter travel agency in the world, are spilling their secrets on what makes them so unique. With the worldwide web attempting to make travel easier, and cost conscious, this down-to-earth duo, Jaclyn India and Freddy Reinert, know that 1.) Travel arrangements are a pain in the ass, and 2.) The finer things don’t come on a budget. And though we’ve learned to save rather than splurge, you can’t deny a $50,000 vacation to Africa isn’t mouth watering. Luckily for me, I sat down with these two at the Loews Regency to understand how they do, what they do, in a time like this.
How’d you get started?
Freddy Reinert: So we met in Philadelphia. We worked together at a five-star restaurant called Le Bec Fin from 1999 to about 2005. There is where it all kind of began for us in terms of learning about the finer things in life so to speak. It was a world class restaurant and we were not privileged kids growing up, or anything, so it was a unique experience in its own. We got together in Philadelphia, moved to Florida, and Jaclyn started working at a travel agency. And she quickly realized that what the ladies were not doing, was traveling. They were just sending people to all these places and they didn’t really know anything about it, except what they were reading.
Jaclyn India: We started our agency in 2008 and we said we’d only book what we know, and what we truly experienced. So up till now, we’ve been to 70 countries, and counting. Next week we’re going to two more countries and it’s always moving. Our basis is that if we haven’t slept there, tried the restaurant, tried the tour guide, then we can’t recommend it. And that’s been our core principle of our business.
So how did you decide on such a niche market?
JI: I mean, who wants to book Holiday Inn Expresses. For any business that’s successful, it’s what you’re passionate about. And when we were younger, we traveled on the crappy cruises. We stayed at the crappy hotels and once you got experienced to different things, you see what you like. We like perfection and we like the best. That’s what I personally like, and that’s what I’m good at selling.
And how did your clientele come about?
JI: I think the first client is always luck and then it just goes from there. In 2009, I started a blog, and that got a bit of traction. Then I started to travel more, and began to get articles about how much I was traveling. We were featured in The New York Times twice. We were inGotham magazine in 2011. So now we get our clients from our website, referrals, press. It just keeps going.
Are there any travel publications out that you recommend never to read?
Both in unison: All of them!
FR: Except Departures.
JI: We like Departures magazine because it’s really true to form as to what you can do on location. Like their Africa issue that came out two months ago was amazing. It was really about digging deep in Africa. I think a lot of times we find that Condé Nast [Traveler] and Travel & Leisure are geared towards people that try to do the trips themselves. Which is fine, and we understand that, but it’s not so easy to do the trips yourself. Plus press is always looking for stuff to write about, and because they get comped on a trip, they write everything is perfect. Then you get there and it’s not perfect. And that’s where we come in and uncover what’s really, real.
Who is your traveler?
JI: We would definitely say they’re the one percent – private jet owners, very wealthy. That’s not to say they don’t like to camp out. In the last two years, people have been looking for authenticity. We’re doing a trip to Ethiopia with a celebrity and we’re using a camp. And so if that is the best way to get to the core of the destination, then camp it is.
FR: If they want to see remote tribes that they can’t see any other way, they’re going to sleep in a tent. I mean it’s a luxury tent, but it’s a tent.
Describe a package including cost.
JI: There are no packages. We are anti-package. Everything is customized for whoever we’re working with, so for example we also do house calls. We charge a service fee which ranges from $500 a person to $2,500 a person based on the complexity of the trip. That’s the first initial thing with us in terms of money. During the house call we get to know you, see the way you live, see what wine you drink, what clothes you wear. That way we prepare you with the best experience. Then our trips range from $50,000 to $1.5 million.
FR: It’s not that crazy because if you have a family of five people that want to do a 10-day safari, or 10 days in Italy, with the best accommodations, it adds up.
So do you go on the trip with them?
JI: This trip with the celebrity client, we are going. It’s not often that that happens, but when we see that it’s something that needs extra hand holding or complexity, yeah we’ll go. But if you’re going to St. Barths, we’re not lying next to you. (laughs) We’re not going to be spritzing you or anything.
Where’s the worst place you’ve been to?
FR: I think Croatia.
JI: We don’t like Croatia. The people were really rude and the food was bad.
FR: Maybe it was bad day. Typically, 99.9% of everywhere we go, the people are amazing. You have to be interested in the culture or else why go?
JI: I think everywhere is unique and everywhere has its something. You just have to find what that is and maybe we weren’t in Croatia long enough to find that out. Maybe we were tired. Maybe it was us. Maybe it was them. But then we always try to find the good and how can we do it better. For us, we think Croatia is better done on a yacht by the islands.
FR: There are cultures that are naturally hospitable. So if they don’t have the service skills yet, or they aren’t familiar with high-end travel, the effort is amazing and you’re forgiving.
Do you think you’ll give it another try?
JI: Absolutely! You have to. Even if we loved it, we would have to go back to be refreshed on the hotel, on the people, the food, the tour guides. We’re passionate about certain things, so it’s easier for us to sell it. But we’re not going to sell Croatia because we don’t like it. We have to find that thread that will make somebody else like it. So yeah, we’ll definitely go back.
Has your life changed since starting Sienna Charles?
FR: Yeah, big time.
JI: I would say our life has changed but I never wanted to do anything but this. So I have this mindset that this is the way it should have been. It’s normal.
FR: You learn that America is not the best place in the world, you know? There other things going on and we’re not the only people that exist. So that’s a big one for people when you travel extensively. I don’t think you could ever know who you really are if you stay in your own bubble.
Let’s say you’re going to France. What would your trip look like?
JI: We’re actually going to France after Africa. So a typical day when we go away, is to make a list of the hotels we haven’t seen in a while, that have been refreshed or newly opened. Make a list of things that keep popping up in the media. For instance, everyone is talking aboutSpring – an American guy opened a restaurant in Paris. Go eat at all the restaurants that we think are important. The restaurants that are not in the press as well. Go enforce the relationship at the hotels we already have. Talk to people. See what’s new. Really just spend the whole time doing research. So when we go back, we really know what we’re talking about.
So do you stay in the hotels?
JI: Always. We move every night. Like right now, we’re leaving after this and going to another hotel. Yeah… you can do a tour, but they are going to show you what they want you to see. I mean, I’m demanding, not in a rude way, but I need stuff printed out, or my bags to move. And I’ll see very quickly how the service is, or how the food tastes because I’m eating breakfast there. So that’s really important for us.
FR: We do some writing about the hotels we stay at on our website. We also have a magazine.
Wait, can I go to the store and buy it?
FR: Not yet. It’s a document of our travels and what we really think of a destination. So it’s pretty unique.
JI: That’s another way, instead of reaching our clients through social media, we want that touch and feel kind of thing. We want you to hold a magazine from us. Not just read a tweet like, “This hotel is great!” We want to bring it to the next level. So that’s us!