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Art is now as important an influence on travel choices as food. That’s the assertion in the recent trends report from Embark Beyond, an advisor network, which believes that art in all of its forms will be one of the hottest drivers of tourism this year.
Art festivals, cities with an art scene, art shopping trips and visiting artist studios, according to the report, are among the most requested experiences the network is receiving. Destinations with a cool art scene, according to the report, “are getting attention from jet setters and the “culturati” alike.”
Laura Worth, an advisor with Embark Beyond whose agency is called Art & Travel, has a substantial art background herself, having worked at Christie’s auction house in New York for a number of years. She sees art and travel as “the marriage of two worlds I love.”
Her Houston-based agency, said Worth, creates high-end, private programs tailored to the individual client. Groups, institutions or individuals will come to her and she will put together a program. Or she might create a trip simply because she wants to do it – functioning almost as a tour operator.
Her clientele, said Worth, have discretionary time and income, and an interest in art, architecture and design. And they don’t just want to go to the most famous museum in town. They are seeking out private collections, artist studios and architecture tours – just as “foodies” want private meals with chefs, cooking classes and exclusive tastings at a winery.
And Worth is combining art with what she calls “cultural expressions.” A Japan trip coming up will include tea ceremonies because, said Worth, she defines art in terms of cultural expression and that includes, yes, food.
While she was independent for a long while, said Worth, affiliating with Embark Beyond, has enabled her to scale her business in a different way. She now knows her hospitality partners better “and they completely eat up this kind of travel.” Hotels, she said, have asked her to help them with art programming because of the value they see in it.
In addition, because of her affiliation with the advisor network, she might get clients who take an art-centered excursion and then on their next trip go to the Maldives for a beach holiday. As a result, the agency’s business has grown rapidly.
Like other high-end advisors, Worth’s ability to navigate hard-to-access experiences is key – experiences like the Vermeer show at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that has been one of the hottest tickets of the year.
And although she works with many serious art collectors, Worth said that in the last couple of years, there has been “a beautiful destigmatization” of art so that it’s not seen as stuffy anymore. Museums have never been so packed, said Worth, especially with younger visitors and that, she said, is all driven by education.
And the rewards can be substantial. One of Worth’s clients, although very well-to-do, hesitated at staying in a $6,000-a-night suite at a luxury resort outside Athens. When told that there was a work by well-known artist James Turrell in the suite, they booked.
Other advisors, especially her Embark Beyond colleagues, said Worth, are reaching out to her to ask about how they can ramp up their art specialty.
And of course, there are other advisors who are seeing the power of art in travel. Deborah Director, with SmartFlyer, said art is a big driver of travel choices, particularly in destinations like Miami, where Art Basel has become an annual tradition bringing in travelers from all over the world. Her preferred partnerships with many hotels in Miami allows for insider access to art festivals, which have become quite popular with clients.
SmartFlyer has relationships with tour operators across many art-driven markets, said Director, and her selection of the best partner to help craft an itinerary depends on the client’s preferences or the purpose of the trip, Whether it’s a specific scouting trip or more of an art-in-general interest trip, she said, “partnerships are key in getting clients exclusive access.” Client profiles range widely, said Director, and include collectors, developers, designers, fashion industry executives, tech industry executives and art hobbyists.
Linda Sergeant, with In the Know Experiences, part of the Global Travel Collection, said that for her clients, art is typically a secondary focus “but once they realize how special access and the right guides can engage them and their families they love the experience.”
In each pre-travel “discovery call,” said Sergeant, “we deep-dive into our services, including our ability to gain access into unique and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Museums and art always remain an important part of our discussions in every country.”
One regular client, said Sergeant, was seeking a tour of the Sistine Chapel, but all times were booked. Sergeant’s team on the ground in Italy held the last appointment for the exclusive Clavigero tour - which includes the opening of the Vatican with special keys to each door. Clients get to unlock doors and turn on the lights for the chapel and St Peters Basilica before any other visitors arrive – “a true once-in-a-lifetime exclusive experience...priceless."
Sistine Chapel tour (Photo Credit: Tauck)
Tour operators also recognize the selling power of art. Jeremy Palmer, COO at Tauck, said that art has always been of strong interest to guests, who tend to have a real curiosity about the history and culture of the places they’re visiting. Accordingly, he said, “We’ve long emphasized art in our journeys as part of a comprehensive immersion into local culture.”
“We recognize that art is far more than sculpture or paintings on canvas,” said Palmer, “and we focus more broadly on its many forms.“ For example, the operator explores architectural styles and influences on walking tours in the historic hearts of many cities.
Also, Tauck offers private visits showcasing the artwork on the ceiling at Strahov Monastery’s Baroque library in Prague. In each of these cases, said Palmer, “we’re focusing on and celebrating art, although not necessarily in its most thought-of forms.”
What really helps Tauck sell particular tour programs, said Palmer, is the special “insider” access the operator offers that allows guests to experience some of the world’s great masterpieces without the crowds or hassle. Guests, said Palmer, really appreciate after-hours experiences at the Louvre in Paris and at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, as well as the early pre-opening tours at Claude Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny, France.
“Anyone can put you down in front of a famous painting,” said Palmer, “but a truly enriching and engaging experience requires more.” That’s why, he said, Tauck brings guests to artists’ homes and studios to learn about their lives, whether it’s Claude Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny or Paul Cezannne’s studio in Aix, Provence. It’s also why selected departures in Provence include presentations by an Impressionist artist and van Gogh specialist, and why the operator includes a briefing by an art history lecturer in Florence before travelers visit the Galleria dell’Accademia.
Even guests who might not consider themselves true aficionados, said Palmer, enjoy learning about art. For example, the operator offers a scavenger hunt at the Louvre on its Tauck Bridges family trips that is popular with children. Also, said Palmer, guests traveling on a “Wonderland: Yellowstone in Winter” tour aren’t taking the trip to see paintings and sculpture, “but they truly enjoy the private evening at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming."
PHOTO: Mona Lisa at Louvre, Paris, France. (photo by Eric Bowman)
Many luxury and boutique hotels have made art central to their appeal. According to Director, art plays a big part in curating hotel options. For example, she said, The Ellerman House, a hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, has just 13 rooms and over 1000 pieces of art. Some hotels, she said, offer an artist-in-residence program that allows for an immersive, and highly exclusive experience for clients.
Jack J Sitt, director of Thor Equities Group which operates the ModernHaus SoHo, said the 114-room property, which opened in 2021, is inspired by the Bauhaus art movement, featuring an extensive art collection with pieces from many well-known artists.
The property, said Sitt, “pays homage to the neighborhood’s revered status as a creative hub, serving as an extension of its imaginative and artistic spirit. “Art has always been a passion of his, he said, so not only did it feel like a natural fit, but it also serves as another amenity for guests.
Today, travelers have aesthetics top of mind, said Sitt, so it’s not uncommon to have guests stay because of the art. The hotel highlights art in everything it does, down to its name, the exclusive Madhappy (a clothing label) hoodies featuring a take on David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist and, most notably the brand campaign.
In the campaign, said Sitt, “we knew we wanted something unique that would echo the hotel's DNA and we landed on recreating scenes from renowned paintings that everyone would recognize, showcasing a ‘modern’ update in the hotel's public areas.”
Madison Kent, director of marketing and public relations at Grand America Hotels & Resorts, which has a number of luxury hotels and resorts in the western U.S., said art brings a destination to life “and adds a layer of reason to visit by offering a place to go that doesn’t feel like anywhere else you’ve been before.”
Hotels that focus on art, she said, cater to an audience that is interested in culture and history and the opportunity to gain a new perspective, while adding a unique element to the property that cannot be replicated.
Art is chosen for a hotel, said Kent, based on the greater story it tells, or the history the property seeks to reflect. The art at The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City was hand-selected at the same time as the property was developed and designed. With a focused goal of providing a one-of-a-kind luxury hotel in the heart of the city in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics, the art is an integral part of the property’s originating mission.
Similarly, The Westgate Hotel in San Diego, whose design was largely inspired by France’s Palace of Versailles, features an impressive collection of European art and antiques to fulfill its mission of bringing European-style elegance to the California coast.
The Grand America Hotel currently offers a self-guided tour of its art collection on its website. While measuring access of the art tour web page is one way the hotel can quantify the impact of the art tour on the guests’ experiences, said Kent, the hotel also plans to roll out a new digital guided experience “that will both improve guest access to the art and will provide greater tools for the hotel to measure the art tour’s impact.”
Harvey Chipkin is a freelance writer for TravelPulse and AGENT@HOME magazine.
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