Reem Shaath of luxury travel company, Whywander takes us behind the scenes of her successful bespoke travel business, to tell us more about the brand, what it’s all about and how it all began.
What started with a solo trip to Como Shambhala, Bali, became an experience that created a shift in her mindset, one of those trips that jolts you and is very much life changing. As Reem found herself traveling more and more, she unearthed her adventurous spirit – experiencing treks to far-flung places, including Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp, an amalgamation of experiences sparking her idea to begin Whywander. Which brings us to the present day, ten years after the journey began. I met with Reem (virtually of course) to talk about the evolution of her travel business over the years.
Kinzzi: In 5 words, describe the Whywander brand
Reem: Fun, cool, expansive, human, knowledgeable.
Tell us a bit about the trip curation process
We’ve been in the luxury travel business for ten years and what I know now, I didn’t know ten years ago. We travel extensively throughout the world discovering places, scouting special experiences, and looking for hidden gems.
Where the process begins…
My team and I attend private travel shows around the world where we get to meet the best of the best in the industry: hotels, resorts, DMCs, experiences – sparking ideas for creating trips with our clients in mind. That’s where it starts. Sometimes, when I am attending these shows, I WhatsApp my clients to let them know where I will be sending them next – I can’t contain my excitement.
Next is when a client gets in touch (and we have a 70% repeat client base) so we already know who they are and what they like. Based on our conversation of what they’re in the mood for, we’ll come up with a couple of suggestions and accordingly we start planning, and that’s where the magic happens. We plan, execute, coordinate, add an element of surprise and whenever we can we try to push the limits of our wanderers to try something totally different. And it really works!
Over the years, my team and I have been able to build expert knowledge of certain destinations and so we always consult each other. We won a prestigious travel award for Expertise in Destination Knowledge back in 2017. Beyond that, I think there’s something about knowing our clients really well. Through the years, I’ve become better at profiling clients and knowing what they really want – and this is what differentiates our offering. For example, I’ll know after an initial client conversation and a series of questions that this honeymooning couple would not go for scenario A, but would probably love scenario B.
Talk us through one of your favorite projects.
Taking a group of people to Peru to discover the Inca Trail and the Amazon Rainforest. This trip encompassed the hardships of pushing yourself to the limit, the amazing interaction with the local people, the friends and guides who take care of our lives, and the bonds we made with each other. The trip was magical – from sunrise hikes, to massages after a long day of trekking the Inca Trail, how we turned the The Hiram Bingham train into a party bus, and many more amazing memories. And that seven years later, we’re still very much connected.
What did you learn on this trip?
Reem: That everyone needs a human connection, and everyone loves nature. We totally embraced glamping – knowing my clients and what they’d be seeking, and also knowing that this group would get along; this is the intuition that I tap into a lot. It’s based on an indescribable sense of knowing, that gut feeling – but also knowing my clients really well and building on that knowledge.
Name one place you have on your list that you are dying to create a trip for.
Raja Ampat in Indonesia, also Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
What have you learned on your journey so far, and from the current pandemic situation? How do you view the future of travel?
I spent the last six years on the go and spent six months of the year traveling. I was on a plane almost every month; I had trips back to back. Last May I finished a grand tour of Sweden and Iceland (for ten days), landed in Dubai, changed suitcases and headed to the Maldives. I enjoyed every single minute, but I never had time to digest it. The last five weeks have been really grounding for me. I appreciate and I am grateful for all I have been able to see, witness and be a part of. And now it feels that for me, at least, travel will have a new meaning. Travel will not be the same ever again - it will be more difficult and so the choices of where we want to go will have a completely different meaning. It will be more about why you want to travel, not just where to. It is about being present in all our travels; the concept of slow travel will pick up – less trips for a longer time, sitting with experiences and reflecting.
At Whywander we’re thinking of ways that we can incorporate this sentiment into future trips. The idea behind transformative travel is that people will be seeking - a change in their lives and the way in which they do things. Most of us are currently home in lockdown, staying safe indoors. So, the flip side of that is the extreme, the risk, the thrilling life experiences that will make you feel alive, and there is a beautiful tension right there!