DESINTATION MASTERS
The Wilderness Group
An interview by Yvan Vermeesch

The XO Private Founder, Yvan Vermeesch, sits down for the exclusive interview series with
Russell Murray to discuss how The Wilderness Group is successfully creating luxury active and experiential travel in Scotland, Ireland and now also England.

The Wilderness Group is a highly-respected, multi-award-winning experiential destination management company covering Scotland, Ireland and now also England. How did that come about?

We have been operating in England on a white-label basis for over a decade for a number of high profile, international trade partners. However, the launch of our new Wilderness England consumer brand in 2022 and recent opening of a new office on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales represents a natural progression for the business and sees our specialist DMC services expand beyond Scotland & Ireland. With our focus on luxury active and experiential travel, England also represents an exciting growth opportunity for the business and a destination we remain eager to develop further with our international trade partner network.


When people think of England, they obviously think of London first. That being said, England offers, without any doubt, much more than that. What should we expect?

London is arguably a destination in itself and whilst many of our bespoke tours include time in London, the emphasis here is getting clients off the beaten path and going beyond the capital city to explore England's beautiful countryside and coastline with its rich tapestry of history, heritage and local culture. Think ancient Roman history and hiking along Hadrians Wall with an expert local guide all whilst staying in hand-picked, boutique hotel accommodation that prides itself on farm to fork dining; or journeying through quintessential England and the Cotswolds by e-bike visiting castles, cathedrals and cosy pubs whilst staying in the lap of luxury at a 5-star manor house hotel and spa.


Given the fact that The Wilderness Group has always been at the forefront of high-end, experiential travel, your approach for England will be quite similar, right? How would you describe your England experiences?  

As a luxury active and experiential travel travel specialist for UK & Ireland, our focus is on creating unforgettable, end-to-end, 5-star holiday experiences and when it comes to our England offering the approach is no different. So while active or nature-based activities will often form the core of our customised adventure holidays in England, each also includes a strong and impactful element of rich, cultural immersion, or what we like to call “insider
experiences” - many of which would otherwise not be bookable on your own. Some examples here include a private hide-away, beach dining experience in Cornwall where clients can enjoy freshly caught seafood as part of a banquet feast; or an exclusive, after-hours tour and Crown Jewels viewing at the Tower of London.


Should those experiences mainly be considered as inspirational add-ons to a London stay or are they full-fledged journeys in their own right? What would be the average stay of your clients?

When it comes to trip design and our "insider experiences', we are very much focused on full service, end to end travel. Each journey we create is tailored to the client, so the experiences that shape the tour are an integral part of the overall journey and not designed as add-ons or stand-alone elements. In this way, our bespoke tours across England are fully fledged journeys in their own right and London often becomes the add-on pre/post tour. Of course, London often bookmarks or compliments the journeys we create across England, and we are pleased to offer partners a suite of carefully chosen signature experiences in London that we feel offer something different for the discerning client. Being transparent, we tend to avoid London-only requests and focus more on multi-location requests that typically involve 4 or more nights and include time spent out with the capital in regions such as Suffolk, Dorset & the Cotswolds.

Is heritage travel from across the pond (read: North America) an important driver of your England experiences? These last couple of years, it seems to have developed into a significant travel trend. 

North America is an important source market for us in England and there is no doubt that heritage travel remains a key motivator for many of our North American travellers. This travel trend has been influenced by the growing interest in the Royal Family as well as the film & TV industry and popular series such as The Crown or Downton Abbey which feature a number of famous historic sites and have certainly raised England's destination profile overseas. Indeed, such media influences continue to inspire many of our own clients to travel to England and incorporate heritage site visits as part of their bespoke holiday with us. For example, many of our bespoke tours this season in England included a visit and private tour at heritage sites with a royal connection such as Windsor Castle, Highclere Castle or Buckingham Palace

Which experiences clearly stand within your portfolio of bespoke England experiences in terms of their uniqueness and/or originality?

With all our bespoke itineraries and holiday experiences we do try to instill a deep sense of originality and aim to offer clients something that wouldn't otherwise be possible when arranging it on their own. Often this is tied to meeting local characters and specialists such as a 4th generation sheepdog farmer in Yorkshire - we often bring clients to his farm in the Dales for a unique insight into local Yorkshire farming culture and to enjoy a live sheep dog demonstration. Further south in London we work with an acclaimed food writer who offers our clients a fabulous private walking tour of some of London's famous food markets where guests can sample some of the local & exotic delicacies that are available in Britain's diverse capital. One of my personal favourites here is on the guided foodie tour of Borough Market, where we meet a baker who specialises in traditional British apple crumble - and offers customers the chance to build their own! Such experiences with local specialists are a hallmark of our DMC expertise and testament to the level of local knowledge & creativity we bring to trip design across the UK & Ireland.



Which source markets are you keen to connect with more in terms of potential clients for your England experiences?

Being eager to connect with like-minded trade partners from across the world, we do attend various international luxury trade shows throughout the year including ILTM Cannes and Pure Life Experiences. Beyond our core north American market, for England we do see lots of potential from the Australian luxury travel market as well as from English-speaking Asian markets such as Hong Kong & Singapore. Ultimately we are always open to a conversation and to broadening our client base. Indeed we hope that by profiling more of the active and experiential side of England, that this will attract new source markets and a more diverse range of clients looking for something different or beyond the norm when it comes to travel in the UK.


Last but definitely not least, who should interested designers reach out to you for more information?

For any live client requests the best way to get in touch is for travel designers to contact our dedicated trade partner sales team directly at the following email address - trade@wildernessgroup.co.uk

To discuss partnership opportunities in England, travel designers can reach out direct to our Head of Trade Partnerships, Russell Murray at the following email address - russell@wildernessgroup.co.uk

Yvan Vermeesch
                          
A Belgian by birth, Yvan Vermeesch grew up across Africa before heading to the Caribbean followed by the stunning city of Prague before calling the Mediterranean island of Mallorca home. Always looking to innovate across the board and with a clear penchant for everything experiential in travel, Yvan Vermeesch takes great pride in connecting the finest players in bespoke travel around the globe.