Gabriela Markova – above – has found the Big Travel Opportunity. Based back in her hometown, Prague, after years overseas, she admits she was amazed to find the luxury travel potential in Central & Eastern Europe CEE without parallel. Deloitte says the area’s UHNWIs’ growth of an annual 7.6% is equal to the growth of that of Austria, Germany and Switzerland combined. Similarly, another assessment, from Knight Frank, predicts that the super-rich complement in Poland, alone, will continue to soar 61% in all by 2026.
Where is this wealth coming from? International investment features, as do start-ups and disruptors in tech and other sectors (the highest-ranked wealthy in Lithuania are Maxima supermarket kings). Some of the wealthy are not only business- and geopolitically-savvy but already knowledgeable about travel, possibly even more so than their travel specialists. But everyone, says Gabriela Markova, is, both client and advisor, hungry for more information.
Last year, therefore, she launched Luxury Bloc – she is a keen admirer, and supporter, of ILTM. This year, niche event saw 60 travel advisors, invited as individuals rather than representing their agencies, to meet, one-to-one over scheduled 20-minute sessions, with 60 sellers. The invited advisors came from Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia: these specialists were predominantly female and all – at least looked – under 35 and universally chic and savvy. The products lucky enough to buy a table included such up-to-the-minute brands as Capella and Patina (see below), plus Jumeirah, One&Only, Raffles, Rosewood, Soneva, Time+Tide and Waldorf Astoria, as we well as heavyweight indies of the calibre of Joali, Majestic Barrière and Marbella Club.
After three and a half days of meetings, what is the consensus? These luxury learners want the best, which include private jets or, if not, easiest airlift possible: to get to Zanzibar, which appears to be more or less swamped by travellers from this area this year, best scheduled airlift is via Doha or, with Air France, via Paris and Nairobi. Once at the destination, they sometimes stay-long, always spend-well, and they are charming.
Gabriela Markova’s motto is ‘excellence – no compromise’, and this permeated Luxury Bloc. Of course social networking was a vital part of the entire programme mix. Sadly Girlahead reached Prague too late for the opening cocktail and buffet at Mandarin Oriental Prague. The following night was the most-formal evening, a seated dinner at Mlyenec, right at the end of, and overlooking, Charles Bridge (great menu, including a mouthwatering crème brûlée, and a memorable Casdalforte Valpolicello 2018). Cleverly, the final night was clubbing, in the basement Buddha Bar, where fortunately there was enough finger food that you could eat easily, and plentifully. Seated dinners have a place but it is at buffets that main networking takes place.
Looking back, what were the performers’ roles that made Luxury Bloc 2021 so excellent? Gabriela Markova’s attention to minutiae, echoed by Petr Marek, who appeared at one’s proverbial elbow just before you thought you might need him. Host hotel Mandarin Oriental’s GM Flavia Caponi and her team had thought of everything except how to stretch time. Oh, and the weather was just perfect. Roll on Luxury Bloc 2022, says Girlahead.
And now hear, here, Capella CEO Nicholas Clayton: