Franschhoek’s iconic hotelier brings her nous to elite travel
Former hotelier Susan Huxter, who was at the helm for 26 years at the Le Quartier Français boutique hotel, is now preparing experiences for the high net worth travel market
While the growth in online travel agencies and fare aggregators is soaring and the influence of sites such as TripAdvisor influences budget online bookings, elite travellers are focused on transformational journeys.
Former hotelier Susan Huxter of Franschhoek, who was at the helm for 26 years at the Le Quartier Français boutique hotel and globally ranked restaurant The Tasting Room, is now preparing experiences for the high net worth travel market.
"I moved to the dark side," she smiles as she describes her new business, Cartology Travel, which was launched in November 2016.
"We used to love to hate the travel agents. Having been in hospitality for so long, I could see the difference between customers who’d booked themselves or used an agent."
Huxter is leveraging a lifetime of global hotel and restaurant contacts.
"I was at Hotel School in Lausanne with the now GM of Four Seasons London, for example, so an e-mail from me lands differently," she says.
"It is the personal touches that make the difference, personalised cards or gifts on arrival contribute to a great guest experience. We listen carefully to what our clients love and build experiences around these elements. Anyone can book hotels and flights, but we really want to listen to what you want to do to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
"It isn’t just about going to the top of Table Mountain, for example, it is who you go with and what you do there. We want you to go home with wonderful memories after a Cartology Travel-booked experience because, as busy people, our clients only have a short amount of available time and we must make the most of it."
Huxter has teamed up with her London-based son Justin, a former marketing executive who is using the latest technology to reach his network of successful Gen X and Millennials.
"We’ve replaced the traditional reams of paper with a Cartology Travel app that updates arrangements and any booking changes in real time," Justin Huxter says.
“It is the personal touches that make the difference... We listen carefully to what our clients love and build experiences around these elements...”
A growing trend is intergenerational travel. "If the kids are happy, then everyone else is. I know this from my years in the hotel business," says Susan Huxter, "and Justin recently arranged the most spectacular trip to Lithuania for my mom and I with a museum curator as our private guide."
The former hotelier appears to be tackling her new project with the same verve that built Le Quartier Francais into a multi-award-winning hospitality business and helped grow Franschhoek’s reputation as a destination for tourists in the Western Cape. As a member of luxury travel network Virtuoso and a former owner of a Relais & Châteaux property, her luxury travel tendrils stretch deep.
"We have partnered with Century Travel, a member of Virtuoso, based in Atlanta in the US and are adopting the US travel agency model where business is for one’s own account, but under a shared resource and network,"
"The revenue model will be a travel planning fee of between $100 and $150 and commissions on booking but, in time, a subscription model."
Concierge services group Quintessentially and other high-end companies offer similar services and charges.
Although Cartology Travel books experiences around the world and has a network of staff in Franschhoek and plans to hire more in San Francisco
and possibly Beijing in 2017, southern Africa will remain a special interest. "What we bring is the knowledge of what the hotelier can do for the client and I know how to look after the hotels that are looking after our clients," Huxter says.
"You won’t get the cheapest rate with us, but the added value like upgrades and inclusive breakfasts, for example, will
"If you’re planning a trip to Franschhoek as a family with varying diet requirements, we can put you into a villa with a fully stocked fridge with what you like to eat."
Justin says they can also arrange helicopter flights or chefs for special occasions.
Huxter is flexing her 26 years of experience in the hotel industry and her training at Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne and the Harvard Business School to build her business.
"I’ve decided in this new career that I only want to deal with nice people. I can choose now," she says.
"You get to a stage in your life when you are prepared to pay for what you want and, as time is your most important and precious possession, you are delighted to have someone else plan your journeys for you. These are the clients for whom we can add value."
Justin describes his mother as the CMO of their new business — chief motherly officer.