“A travel designer designs access to freedom for travellers,” travel designer by profession, Pierpaolo Di Nardo has no doubt when he sums up the ultimate goal of his job – adding that “it is the best job in the world.”
Not a travel agent nor a tour operator but a completely new role which has been developing rapidly in Italy over the past few years and is in particular demand in this first post-Covid summer. Di Nardo is the founder of the portal Maldindia, author of several travel guides and a pioneer in his field: “I’ve been doing this job for a while,” he tells us. “I design tailor-made trips across the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia and South America. You can’t learn this job at school: I have travelled extensively, gathered information and written travel guides. I’ve done my research and carried out thorough checks.”
The task of a travel designer is to recommend unusual, unique, unforgettable and personalised experiences
Travel designers turn the traveller’s wishes into a detailed itinerary. They listen to needs, try to discover what their clients are looking for and what they want to escape from. They collect information just as a tailor would when making a garment. Once all the measurements have been taken, they open up a map and design an itinerary, suggesting a number of options until the right garment has been made: the perfect, unique trip made to measure for the client.
“The task of a travel designer is to recommend unusual, unique, unforgettable and personalised experiences. I have opted for lesser-known or less popular destinations so that travellers can enjoy the flavour of discovery, places that are thrilling but safe to visit. You also have to be a bit of a psychologist with your clients when you design a trip. The first question I ask is not ‘Where do you want to go?’ but ‘What music do you listen to?’.”
If you call upon the services of a travel designer, you will be accompanied every step of the way. “Firstly,” Di Nardo explains, “we have a phone interview, then as soon as possible we meet in person. The second step is when we propose an itinerary and once that has been agreed, we make all reservations for travel, accommodation and any experiences we’ve included. The client is never left alone. We stay in touch with them during the whole trip and when they come back to Italy, we get in contact because their feedback is essential.”
You don’t become a travel designer overnight. So, what are the five essential skills for anyone wanting to enter the profession? “Curiosity and a passion for travel and the world are prerequisites,” Di Nardo says.
Then there are the real requirements: “There is only one way to discover fresh places and experiences. Organisation skills, the clients who approach a travel designer to arrange their trips generally belong to a high-spend category and they want every element of their trip to be organised to perfection. Flexibility, clients book appointments at any time: early morning or late evening and when they are travelling, you have to stay in touch with them to make sure that everything is going well. You have to be available 24 hours a day, there are no office hours. Relationships and local knowledge, you need to be continually updating. As soon as you have some free days, you have to go back to the places you think you know to check if any new hotels have opened or new activities become available. Or you go and discover countries you haven’t visited before. The fifth characteristic is a gift for storytelling, anyone who buys a trip is also buying the story you tell them, they are buying something that they can’t see yet.”
I don’t ask my clients ‘Where do you want to go?’ but ‘What music do you listen to?’.”
In the wake of the coronavirus emergency, how do you think the travel world will change? “We have to design individual, tailor-made trips for families or small groups of friends, putting in place procedures to ensure transport is disinfected, and opting for small charming hotels where control is more manageable. Future trips will be focused on four or five-night stays in one place, in quiet secluded areas from where you can visit the surrounding region. From these locations you can visit monuments and little-known temples – perhaps in the early morning or at dawn – and get to know local populations, immersing yourself in the life of small rural towns.”