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Some Enchanted Evenings
Houston Business Journal, May 1999

(Scuba) divers emerging from the sea bearing chilled bottles of champagne for the employees of a local computer company vacationing in Mexico?

A marauding group of Vikings masquerading for Chancellor Media Group execs in Denmark? And how about a Saskatchewan hunting trip for beer baron Adolfus Busch and six companions?

For those with champagne wishes and caviar dreams, Gregory Patrick is their fairy godfather.

Since founding Houston-based Tour of Enchantment, Patrick has made his mark on the travel industry by creating unique, one of a kind fantasy trips for the well-heeled clientele that can afford them.

Patrick’s excursions often involve putting up clients in the residences of the rich and famous and delivering every imaginable perk, regardless of location.

Recalling that hunting trip for the head of Busch Breweries, Patrick says because no luxury accommodations were available nearby, he found two suitable neighboring houses and offered the residents an all expense paid trip to Vancouver to temporarily vacate.

He removed part of the fence for easy access between each home, flew in a butler, chef and masseuse and stocked the entertainment center with Charlie Pride CDs ­ a favorite of one of Busch’s friends.

“I’m an experience designer,” says Patrick “Those two words explain what I do better than anything.”

Relationship Incentives

But, unless you’re a corporate executive or have the kind of money where politicians are calling you pal, don’t expect Patrick to materialize after a hard day on the cube farm. Prices for his trips can sometimes hover in the $100,000 range.

However, if you happen to be a top performing salesperson or employee of a company that knows what a good incentive program can do for the bottom line, the experiences still may be within reach.

While many of Patrick’s clients are corporate executives entertaining clients, more and more of his business is leaning towards company incentive programs that start at about $1,300 a head and go up from there.

Hitachi, IKON, Entex and Baker Hughes Inc, have all treated select employees to incentive trips designed by Patrick. Smart companies, he says, understand that these programs are great motivators that produce results.

“Its really a drop in the bucket,” he says “If you’ve got someone selling $1million dollars in products every year, spending $10,000 on them and a spouse is nothing.”

While few would contest employees being rewarded for hard work, others turn a more skeptical eye to already well-compensated corporate execs and their clients taking lavish trips.

Patrick counters that in today’s business climate, chi chi cocktail parties and endless rounds of golf are blasé.

“The days of bidding are over, Business is based on relationships,” says Patrick. “For the guy protecting a huge income stream for a company and investors, a vacation is not a lot (to spend) to build a special relationship.”

Enron Corp vice president Jim Ducote has used Patrick’s company for the last seven years, recently traveling to the French West Indies to stay in a rock star’s villa with the heads of two other Houston energy companies.

Chancellor Media Group and their local radio station, KLOL, have also used Patrick to design trips several years running to treat their top advertisers, as has Coastal Corp.

Creating Experience

A 36 year-old high school drop out, Patrick’s travel career began when he started a bus coach company that featured tuxedoed waiters pouring cocktails for tourists on jaunts to Padre Island. The idea for Tours of Enchantment was formed after hearing about a San Antonio rancher who couldn’t make his mortgage bill and started advertising in British travel guides for Brits to have the dude ranch experience.

Later upon reading about some wealthy English landowners with one too many tax problems, Patrick thought about reversing the idea and have Texas pretend they were to the manor born for a week.

Today, Patrick has had clients stay in Randy Travis’ Hawaiian beach house, Francis Ford Coppola’s Belize bungalow, Mick Jagger’s Mustique island home and Jane Seymour’s English estate.

Patrick gains access to the homes by first doing a little detective work and finding out if the owner of the home needs money or is charity driven. If that’s the case, he’ll either offer a flat fee or donate a sum to their favorite charity for the use of the house.

Sometimes he’ll barter, giving them plane tickets and use of another home he has access to.

What’s different about his tour business, explains Patrick, is that each trip is different and custom designed.

When approached by a client Patrick says he conducts an intensive interview about what a person’s interests are, then gets to work.

“They often don’t know what they want. They pay me to create the experience,” he says.

One of the biggest coups was renting out Princess Diana’s girlhood home in England ­ Althorp Estate ­ for a group of eight Dallas couples who travel together each year and take turns trying to outdo the prior year’s trip.

Displaying a three ring binder stuffed with correspondence, Patrick says that took months to pull off and cost $250,000 a couple.

“It really is lifestyles of the rich and famous, but its what people come back to me for. They can’t do this for themselves and they can’t call their travel agent and have them do it. There’s tremendous repeat business in doing the impossible.” 

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