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Turning dreams into reality
August 01, 1999
The Houston Chronicle - Sunday 2 STAR EDITION

SOME travelers prefer budget motels for overnight accommodations.

Others splurge for Ritz-Carltons and Four Seasons.

And then there are those who luxuriate at Mick Jagger's vacation retreat on the private Caribbean island of Mustique, at Jane Seymour's castle in England or in an Acapulco mansion staffed by a butler, chef and housekeeper.

"Some people design homes; I design experiences," says Houstonian Gregory Patrick, whose Tours of Enchantment eschews traditional lodging and instead pampers clients in any of 650 private residences around the world.

Patrick's mantra: The more elaborate a traveler's request, the more exciting his challenge. "Our service is limited only by your imagination," he says. "I'm not a travel agent. I've never sold the same experience twice; I may use some of the same elements, but I never just pull something off the shelf."

Depending on the client's whim - and bankroll - accommodations are only part of the service.

Case in point: A gentleman determined that his mother would celebrate her 75th birthday in grand style.

Extra-special touches

Arranging limousines, a police escort and private lodging in a palatial Florida home was routine. "Then, when she arrived, a white gate opened and an 80-piece local high school band was lined up in the walkway waiting to play for her," Patrick says. "It wasn't difficult to arrange; I just struck a deal to have their uniforms cleaned."

But, wait. There's more.

"We chartered a 60-foot yacht, and a vintage plane flew overhead, carrying a banner that read, 'Happy birthday, Mother,' and dive-bombed hundreds of red roses onto the boat.

"Then we rented a little private island between the U.S. and Cuba, transported the birthday party in on seaplanes and catered a white-jacket dinner."

OK, so most of us can't afford to rent islands and dive bomb roses onto yachts.

But we can dream.

And, Patrick says, "We can custom-design an experience for as little as $ 1,500 per person for three or four nights in Acapulco."

Most customers are corporate executives eager to impress their clients or willing to reward employees through incentive programs. But Patrick says more and more individuals invest in that one special vacation experience we've always fantasized about.

"The biggest trend we're seeing is a need to slow down and get some enjoyment out of life," he says. "There are more e-mails and voice mails than we can handle. Even when we get away, airplanes and hotels are crowded. People don't want that; they want to be pampered."

  

Demand for luxury

The marketplace bears him out. Room occupancy at mainstream luxury hotels is the highest in the industry. Upscale tour firms such as Abercrombie & Kent do thriving business. St. Louis- based Intrav fills private jets for around-the-world excursions several times each year - 24-day adventures utilizing a Concorde depart in September and October and cost $ 59,500 per person.

Fort Worth-based API Travel Consultants, a network of 222 independent luxury-oriented travel agents, reports annual sales of more than $ 2 billion, with upscale and expedition cruises and adventure travel the hottest trends among affluent travelers.

Tours of Enchantment, a division of Houston-based Retention Resources, aims to personalize luxury vacations. A ninth-grade dropout, the 36-year-old Patrick says, "I travel six to seven months each year, meeting people and making arrangements to have butlers and chefs available whenever we need them. With every chateau we utilize in Europe, we work directly with the owners."

One bittersweet accomplishment: arranging for a group of clients to stay at Princess Diana's family home, Althorp Castle, 11 days before her death.

The best bet for a traveler who craves just a rare taste of luxury? "Consider a private villa in Acapulco," Patrick says. "You'd have a private staff of servants, and if you want to be guaranteed three days of good weather, Acapulco is the place."

-- HARRY SHATTUCK, Houston Chronicle Travel Editor


Copyright 1999 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company

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