It was 1993. Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president. A 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola was 99 cents, and the post office was issuing an Elvis Presley stamp — young Elvis, by popular demand.
Our rather unorthodox, small travel business was about to enter its seventh year, and our accountant told my wife and me that we might actually scratch out our first profit since opening our doors.
It goes without saying that we had not taken a vacation since opening the business, but we decided to start planning early in the year to try to get away the following year. It would be a truly meaningful vacation, a return to Tuscany where I had spent some wonderful years as headmaster of an American school.
We would go to some of my favorite haunts, having bistecca a la Fiorentina (I could still taste it), sharing bottles of the best, never exported, Chianti classico. This was going to be the romantic getaway in 1994 that my wife and I had longed for after years of seven-days-a-week devotion to our business.
But then, about 15 months before our intended trip, something happened. My wife mentioned where we were headed to some of her clients, and I, somehow, dropped it in conversation with some of mine. Within weeks we had deposits on a trip that wasn’t fully planned, let alone costed out.
We left for our vacation in 1994 accompanied by 37 clients. We met a wonderful mother and daughter cooking team — “authentic,” before that word became an empty marketing buzzword — in the Tuscan hills. We went to my former school in the countryside, a huge villa, and surprised the winemaker/caretaker with an emotional “homecoming.”
And so, the tradition of vacationing with clients began. This year we did a circumnavigation of Iceland with 49 clients. Next summer, we will return to Provence and then do some slow river cruising from Avignon. That trip sold out in 72 hours.
For the past 27 years, we have planned and executed an annual vacation with a group of our clients, some of whom have standing deposits with little regard to where we are headed. It is referred in our correspondence and conversation as our annual Signature Trip, and I really hope that you will consider putting something like this together at your company.
I believe this is the perfect time to begin such a tradition. No one wants to be alone on vacation after almost two years alone with Netflix. Our initial plans for a vacation in Tuscany has resulted in lifelong friendships, and our daughter started joining us when she turned 4. Best of all, we unintentionally formed a most amazing annual focus group, one that provides insights about our company and its operations that no team of highly paid consultants could ever replicate.
We’ve traveled on food journeys all over the world, including Morocco and Provence, sailed the Paul Gauguin on longer voyages in the South Pacific and roamed Sicily, including a meeting with the anti-Mafia squad at a closed cocktail party and touring with a local real estate agent to see just how much our dream home there might cost.
There is something wonderful about knowing that, each and every year, you will break some rather excellent bread with clients, some of whom you may have not yet met in person.
I have taken several calls in the past several weeks asking where we are going in 2024 and when the books will be opening.
I answer that we will be announcing it formally in a short while, but it will likely be a rest home of some sort with only adequate cuisine.