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Meet the 'Open Sesame' Specialists

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Sophy Roberts profiles 10 super-agents- travel experts who can give their customers access to the most exclusive accommodation and events.

Financial Times 2005Some of us turn to personal shoppers, others to yoga teachers. For travelers, the guru de jour is the super-agent, shorthand for the connector who can get us into the best private houses in the world’s most compelling regions.

These people are not for everyone. Because their client lists are generally small, their prices are usually high “It’s about being quality-driven, rather than price-driven, which is the current scourge of the travel industry.” Says Mark Robinson. Who was formerly behind the private travel division of Abercrombie & Kent but has now launched his own business. The Private Travel Company, based in London.

It was in Seville that I realized how vitally important private access can be. This is a city I had previously thought frustrating (I am not a Spanish speaker). Recently, thanks to super-agent Cedric Reversade. I experienced the city at a different level. Reversade books clients into Casa Real Alcazar, a private, nine-suite boutique palace—all the rooms have en suite bathrooms; the sitting rooms are packed with precious family antiques; balconies overflow with flowers and there is an equally exotic courtyard garden. He briefed me on the culture of the tapas bar: what to order, where to go. He also took me to shops where the best mantillas, the lace scarves characteristic of Spain, are sold.

Is it worth it? Super-agents are specialists who limit themselves deliberately so they can know their subject intimately. Of those below, I have traveled with seven. To improve the geographical spread. I have added three: Guy Rubin and Nancy Kim in China, Africa specialist Will Jones and Jonny Bealby, who focuses on countries off the regular travel trail. All three have been repeatedly recommended to me.

Imperial Tours

China has only a smattering of specialists who can deliver more than run-of-the-mill itineraries. Beijing based Imperial Tours, headed up by Guy Rubin, a Briton, and his Korean-American wife, Nancy Kim, stands out from the pack. The company does only deluxe China, from Lhasa to Xi’an , but won’t risk the back country of, say , Sichuan, unless it can be sure of a comfortable hotel (by experience, the local grading doesn’t quite cut it).

The couple don’t just book restaurants for clients: they secure a specific table (their culinary tours are highly recommended). And because they live in China, they know what’s hot, what’s not, which includes where the swankiest Chinese are eating (especially important in Shanghai and Beijing). Be sure to ask them about the new Hotel of Modern Art in Guilin. Tel: +1 88-88881970, email:  guy@ imperialtours.net 
 
© November 2005 Financial Times