Why A&K’s Desmier will push Myanmar for next Connections program

Issues & Trends – March 2013

Why A&K’s Desmier will push Myanmar for next Connections program

A&K ConnectionsSAMUEL (“Sam”) Desmier is extremely proud of the South East Asian content of Abercrombie & Kent’s new Connections program.

Desmier is A&K’s regional managing director for South East Asia and he guarantees regional experiences that will more than live up to the Connections promise of small group tours that deliver exclusive, authentic local experiences to participants.

But talk to him for any length of time about South East Asia and he will soon also be waxing lyrical about his favourite destination of Myanmar (Burma) and the offerings that A&K has available for its traditional arrangements tailored to individual travellers.

And yes, he says, he will be pushing for the inclusion of Myanmar in the next Connections portfolio.
Desmier spoke with travelBulletin late last month when he joined his counterparts from Europe and Latin America to launch Connections to the Australian travel industry.

Together with A&K’s Australian team, led by managing director Sujata Raman, they visited Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne introducing agents to what is a new concept for this market.

Under the Connections banner, A&K is for the first time marketing high-end small group tours to Europe, Africa, Egypt, Morocco, India, China, South East Asia and Latin America.

The 17 itineraries have a maximum group size of 24, durations typically around 12-14 days and price points from $5000.

Raman says there will be “a very local element” to all the itineraries – such as a recital by a violinist from the Vienna Philarmonic in Austria; dumplings with a local family in Huyong, China; time with a local oyster family in Croatia.

And Desmier assures that the South East Asia content – including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang – will more than measure up. Among the special events he has arranged are a chat with a monk in Chiang Mai and a meeting with a Vietnam war veteran.

While “tailor made” individual tours will remain A&K’s “standout” product, Desmier says his talks with dozens of agents during his visit here has convinced him that Australians will give a warm welcome to the Connections product.

“I think Connections will appeal to an older demographic but I am very confident it will work.”

Ultimately, however, a conversation with Desmier about South East Asia turns to Myanmar – a destination where A&K has been established for nine years; a destination that he visited 20 times last year.

“We didn’t make much money until the visits of (Hilary) Clinton and (US President) Obama (in the wake of the release from prison of Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said.

But with the boom in travel that followed those visits and the consequent pressure on Myanmar’s tourist infrastructure, the years that A&K spent in the destination are now paying dividends.

Desmier says the company has an established presence with a staff of 25 in Yangon “and we have the best guides in the country who have been working with us since the beginning”.
“We have good relations with the hotels and, while we still have to fight for rooms, we know how to go about it,” he said.

“We have four staff working full time remaining in touch with hotels. You need to be ‘hands on’ every single day.”

His favourite part of Myanmar is Inle Lake, a one hour and 20 minute flight from Rangoon. He recommends sightseeing by boat visiting local villages and meeting with the people.

He also recommends the Orient Express three-night river cruise from Mandalay to Bagan, “then an extra one or two nights in Bagan, a city of pagodas”.

The best way to see Bagan, he says, is by hot air balloon. (A&K uses a “very safe” New Zealand-owned company.)

A&K special offerings include dinners under the stars at a private temple in Bagan (with wines shipped in from Yangon).

The operator also introduces its clients to Ma Thanegi, a former per-sonal assistant to Aung San Suu Kyi and a political prisoner for three years. “He has a lot of stories to tell,” says Desmier.

“I will definitely be pushing for the inclusion of Myanmar in next year’s Connections.”


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