Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – On a personal trip to Ethiopia in 2015, former US President George W. Bush came across a pleasant surprise.
Arriving in the old Christian town of Lalibela, dozens of children, dressed in royal blue Texas Ranger hats, one of Texas’s favorite sports teams, gave him a warm welcome.
“We prepared a lot of big surprises for this trip,” Jacqueline Sienna India, founder of the luxury lifestyle company Sienna Charles, told CNN Travel.
“I’m trying to think of good ways to get excited (travelers), so I bought about 100 Texas Rangers hats. And when Bush came to the village, all the kids wore them.”
Personal touches, security and exclusive acts are among the things world leaders expect while traveling.
“It’s a lot like theater, where world leaders have this vision of what this place might be like, how weird and amazing it is … and we want to realize that vision with special moments,” India adds.
And Bush was not the first global leader India has dealt with, as his agency has planned more than 100 trips for at least 15 presidents and prime ministers since 2012.
“Whether he is a former president, a billionaire or a celebrity, they are all individuals,” she says. “If you understand what makes them undertake this journey, it’s a successful relationship.”
Offer personalized experiences
India learned all about the art of luxury hospitality at Le Bec Fin, a 3-star Michelin restaurant that is now closed after she worked while earning her Art History degree from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia.
She recalls, “I fell in love with serving individuals with ultra high net worth. I was really successful in this area and understood their needs. It was really a success in my career, understanding the needs of each person and after being able to provide that experience ”.
After graduating from college, India moved to Palm Beach, Florida, with her then-boyfriend and now husband, Freddy Charles Reinert, where she quickly realized that the level of service in “luxury” tourism was fading in comparison.
“It just didn’t make sense to me,” she recalls. “In a restaurant, you sit for three hours and spend $ 5,000 to $ 10,000.”
In doing so, the duo tried to offer a better alternative for higher-income travelers, with the launch of the Sienna Charles in 2008.
adventures through Egypt
In 2012, Sienna Charles had the opportunity to plan a trip for a world leader for the first time.
The client, whose name could not be revealed, decided to travel to the land of Egypt he had previously visited, but was really interested in Egyptian archeology, India said.
In doing so, the travel expert organized a 12-day, multi-stop trip, accompanied by historical and cultural discussions with various professionals and academics.
The world leader’s journey began from Cairo on a private yacht cruise on the Nile, with numerous stops at historic sites.
The trip ended in the ancient capital of Luxor, which is called “the largest open-air museum in the world”, where some of the country’s oldest tombs and temples can be found.
shrubs in Ethiopia
In 2015, India coordinated a trip to some remote parts of Ethiopia for Bush, his wife Laura, four of his friends, his doctor, and 30 Secret Service agents.
Due to their large number, the news of the trip spread.
“We all talk about secrecy and privacy,” India says. “But with so many Secret Service agents and employees, there has been a media frenzy … Some world leaders go with a security agent and a baseball cap – and no one knows who they are.”
She says Bush chose Ethiopia because he was there during his presidency, but did not have time to go out and explore deeper.
In doing so, India planned a trip from the remote Omo River valley to the south, home to some of the most isolated tribes in the world, to the northern city of Lalibela.
The challenging logistical journey required a variety of modes of transport, ranging from SUVs to helicopters, private jets, and river boats.
The India team met very specific food and beverage requirements because ‘travel is about them’.
For example, she says, Bush likes comfort foods like peanut butter sandwiches and pasta during his travels, so she made sure to reserve all of his favorite foods, even in remote parts of Ethiopia.
Since hotels in Ethiopia did not meet India’s expectations, she worked with local partners to build luxury camps for the former president and his district.
On one occasion, India helped a world leader celebrate his wife’s birthday by covering the entire floor of a private villa with exotic flowers from Ecuador, she said.
She also worked with filmmakers and design experts to create a Parisian film scene in the heart of Miami, where celebrity chef Eric Ripert created a special menu.
And in Italy, she hosted a private session for a world leader with a famous jewelry stylist. The leader helped design a unique gift for his wife, a ring worth about $ 714,000.
Confidentiality, security and exclusivity
After an initial consultation, India, which has traveled to more than 80 countries, will suggest 3 to 5 options, outlining the pros and cons of each.
From there, the travel expert works closely with the client’s chief of staff, personal assistant and security to iron out the details, from the moment they want to wake up to their favorite food.
And transportation is often relatively smooth because 100% of its customers own their own yachts and planes.
As part of the security protocol, Sienna Charles often has to close large monuments and museums so that customers can experience it for themselves.
“We have closed the Sydney Opera House, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Louvre, Versailles, the Great Sphinx of Giza, Machu Picchu and other monuments,” says India. “When you’re willing to pay, it’s a really easy conversation.”
Leave room for spontaneity
India says the pandemic has not affected the travels of the rich and elites.
“There are many countries like Fiji and Thailand that started launching private jets about six months ago,” she explained.
“It’s a good time to be a very rich person, because power comes with money … and people are willing to spend money doing what they want,” she said.
India has noticed some ultra-luxury travel trends, fueled by the pandemic.
For example, Indian customers tend to plan their trips at the last minute, sometimes just a day or two in advance, due to uncertainty about border restrictions and quarantine requirements.
They have also started to bypass brokers altogether, buy their own yachts and planes and buy holiday homes.
Prior to the pandemic, India was helping customers rent yachts for around $ 200,000 to $ 300,000 a week. Currently, they reserve boats that cost up to a million dollars a week.
When it comes to vacation homes and real estate, spending has risen from an average of $ 10,000 per night to $ 35,000 or more for Sienna Charles clients.
“Expenditures are definitely out of control, they are inclusive,” India says. “People are willing to pay for the franchise and being in the right place at the right time.”