Interview: Lou Tandy, Creative Director of Captain’s Choice

This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, winter 2019, issue 111

We speak with Lou Tandy, the creative director of luxury touring company Captain’s Choice.

Captain’s Choice offers its guests a “collection of experiences other travellers only dream of”. When devising itineraries, how you do weave cultural experiences in to the mix?

As you can imagine Captain’s Choice attracts team members who are obsessed about travelling to remote and exotic destinations and creating incredible experiences for our guests. Our founder, Phil Asker OAM ensured that this was part of the DNA of our company. We have a collaborative culture, combined with an organised process, where everyone can contribute his or her own travel insights, interests and ideas. However, it’s our team of experienced Product Managers who are the destination experts who can be credited with bringing these ideas to life, often making the impossible, possible.

When researching experiences, what opportunities do you look for that will really give your guests authentic cultural experiences?

Culture is created by people, for people. In order to understand the many and diverse cultures of our world, we first look to its people – the industry leaders, thought starters, historians and artists, those who can help us view the world through a new lens. Who are the ones passing on customs, traditions, language and arts onto the next generation? Who are those shaping it for tomorrow and beyond? This is why introducing guests to extraordinary people is a key pillar of every Captain’s Choice journey.

Can you give us some examples of some of the most unique cultural experiences that you’re most proud of curating for the enjoyment of your guests? 

This is difficult as there are so many!

Thinking about previous journeys, in South America we had Francis Mallmann, known as the godfather of Argentinian barbeque, share his signature cooking methods with our guests. For architecture fans, we secured a private tour of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s works lead by his grandson and colleague which culminated in a private dinner in his home. With a view of immersing guests in the glory of the past, we’d exclusively reserved the Doge Palace in Venice for a masquerade ball.

For our upcoming 2020 itineraries, guests on our ‘Rooftops of the World’ journey will participate in a friendly archery match after being tutored by some of the country’s elite archers; archery being the national sport of Bhutan. The ‘Festivals & Safaris of Northern India’ itinerary allows a handful of inquisitive guests to visit the rarely seen (or even heard of) cultures of Nagaland at the Hornbill Festival.

Interview: Lou Tandy, Creative Director of Captain's Choice

In your view, what defines the ‘culture’ of a destination?

As a manmade phenomenon, the people define the culture of a destination. How they behave and how they express themselves. There can be hierarchical perspectives on culture, however at Captain’s Choice we are interested in all forms, for example, the high culture of the social elite, and the popular, or folk, culture of the everyday citizen. Similarly, we are interested in traditions but also the transformation of what a destination will be tomorrow.

Growing up in the travel industry, with your grandfather Bill McGeary the founder of APT, and your father, Geoff McGeary OAM considered a legend of the travel industry, what are some of your fondest memories of discovering Australian culture and other cultures around the world?

The Kimberley holds a special place in my family’s life. While on holiday, we called in to a lodge to see a group of our guests, and it happened to be our son Teddy’s third birthday. My husband and I had worked with the local community for a number of years. The community heard about Teddy’s birthday, and as a complete surprise to us, held a corroboree to celebrate. We were all in awe. It was only the second corroboree the community had held in 11 years. Two years later, out of the blue, Teddy said to me, “Mum that was really special, wasn’t it?” And it was, however the fact that at 5 years old he knew that, well…that’s the magic of travel isn’t it?

Further afield, my husband, my father and I were on a research trip in Rwanda for the gorillas, which was an incredible travel experience. However, we discovered the Rwandans’ amazing resilience, forgiveness, kindness and happiness. The story of how the people of Rwanda pulled together after the horrific genocide that pitted neighbour against neighbour, is incredible. The people of Rwanda showed me the best of mankind and filled me with hope for the future.

What type of cultural experiences are you finding that your customers are currently seeking – and conversely, what are they turning away from?

Our guests consistently show interest for authentic experiences, which in turn not only enables them to encounter rare and unique opportunities, but also a sense of achievement. This involves meeting people who are passing on their culture, of visionaries, tastemakers and change-makers of each community.

Our 2020 ‘A Taste of Spain With Frank Camorra’ journey includes wonderful hands-on and immersive activities that stem directly from his personal insights and heritage. With Frank as our guide, guests have the opportunity to participate in the traditional stomping of the grapes, hop between his favourite tapas bars, scout local markets and farms for the best produce, to then roll up their sleeves and cook alongside him.

The ‘Crux of the Camino’ itinerary is brimming with cultural experiences. With residences ancient and modern, numerous Michelin star dining experiences and historical sites including Burgos where Europe’s oldest human remains were found, guests retrace a journey steeped in culture and tradition.

Our guests and Captain’s Choice are unified in averting from any form of animal interaction that is forced or manufactured. Due to this, our journeys will always exclude any activities that we don’t see as ethical or contributing to sustainable tourism.

Interview: Lou Tandy, Creative Director of Captain's Choice

How does Captain’s Choice contribute to ethical and sustainable tourism?

Captain’s Choice contributes to ethical and sustainable tourism by hiring local guides in each destination to ensure that funds are directly funnelled back into the community.

Working with Rotary International, we are able to help projects most in need. Together with donations from our guests, we have donated over $3 million to health, hunger, humanity and educational projects including Hogar San José Orphanage in Peru, Ethiopia’s Hamlin Fistula Hospital, The Foundation of Goodness in Sri Lanka and building numerous schools and classrooms across Cambodia, Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya.

Which soon-to-change cultural destinations would you recommend to travellers who want to explore a destination before it potentially changes forever?

The Silk Roads holds such a significant place in history, where a mixture of religions, empires, centuries-old philosophies and cultures were exchanged to weave the fabric of our world. The convergence of Asia and Europe provides such a fascinating landscape for the exploration of this story. ‘The Silk Roads by Private Jet’ itinerary traverses Mongolia to ancient Persia and on to modern-day Turkey. On this itinerary, guests can meet a Laotian prince to learn the artistry of gold-thread embroidery, join an archaeologist in Samarkand and dine amidst illuminated fairy chimneys of Cappadocia.

Havana was a city frozen in time where mansions serve as tenements, vintage cars are every day means of transport and scarcity of resources is the norm. However, the city is now in a period of transformation. Cuban ingenuity is igniting the creation of exciting new bars, restaurants and performance spaces that flirt with government restrictions.

Havana is still figuring out who to be next, and now is the perfect time to visit.

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