Big Five Tours and Expeditions is one of the most exciting bespoke tour companies in the world. We spoke with Ashish Sanghrajka, the company’s president, to get his views on the nature of authentic, luxury travel.
- Why is Big Five’s emphasis on personal service and relationships so fundamental to the way the company works?
The lifelong relationships in various countries that my father and I have formed have been essential for Big Five because luxury is all about details. Whether it’s knowing a Canadian guide in Kyoto Japan who’s a professor in the local university, gaining special access to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi Kenya, or touring Quito Ecuador by night in a 1940’s vintage Mercedes Benz and staying in a hacienda belonging to Ecuador’s only surviving count and countess, our world of relationships produces magic for guests. Anyone can book luxury hotels - it’s what happens after guests leave their rooms that’s so special.
- What features of a Big Five Tour do you believe make the greatest difference and add the most value to the experience?
If you take a trip and it goes well, you won’t remember how much you paid but if you pinch pennies and have a horrible time, you’ll regret every dollar. Our guests want authenticity and sustainability and we’re ready to provide both.
Authenticity comes from our passion for intellectual property, with creativity being the driver. You might tour Cape Town in the side car of a vintage WWII motorcycle sidecar, zip line into a glass pod in the Sacred Valley in Peru where you’ll stay the night or check into a nine-room desert hotel in Jodhpur owned by the son of a Maharaja. Our guest experiences are what we’d want to enjoy ourselves.
At Big Five, we’re proud that the journeys we design are part of a larger sustainability solution. We’ve made sure the world knows who we are and what we believe in. Share our philosophy? We’d love to hear from you. If not, then you owe it to yourself to choose a company that simply takes orders instead. Big Five deals in intellectual property and creating lifestyles.
- What is White Glove Service?
WGS is more than concierge service - that’s easy. It’s about knowing what our guests want before they want it and being able to track every guest at any given moment. In ten minutes, we can pinpoint the location of every guest, locate missing luggage, and tell who’s having a great time simply by looking at our phones. Service is king and while we don’t claim to get it right 100 percent of the time, we come pretty close.
- What type of traveler most enjoys the Big Five experience?
We cater to those who want more from travel and expect to have their lives changed. Our guests are those not willing to settle simply for what the market offers. Our guests want to get off the beaten track and be part of a larger solution through their travel itinerary. We don’t cater to clients who chase trends - our guests set them!
- Do you have a favorite Big Five destination?
I was born in Kenya and my roots are there, but I also love mainland Ecuador. The highlands and reserves outside the normal tour circuits boast some of the world’s most authentic pre-Incan remains. Ecuador offers authentic adventure and important history, and meets our sustainability standards admirably.
- Which are the hot destinations at the moment?
Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Kenya, South Africa, China, and Indochina are very popular right now but Latin America has overtaken Africa as our top destination. These places all have one thing in common – they’re constantly reinventing themselves or opening up new tourism areas.
- What is the Big Five Foundation and how does it benefit the countries in which your company operates?
The Spirit of Big Five Foundation, founded in 2007, is a means to formalize 40 years of work, world-wide. The Foundation takes a grass roots approach, giving small grants funded by family endowments. Past projects have included funding in Cambodia to help a local community prepare ancient ruins outside Angkor Wat to manage tourism wisely and avoid looting and illegal profiteering. In the Galapagos, the Foundation has twice provided a grant to the islands’ only recycling center. In Belize, a grant helped to protect the wildlife and reef systems around the barrier islands. Our latest grant will fund a community-based anti-poaching program in south eastern Kenya.
- Can you share a favorite story about one of your guest’s experiences on a Big Five trip?
We had Ontario guests in Kenya and Tanzania celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary so we arranged a cave dinner in the Chyulu Hills area and asked local tribal elders to perform a blessing ceremony. The traditions there are real, handed down through generations and never provided simply for payment and each step of the ancient tribal ritual was performed. I met the guests later, in Nairobi, as they headed to the Mara, where I’d just been. I was happy to tell them that the wildebeest migration had come early and that I had just seen my first hyena kill. I later heard that those guests saw a cheetah kill and more game than they’d ever imagined!