Interview with Andrew Dunn of Scott Dunn: “All time is precious but holiday time is priceless”
Unwind with ease
When Andrew Dunn was 22 years old, he visited his sister in Switzerland and thought to himself, "How do I ski for free?" He then started a ski company in 1986, which later became what is now known as Scott Dunn — Scott being the name of Andrew's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. With a vast international presence in all corners of the world, and about 200 full-time staff onboard, Scott Dunn is clearly one of the world's largest luxury experiential operators. Fun fact? In the name of work, Scott Dunn has once closed a pyramid in Egypt for a private dinner for an esteemed guest, and organised a wedding in a hot air balloon over Kenya. Below, Andrew lets us in on a glimpse of what the company does, and some of his must-dos around the world.
Has there been a real demand for luxury experiential travel, especially in the last five years?
Definitely, we wouldn't exist without it. We tried this whole experiential thing a long time ago before anyone else started talking about it. You go on our website and an awful lot of it is about experiences, and for me and everyone at Scott Dunn, it's about the memories you can deliver to your guests. I remember chatting to this one guest, and she said, "I cried when I left." We thought to ourselves, "We got that right." If you can elicit that kind of raw emotion, then it means that it was special. I've always worked on the premise that all time is precious, but holiday time is actually priceless — in a busy world, and especially here in Singapore when people work so hard, can you truly afford to get holiday time wrong?
Are you worried about competition out there or do you think Scott Dunn has distinguished itself?
A little bit of healthy competition is good for everyone out there, I think. We've got competitors but there's no one who does everything than we do. In that aspect, we are unique. There's an African safari company out there that might compete with us, but when you put in chalets with our own staff, and nannies, hosts, drivers, coordinators, and managers? That's different. We don't just have our own private nannies; now we have children's clubs, explorer's kids' club and so on, that are planted in various great hotels around the world like a Six Senses Spa or a Banyan Tree Spa. There's always that family that doesn't have fun on a holiday because they're worried about their kids drowning themselves in the pool. To me, that's the number one thing that we give to our guests — absolute trust. You show your true colours in adversity.
"There's always that family that doesn't have fun on a holiday because they're worried about their kids drowning themselves in the pool. To me, that's the number one thing that we give to our guests — absolute trust."
What do you think your clients appreciate most?
We have a 60% repeat guest rate, which is great. A family could come to us and want to do a skiing holiday, and the next year a Mediterranean holiday in the summer, and they know we look after all of that. They don't have to repeat themselves because we have it all on record — like how the son has a severe nut allergy, or the wife likes sauvignon blanc. They only have to tell us once, and we remember it all. They're not going to go on a safari and then be served chardonnay.
Which is your favourite hotel, or the most unusual hotel you've ever checked into?
I haven't said this to anyone else, but to me, I actually think fly camping in East Africa is quite sensational. Now, you have but a canvas over your head; and an old-fashioned iron bed, like these old hospital beds served in 1960. That's what you sleep in. You have a long drop and a bucket shower. But you are in the bush with no one else around you. You look up at the stars with a fire at night, you sit around in your canvas director's chairs, you eat simple yet tasty food, you sip on a gin and tonic, and you wake up to an amazing sunset. You go out on safaris and see some amazing things. You don't see anyone. You have your sundowners and you think the world is extraordinary.
"A good guide isn't one that will just get you the sites, but he'll get you private access to the unexpected — the local coffeeshop, a certain gallery, and so on."
Which is the most underrated destination, in your opinion?
I'd say that'd be Scotland and Ireland. Living in the UK, we have access to so many amazing places to travel — that sometimes it's the places that are closer to home that we don't see as much. We believe that the experiences found in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland are amazing. You've got everything from private whiskey tastings, to fly fishing, hiking, and private boating on lochs. In Ireland, we've also got Belmond, a phenomenal rail experience that's just been launched as well. I know someone who just went on it and said it was fantastic.
Who's the most interesting person you've met on your travels?
Clearly you never talk about some people, that's just the way it is. So, the person I'm going to put forward is Richard Knocker, who's the most amazing African tour guide. We really do pride ourselves on getting the right guide for the right person. A good guide isn't one that will just get you the sites, but he'll get you private access to the unexpected — the local coffeeshop, a certain gallery, and so on.
Describe a memory from a childhood holiday.
We used to go to Algarve in Portugal for a month every Easter as a whole family. I have wonderful memories of going out to a beach called Dona Ana. It was utterly underdeveloped there. We would go to this place called the Charcoal Grill and have coquellia (grilled baby clams). I remember just having a great time — we'd put up a fire in the evening and play lots of card games as my parents drank wine out of these vast vats.
Is there a restaurant you'd go to again and again?
Clearly, there's probably dozens. But the one I've come down on is called Rodelalm, which is in St. Anton in Austria. I just love it because they are so charming and so welcoming, and it is really good value. I mean, I could give you a list of Michelin-starred restaurants but I think this is well worth going. Go and have the ham hock — it's meant for one person, but you'd have it for two. It's simple, but really nice.
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