Interview with Tom Barber of Original Travel

Before starting Original Travel Tom Barber was a journalist for GQ and then freelance for the Evening Standard, Independent, Tatler and Brides.  He went on two or three ‘honeymoons’ a year for Brides, and in 2003  set up OT with two friends – Nick Newbury, who was in corporate finance, and Alastair Poulain, a venture capitalist.  They started by offering what  they call Big Short Breaks – tailormade long weekends with an adventurous slant for busy professionals, and after a year or so  they had so much demand for longer haul destinations that  they expanded the team and the portfolio to include pretty much everywhere that  they know and love around the world. The addition in 2008 of  their Original Kids trips for funky families completes the OT picture.

What is it that  you do exactly?

I basically oversee marketing and product development at OT. For a small company we have a pretty large portfolio of trips, so maintaining up to date firsthand knowledge of our destinations is crucial. We try to offer original (funnily enough!) places that might have that element of ‘boastability’ so you can tell your friends you’ve been somewhere you know they won’t have. For the more ‘conventional’ destinations, we’re always looking at how we can improve the experience and offer new regions. I spend my days coordinating this ongoing process.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

The creativity, from coming up with new concepts and destinations, to promoting them through our award-winning website or brochures. Also, however cheesy it sounds, it’s also immensely satisfying receiving a gushing feedback email from a client who has got back from an amazing trip.

What would you say are the 3 best places you’ve ever stayed?

Everyone likes something a bit different, and so the most important task our team of consultants have is judging which places and activities would best suit the client. We have around a 70% repeat and referral rate, so in most cases we have a great understanding of what will work. Things like barefoot luxury and solitude float my boat, and so for  two of my favourites I’d probably say Soneva Fushi in the Maldives for the Robinson Crusoe feel, and Private Camp at Wolwedans in Namibia for the remoteness – the camp is two miles away from the rest of the lodge and there’s so little light pollution you can see stars at the horizon. For sheer ‘hotel as destination’ luxury, I recently stayed at the Four Seasons in Budapest which was immaculate. Fantastic location, great rooms and wonderful service. Highly recommended.

What’s been your most memorable dining experience to date?

A few years back I was staying on the island of Anguilla in the Caribbean, which prides itself on fantastic food. There’s a tiny island in the middle of a bay called Scilly Cay, and you have to wave across to the waiters, who come and pick you up in a boat. The walls are all inlaid with conch shells and there’s one thing on the menu – lobster in a curry sauce. You choose you lobster in the kitchen, and 10 minutes later it’s on your plate. Wash it down with a cold Carib beer, and then snorkel around the entire island/restaurant in the afternoon. Very special.

Have you rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, either through your work or your travels?

Most hotels are pretty good at being discreet about who is staying with them at any time, even though they are presumably desperate to tell the world! I – literally – bumped into Richard Gere while staying at Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands a few years back, and wouldn’t have known he was there otherwise. None more exciting than that, I’m afraid, but we’ve sent everyone from supermodels to royalty away on Original Travel trips.

What currently ranks highest on your travel wishlist?

One of the very few downsides of this industry is that you are constantly surrounded by people talking about wonderful places, and seeing incredible photography of intriguing destinations. It’s all very tempting. Still top of my wishlist from the Original Travel destinations that I haven’t been to is the Skeleton Coast in Namibia which I missed last time I was there. The trip involves flying in light aircraft into the incredible wilderness along the coast, occasionally landing on the beach to inspect a shipwreck (hence the name Skeleton Coast) and seal colonies, before meeting the fascinating Himba tribespeople. Still trying to work out how I can justify going even though 4 other people from the office have done the trip!

Thank you, Tom. I’m sure you’ll work out a way to find that justification somehow!

Comments (1)

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  1. Lara says:

    I think the idea of big short breaks is fantastic. There are so few agents catering for people who want a tailored, action-filled weekend when they’re short on time :-)

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