Tour operator flips the playbook by embracing travelers’ passions, not destinations

Skift grip

Passion-based itineraries may seem like the latest hype in tours and activities, but they’re fueled by the everyday interest of people who turn their hobbies into thriving businesses – and by extension, life experiences. unique trip.

Selene Brophy

Yoga enthusiasts looking for an immersive cultural retreat, football fans looking to meet their sporting heroes, or people with a penchant for gin mixology – these everyday interests and pastimes shape “passionate” itineraries for travelers to seeking more meaningful travel experiences.

Dharma, an Abu Dhabi-based corporate tour operator, says it is ready. They aim to simplify group travel with their travel management software service, as they help non-travel businesses create bespoke travel experiences for their existing communities or fandoms.

“Our core belief is that the future of travel is based on passion, not destination,” said Dharma Co-Founder and CEO Charaf El Mansouri.

AThe Abundant Noise and the Paradox of Choicee

Starting with the community that cares deeply about a particular interest or experience immediately reduces the need to find customers who will book the tour.

“Dharma is not blind supply. Differentiation is what we build with relevant and repeatable sourcing,” added El Mansouri.

With some 50 talented partners, as Dharma calls its customers, primarily based in the US and UK, it launched its business model with a focus on wellness and sport. According to El Mansouri, his first sports venture, Looking FC, is an example of his differentiation from group travel.

It featured a series of immersive four-day trips led by former France national team player and Manchester United player Eric Cantona.

“Manchester United have 600 million online fans, so we’re talking about an itinerary around a club or team, curated by Cantona, who is widely regarded as the best player to ever play for that club. We we have exclusive sourcing and a captive audience, which is dramatically changing the conversation about group tours,” he said.

Legendary footballer, Eric Cantona builds and extends the passionate sporting itinerary around his personal brand. Source: Dharma.

‘Curator of sincere experience’

Dharma connects the practicalities of group travel merchandising for non-travel brands looking to deliver travel experiences to delight their customers.

High Yoga is one of Dharma’s earliest clients and has conducted approximately seven group retreats of 15-25 people with them to destinations including Morocco and Croatia.

All of their trips have been sold out, with repeat bookings from their student base and no need for external marketing. According to Mona Godfrey, one of High Yoga’s leading teachers, the journeys are centered on closeness to nature and a deep sense of cultural immersion. For example, the students met craftsmen who make musical instruments in Morocco. These instruments were then played during their yoga sessions during the retreat.

“Working with Dharma is like working with experienced curators. It’s never a cookie-cutter group visit and we couldn’t do these organized retreats without them,” Godfrey said.

The cost of acquisition for this yoga community is zero, as High Yoga pays 20% of its revenue per visit for researching Dharma travel destinations and curating flexible routes.

The precious time spent with their students is worth it, according to Christian Coelho, who also teaches at High Yoga.

“It’s a lot of effort and time to get all the different numbers, cost different places, put it all in a spreadsheet and make it flexible. They work with you and move the numbers to make you happy. This is something that would take up so much of our day. Instead, we spend more time with our students and get to know them better during these retreats. It’s a great experience,” said Coelho.

Passion for Eno Tourism

The next series of passionate Dharma routes, Animated stories will take advantage of the wine tourism appeal of destinations such as Oaxaca in Mexico and French Champagne. This time around, it’s partnered with a much bigger non-travel brand Pernod Ricard, worth an estimated $10 billion with more than 300 spirits brands.

Industry research shows that wine tourism or wine tourismis expected to grow from $6.98 billion in 2021 to $7.68 billion in 2022. Future data projections point to robust growth of 14% to reach $12.99 billion in 2026.

Laura Sileo Pavat, leader of Pernod Ricard Global Brand Homes, said candidly: “Spiritual tourism needs to reinvent itself.

Sileo Pavat said that as a terroir-based business, with each brand having an established house of origin, they have seen how wine and spirits tourism can lead to destination discovery.

“I started in this industry 22 years ago, and a lot of brands had a visitor center. Then people came to their destination to discover a city, to discover a region, and moreover, in this city , they also visited the winery.Today we clearly see the opposite.

Immersed in the wine tourism experience mixed with gastronomy, she explained the importance of Maison Perrier-Jouët in Champagne, whose origins date back to 1811.

“They meet the chef in the morning and go to fruit and vegetable markets to shop. Then they go back to learn and discover how a chef in a Champagne House delivers a recipe differently than in a restaurant. It is beyond doing a tasting. It’s a question of the texture of the food, if you put something creamy or crunchy, or how it reacts with the bubbles in the champagne,” said Sileo Pavat.

“It’s the ritual of opening a bottle of champagne, recreating a recipe and sharing dinner with friends once back home, in the participatory education that these experiences will last forever,” Pavat said. .

Not just selling the dream

According to El Mansouri, Dharma is preparing to launch its own themed travel marketplace. This would mirror Airbnb’s search model, as travelers will choose their trip based on the type of experience, not just by destination. is a similar example offering travel searches based on interests, such as body positivity, photography, or fitness.

El Mansouri said Dharma would be defined by being able to find the best-in-class group tour based on interests “with just two clicks”.

A high bespoke search engagement, if any. And while Dharma may have a locked-in passionate following, the continued expertise of its travel management will be the determining factor in the long run.

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