- Former Destination Asia leaders regroup to launch Asia Concierge
- The new kid on the block is determined to challenge the way traditional DMCs work
- The rise of travel designers will benefit the travel sector in the long term
A new DMC, Asia Concierge, has launched in Asia, led by former leaders of Destination Asia who see an opportunity to create a “travel design company” that reimagines the DMC model and the Asia travel experience for upmarket clients.
While the opportunity may be timely due to changing consumer behaviours, sources say a key catalyst for the birth of Asia Concierge was the completion of the sale of Destination Asia to Dnata Travel Group at the end of 2020.
Dnata announced the acquisition of Destination Asia – excluding operating companies in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and China – in 2016. Destination Asia’s complex shareholding structure, with as many as 36 shareholders, could be a reason for the protracted sale.
The completion, plus the pandemic’s impact on business, saw shareholders and senior executives leaving Destination Asia, including its chief operating officer, Nicholas Mulley, and Paul Levrier, a partner since the DMC’s inception more than 25 years ago.
Mulley and Levrier, along with Andreas Grosskinsky, former Destination Asia general manager Indonesia, and Brenton Mauriello, executive chairman of Design World Partnership, are now the main partners of the holding company Asia Concierge, which in turn owns stakes in each of Asia Concierge’s seven operating companies.
This included the four that were not part of the Destination Asia sale to Dnata. The other three are Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Addie Samerton, a long-time Destination Asia leader, has also joined as a partner in Asia Concierge Thailand.
“Setting aside Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and China from the acquisition allows, or encourages, Nicholas and Paul to set up Asia Concierge. So Dnata has only itself to thank for this emerging competitor,” a source told TTG Asia.
Not a breakaway team
Asia Concierge now has 35 staff and expects to expand the team to 50 people by year end, said Mulley in an interview.
He does not see Asia Concierge as a breakaway team, rather, as the birth of a new company with a new vision and strategy.
“We’ve all been working in the industry for 10 to 20 years and we’re still passionate about it. We saw this as more of an opportunity to collectively come together, step back and think of what we want to do, not to recreate another Destination Asia or another DMC.
“We want to create a travel design company that focuses on a smaller number of clients – FITs, couples and corporate meetings — and deliver a high level of service, a lot more creative product and showcase the Asia that we know.”
Asia Concierge is working with specialised tour operators and agents in the UK, the US and Australia whose clients want a curated experience in Asia.
“There is a place for everybody. We’re starting on a clean slate and are not competing with the previous company. We have different market segments,” he added.
Staying fighting fit
Meanwhile, Destination Asia remains agile, with new teams joining across the region, said its group marketing and communications director David Andrews.
Destination Asia continues to operate in 11 countries, although China and Myanmar have been “temporarily suspended” since April 2022.
Throughout the pandemic, the company invested heavily in technology to provide tour operator clients with an online one-stop booking centre, and put staff through an extensive online training to ensure they can help grow partners’ business in an ever-evolving travel landscape.
The product team recently launched 11 new travel styles, including Offbeat and Self-Guided tours, allowing for greater customisation and flexibility. Responsible travel has been integrated across all travel styles, Andrews said.
Have DMCs, like hotels, been complacent through years of growth until Covid-19 put a brake on the boom in 2019?
Asia Concierge believes so. A line in its corporate profile said: “The DMC world is one of complacency. We aim to change that.”
Asked to elaborate, Mulley said: “We are making the point that so often the same product is offered over and over again with no real thought on how mass tourism has impacted the industry, and finding ways to spread out the interest to less commercial areas. We also want to challenge ourselves to create a new and innovative product that focuses on soft touch tourism and the art of slow, immersive yet authentic travel experiences.”
If the pandemic spurs the rise of new “travel designers” and jolts existing DMCs to be better, the sector will be stronger in the long term. Currently, however, it is still a fight for survival and the dust is far from settled on winners and losers.
Said a veteran DMC on the condition of anonymity: “Inbound markets are still tentative (in recovery) and shorthaul travel will be the guide post. But shorthaul travel has not always favoured DMC use.
“For many Caucasians, and some Asian travellers, Asian destinations are still seen as exotic, requiring more assistance. This favours the DMC business. However (DMC partners) value reputation, depth of product, and price. And now, they are looking for post-Covid preparedness and resilience. No planner wants to bet their job on a new supplier who promises a lot but has no track record. This favours the long-established company who is still in business.”