Tom Marchant is the co-founder of luxury trip planner Black Tomato, along with longtime friend James Merrett and Matt Smith, which launched in 2005, with the aim of building a travel company which reflected the needs, desires and personalities of the potential clients they knew were out there. People with busy working lives, limited time or insight to research and plan a complicated trip. Today, the company operates in almost every corner of the globe, but still maintains a pioneering mindset, constantly dreaming up exceptional new experiences and innovative services to enhance clients’ lives. A cornerstone of these travel fixer savants is creating world-first travel products and series, from mobile luxury camps set up in the remotest corners of the world, journeys plucked from beloved children’s stories, to authentic silver screen travel experiences. Recently, the brand debuted Black Tomato x 007, an exclusive partnership with experiences to signature destinations inspired by the world of James Bond. We sat down with Tom Marchant to talk about his favorite trips and hotels and what trends he sees coming up next in the travel arena.
What destinations are most inspiring to you right now?
Peru is high up on there for the most inspiring places for me. My fellow co-founder James and our head of special projects Rob recently returned from an epic scouting trip going quite off the grid in Peru. There are so many places to see under-the-radar that offer spectacular opportunities for active adventure and ancient architecture that rivals that of even Machu Picchu. We have a really well-organized deluxe camping set-up that is infinitely more comfortable than roughing it, and we can employ this through the country in hard to reach places with special access and permits to camp out and dine next to magnificent archaeological feats. We were well looked after in a special tent at 15,700 feet with a chef and all staffed by wonderful locals who are so enthusiastic in sharing these lesser-known regions with them. I explored Chilean Patagonia last fall and fell in love with that vast, untamed and somewhat surreal landscape. I was lucky enough to then stargaze in the Atacama with a top Chilean astronomer and these experiences have me wanting to go back and explore the country even more.
What hotel are you eager to visit next?
Right in my back yard in London is a start as Six Senses, Raffles London at The OWO and the Peninsula London are opening soon, which is exciting and seeing how much work has gone into creating these special enclaves is gratifying.
What countries are next on your list?
Japan and Bhutan. A slow-paced adventure in both destinations and, in Bhutan, definitely exploring the Tiger’s Nest at sunrise, staying at a few of the Six Senses and Aman properties there, and the sense of peace and serenity that permeate that magical kingdom.
Okay, so the question everyone seems to be asking is where can I still go this summer if I haven’t booked anything? What are destinations that you would recommend?
This summer is kicking into high gear! But there are still options. There are parts of Spain, including the Basque region, Andalucía and Mallorca to consider. And Slovenia has availability both this month and through September. Often overlooked for its more popular neighbors, it’s absolutely worth considering and has an incredible food scene, fascinating architecture and some really beautiful boutique hotels including Hotel Milka which is a Relais & Chateaux. Southern Italy too is worth considering and there is availability in Puglia and Sicily. It’s a bit out of the way but given its proximity to North Africa, it stays warm well into the shoulder season and the value is quite good there. Portugal is easy to get to and there are definitely options there still available in summer, including Alentejo, Douro, Lisbon and beautiful Comporta. I spent a long weekend at Sublime Comporta and recommend it highly for anyone who wants barefoot luxury and chilled vibes. There is availability in Canada and Alaska–and what a great time to be there. And on a different scale also Nicaragua and Peru. For strong safari options with great weather, Zimbabwe, Zambia and India in the Ladakh region.
Travel certainly seems to be booming right now, which surely impacts availability. What are your tips for planning travel given how busy it is globally?
One of the biggest tips I would give is to keep an open mind. On average, when clients come to us with a destination in mind they are set on, after understanding more deeply what they are after, 7/10 they land on a different destination. Work with a travel expert who can find places that are similar to what environs and feel you are after, and by sharing passion points and interests, this can direct them to find excellent alternatives that mirror, reflect or point to these needs even if you can’t get into a particular place. We see this quite often in places like Italy, some in Spain as often better-known places are due to exposure, but by working with an expert they can give you an equally experience and hidden gem feel that can even rival that that of what you were after.
What are some of the most mind-blowing experiences you’ve pulled off for clients?
So many to choose from but here goes. A trip to the remotest Argentinian Patagonia, where the low light pollution and location’s G-eclipse point was the best place in the world to experience the December 2020 total solar eclipse. The adventure for a VIP family included helicopter transfers to the viewing site, luxury glamping in geodesic dome tents, white water rafting, and the guidance of an astronomer–a two-and-a-half-week trip built around an unforgettable, three-minute moment that no one else has ever experienced. Worth noting, we were one of the few operators who managed to get clients into Argentina at this time when it was effectively closed. Intrepid, spread out and perfect for social distancing, we employed many COVID-19 tests to keep everyone, clients and staff, safe and included a chef, sommelier who paired Argentine wines with Michelin-level food and a cauldron hot tub that was powered by firewood.
We organized an epic Polar Norway and Svalbard adventure for a client not so long ago and this is one of the world’s northernmost, most uninhabited areas. This had all the elements: challenging, isolated, but rewarding and authentic. This expedition to the Land of the Midnight Sun was truly bucket list and included dogsledding, ice-climbing, chasing ice-bergs, the works.
In Mongolia we delivered pretty big thrills in the Western part of the country timed to the Golden Eagle and Nadaam Festivals that celebrate horseback riding, wrestling and archery. The client rafted, mountain biked, went out on 4x4s and hiked their way through the Altai Mountains after extensive training.
In Guatemala, we organized an archaeological helicopter tour (with Tomb Raider vibes) into the remote Peten Jungle in the North and then they trekked through the jungle for 3 nights–staying in natural shelters. They checked out El Mirador via a 4×4 to ancient Mayan ruins deep underground that no other tourist has seen before.
What is your favorite hidden gem hotel in the world?
Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli in Puglia, Italy. A true sense of place, this beautiful, converted convent is brimming with character, an extraordinary collection of museum-worthy art and literature lines the walls of this most special, and discreet, family-owned respite. Tucked away without signage to denote the establishment, staying here is akin to a visit to an old friend, eclectic, characterful country house. When you post up here you feel welcomed as a part of their family and it’s an absolute joy to be embraced and shown first-hand their world, with incredible food being prepared for you and drinks flowing constantly. Attention to detail at Convento is out of this world–the warm and welcoming hosts even rotate where your stunning tablescapes are set up for each meal–it’s mind-blowing. The sunny setting of Puglia can get quite hot come summer, but the inner courtyard is lush and stays cool and I have fond memories of drinking Negronis walking through their gardens while the sun sets on this inspiring setting. While the art, interiors and literature-from Zulu pottery and Moroccan weaves to an enormous collection of rare 1st editions–is extraordinary, there isn’t a drip of pretention.
What is driving travel forward right now?
Demand for private group travel (think multi-generational families or groups of friends) done at a high level, is trending. Partially a response to being kept apart during the pandemic, we’ve seen our family travel category sky rocket in recent years but now acutely larger groups of friends and family who want a bespoke touch to travel and independence when it comes to the day to day. So, we’re working on developing a series of travel experiences best spent in the company of other people, specifically those you care the most about. Just now we have a large group of friends on a whirlwind adventure in Iceland–for me it’s all about pulling apart this kind of insight and create services that inspire what’s trending. There’s also a blending of business and leisure travel people used to approach business trips by tacking on a few days at the back-end but now it’s a reversal and instead driven by people planning leisure trips with time for work, tapping the ability to work more flexibly, from wherever. It allows for more decompression and reintegration into normal life and centers around taking more time in situ.