PSFK catches up with Black Tomato co-founder Tom Marchant and SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan to explore extending the brand-consumer connection through unique travel experiences
PSFK: Tell us about Black Tomato's model. How do you distill brands into travel experiences?
Tom Marchant, Co-Founder of Black Tomato: What originally inspired us to start a luxury travel company was our shared passion-driven philosophy for travel. We identified a gap in the industry that in turn was a window of opportunity—to craft bespoke and authentic trips by focusing on what inspires our individual clients to travel.
To achieve this, we became emotionally invested in our clients, asking, listening and learning about the root of why they travel and what they want to gain from the experience. We dedicated our process to ensure every trip was a seized opportunity to tap into a client’s passion points, providing them with an engaging and memorable experience, something other luxury travel companies simply weren’t doing at the time.
Through years of applying this ethos with our leisure travelers, we found the model of shaping a trip around specific interests and values is also relevant for branded experiences. We adapted the method to sync with like-minded brands on collaborations and partnerships. We swapped our client calls and lunches for office tours, executive interviews and brand meetings, getting to live and breathe their ethos, aesthetics, values and customer service experience. From there we can extract key elements of a brand and translate them into a cohesive travel product for their customers.
Why does SoulCycle want to enter the luxury travel market?
Melanie Whelan, CEO of SoulCycle: At SoulCycle, we do our best not only to listen to but to anticipate our riders' needs. With Retreats by SoulCycle, we’re giving our community another opportunity to devote attention to themselves and deepen their ties to one another over the span of multiple days in a beautiful setting, outside of the day-to-day hustle. Each retreat offers participants the opportunity to find their center through one-of-a-kind experiences in amazing destinations—while also connecting with a like-minded community.
How are you translating the SoulCycle experience into a travel experience? And why are customers interested in traveling with their favorite brands?
TM: For many, interacting with a beloved brand is very much a daily ritual—an early morning SoulCycle class sets a positive tone for the day while push notifications from the Wall Street Journal chime in before the opening bell. When invited by a brand to travel the world alongside them, it presents an opportunity for these loyal customers to immerse themselves in a brand's world, strengthening the connection beyond the ephemeral moments customers already deeply connect with.
Black Tomato lends credibility to partnerships by curating and executing exceptional adventures that are synonymous with the ethos that delivered their brand loyalty at the outset. Brands want their customers to evolve their relationship and engagement beyond a website, store or studio, where travel experiences explore new frontiers that are emblematic of these brands.
Consumers want to pull back the curtain on their favorite brands that consistently deliver an exceptional product and experience time and again. Traveling to new environments together helps break down barriers between company and customer, creating a closer relationship deeper than a transaction. For us, it’s all about authenticity, and these partnerships and collaborations are very much an extension of our brand and values.
How do Black Tomato events help brands build community with and between customers?
TM: Black Tomato was founded with the intention of providing authentic and meaningful experiences that bond travelers with each other and the vibrant communities within a destination. Typically when working with an individual client, we can curate an itinerary based on our conversations with the client about themselves and the group.
When creating trips for a brand, this process shifts slightly, as there are two perspectives that must be accounted for: the brand’s and the customer's. We take the time to understand the company’s goals for the event and the customer’s expectations, then apply our travel expertise to decide on destinations, experiences and activities that reflect both parties. When executed properly, the trip feels like a natural extension of the brand.
Lead image: SoulCycle