Star power: the company crafting cinematic travel experiences

Credit: Satopia Travel

What does a truly life-changing travel experience look like? Satopia Travel thinks it has the answer in elaborate real-life productions that put participants at the centre of their own movie

As more luxury travellers exchange the sun-lounger-by-the-pool-style holidays of yesterday for impactful and transformative travel experiences, innovative travel companies are pushing the envelope like never before. Holidays are no longer just an opportunity for a change of scene or a break from the daily grind, and even the once innovative ‘like a local’ tours now so ubiquitous are seemingly no longer enough for the travel elite. For the upper echelons, holidays are morphing into opportunities to experience inner growth and personal transformation. Experiential travel trailblazers Black Tomato and PRIOR, among others, have been leading the pack in this regard when it comes to conceptualising truly unique and out-of-the-box experiences, and Satopia Travel is the latest to catch our attention.

Satopia Travel, which launched in 2018 but recently underwent a creative rebrand, asks the question, What does a truly life-changing travel experience look like? The answer, according to a recent interview with its founders, is like something out of a movie.

“Satopia curates cinematic travel experiences for ultra-high-net-worth individuals seeking a deeper connection with the world and themselves,” Satopia Travel CEO Emma Ponsonby tells travel industry expert Catherine Kennedy. Its unique, elaborate small-group experiences are designed in such a way that throughout the journey guests feel as though they are the main character in a film.

“Each Satopia experience is distinctly unique and has its own identity. Some are blockbusters – think of joining Dominique Crenn in France with its royal theme. Others might feel more like an intimate indie film,” explains Chief Creative Officer Ahmed Gouda.

The, to say the least, niche idea is the result of the evolution of Satopia Travel’s ‘Hosted Experiences’: extraordinary travel journeys designed to take participants on a journey of self discovery, and often including access to exclusive VIP experiences. Each small-group ‘Hosted Experience’ is led by a world-class host, such as a famous chef (like Francis Mallmann and Massimo Baturo of Chef’s Table fame), notable business leader or philanthropic powerhouse. “Guests frequently remark[ed] on how immersive the experiences feel, like stepping into a movie,” Emma explains. As for Satopia Travel’s clearly blessed travel community – by membership only – it comes as no surprise that it is a veritable rolodex of high rolling C-suite professionals and entrepreneurs, along with your fair share of influential families and A-list celebrities.

An elaborate production

To transform real travel experiences into cinematic narratives, Satopia engages a team of production experts who run the journeys similarly to how movie productions are run. The conception of these unique, immersive experiences involves the Satopia Travel team studying movie storylines, arch plots and methodologies such as the peak-end rule, and the process begins with carefully selecting charismatic hosts – something that often takes years. This shared vision then guides the unique ‘production’, with each experience even having its own plot, theme, stars, movie posters and movie trailer.

Location scouting, scenography and set design all come into play, along with detailed itinerary planning culminating in a grand finale. A film crew, including a resident photographer and videographer, captures these experiences on each journey, providing guests with a slick short feature film to treasure forever at the completion of the experience. Even the guest lists are expertly curated, attracting inspiring (read: extremely affluent) global travellers who share similar values. This thoughtful curation ensures group dynamics work smoothly, allowing each guest to enjoy an intimate and meaningful experience.

As for what upcoming cinematic experiences entail? Satopia Travel is preparing for an experience with chef Asma Khan in India. The journey will trace her pursuit of a new Culinary Golden Triangle, and include a hosted dinner in the courtyard of her ancestral home, where she will recreate her iconic Chef’s Table scene. “These moments feel exactly like being in an episode of Netflix,” says Ahmed.

Even more elaborate: a journey hosted by chef Dominique Crenn in France involving a French gardens dinner in front of the 13th-century chateau, a secret supper, cooking with fire in the forest and dinner under the trees; plus a Versailles-themed ball with period costume and fireworks above the no less than seven lakes surrounding the chateau.

“These experiences are crafted with attention to every detail, from the cutlery to the candles, to the colour of the flowers and the maps to leading guests through a secret passage in the forest. Each moment feels like a scene from a beautifully directed film that our team meticulously plans. It’s about creating not just a journey but a story that unfolds in the most surprising and delightful ways,” adds Emma.

“And just like a world premiere or a glamorous red carpet event at Cannes, each of our experiences has that once-in-a-lifetime, magical emotion that comes from watching something on the big screen,” adds Emma. “It’s about capturing those emotions you get from a great movie – making you laugh until you cry and serving up all sorts of surprises in between.”

Giving back

The majority of travellers now want to travel more responsibly, and for some, holidays are becoming an opportunity to give back to the local communities of the destinations that welcome them. This trend is at the fore of Satopia Travel experiences, Ahmed tells Catherine. Experiences that speak to this include visiting an Elephant Rescue Centre in northern Kenya that was started by the local community, and, in Modena with famous chef Massimo Bottura, participating in a pasta making experience at Il Tortellante, a social enterprise where young autistic individuals and local elders come together to make tortellini by hand – a craft that preserves culinary traditions while promoting inclusivity.

“Giving back is essentially woven into the fabric of all of our experiences,” says Ahmen. “At Satopia, we’re about connecting people to local communities and organisations so they can learn from each other. We collaborate with various local partners, NGOs, and social enterprises in our destinations. During each experience, we champion the people behind these organisations and create moments for them to share what they do with the guests.

“These are some of the most valued moments during our experiences, ones that bring people together. That’s the power of these compelling experiences. It’s about learning opportunities and creating meaningful authentic connections through orchestrated moments to drive real change.”



Access to Satopia Travel is by membership only, with tiers ranging from complimentary to 16,000 Euros per year.

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