We meet Emma Ponsonby, a co-founder of Little Voyage, a young travel company with a passion to unleash the traveller in each of us. It explores new places and opens travelers’ minds through embracing cultures, beliefs and mindsets. Having a great background as a traveler, Emma’s job is to bring dreams to the front of minds and existence.
What is your background as a traveler? When did you start feeling passionate about exploring the world?
When I was little, I grew up in a farm in New Zealand, really remote location. We used to have farm stays. So we used to have people from Germany, Canada, China or Japan coming to stay with us on a farm. Me and my sister, we were little kids meeting all these people all over the world. I think that was the first time when I was like: “Wow, there are so many different cultures!” I used to pick up their accents, we were so inquisitive about meeting so different kinds of people. When I was 23 or 24 I moved from New Zealand to London. Being in London, I got to explore Europe and Asia. Every trip that I took, I started to realize there is so much diversity, so many different kinds of places, different kinds of people! Every time you go for a trip, you come back, and something is changed, something shifted in you, just by travelling to another destination…
What was the most exciting travel experience you had?
I think the most impactful trip was the one when I went to Nepal. I just booked a flight by myself, I stayed in a tiny little village, I just needed a break… I stayed in a really small guesthouse with four rooms, and there was this guy Biju who ran the guesthouse. He said: “We need to take you to see the sunrise over the Himalayas. You must go!” I came down the next day at 4 a.m. It’s freezing cold. I get in this car with someone I don’t know, and we drive for an hour to the mountains. We get to this flat space on the top of the mountain, it’s so cold.. And then, all of a sudden, you start to see the sunrise coming over the top of the Himalayas. It’s like a painting that’s been painted in front of your eyes. The sun comes up, and there are 360 degrees around you! It was so spectacular! Then we actually spent 16 hours together that day.. Biju shared the stories about his wife, his children… He’s running the school on behalf of his father. He was struggling to get students in. He took me all over… When I came back to Dubai, I started telling all these stories and people were like “Wow, this is incredible!” They wanted to get involved. We actually ended up setting a foundation in the UK which started sponsoring students at this school in Nepal, and it became more popular. The experience I had was so moving… Now we’re actually building a school for 500 students there. So, the first trip we started doing with “Little Voyage” was sending people to Nepal.
What was the idea behind “Little Voyage”?
Being travelers ourselves we really understand the pain points of researching, planning and booking the perfect trip. This naturally grew into designing beautifully curated trips that removed the headache of planning and booking the whole experience. On a deeper level, through our own experiences we really wanted to create a way for people to connect with the world, other cultures and themselves when they travel, we hear too often about conflict and the divides in society, we really believe that travel can connect people in a powerful way, so if we can play a small part in making the world more connected by encouraging people to travel, it’s a cause we could all fully commit to.
Where is Little Voyage located?
We are a truly global team with people in Dubai, Berlin, Nice, Paris and New York. Our culture is really important to us. We work really closely together and perhaps it’s our in our nature of being travelers, that we find it easy to connect with each other when we’re not all always in the same time zone.
Do you call yourself a “travel agency” or it’s something more special?
We definitely see ourselves as much more than a traditional travel agency, we specialise in creating experiences and moments that are so carefully designed and perfect for couples or small groups of travellers really seeking a quality immersive experience when they travel. We see ourselves more as a trusted travel partner, instead of people having to spend hours researching, planning and booking a trip, we take care of everything for them. We really listen to the type of experience that people are seeking and look for ways to create those moments in every trip we offer and design.
What makes trips with Little Voyage so unique?
We understand that special experiences and memories in life are created by moments. With every trip there will be some moments that are more meaningful and more memorable than others. What we do differently is design our trips around curating not only the whole experience but these unique ‘peak’ moments that impact people in a powerful way, and leave lasting memories. Travellers most empowering moments often share common traits, like an out of the ordinary experience, insight, natural beauty and deep connection with other people. At Little Voyage we understand what powerful moments are made of, and we are intentional about creating them in all of our trips.
What is the most exclusive destination you offer?
We’ve found this private villa in New Zealand…Prince Charles and Camilla had visited it a week before. And it hadn’t been open to the public yet. I gave them a call, and they said: “Come over!” We met the owners, they have the largest private art collection in New Zealand, we spent a night there, had a private dinner, and a breakfast the next day… That was pretty special! And that’s the thing about the trips we design, there are these unexpected special moments! One of our favourite exclusive trips at the moment is our 10 Days of Inspiration in Morocco. The trip starts in Casablanca and takes you on a journey from Meknes to Marrakesh, ending at the footsteps of the Atlas Mountains at the fabulous Kasbah Tamadot, an award-winning hotel bought by Sir Richard Branson during one of his famous ballooning expeditions.
How do you plan and organize trips for your clients?
We design the trip with a rhythm and flow to it in relation to the desired experience. Our trips feature boutique hotels, local guides. Depending on the destination we also include unique social causes for example, visiting refugee camps in northern India or organisations where travellers can get involved in activities with local communities. We find these are some of the most moving experiences for our travellers.
How do you “explore” the places? How do you check them before the clients travel there?
Our team have traveled to many of our destinations and our trips are based on personal experiences not only from us, but also recommendations from our community of travel influencers and bloggers. We also have local partners on the ground in every destination, who have great relationships with our hotels and experiences. We audit all of our hotels, transport and activities to meet our Little Voyage standards.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
We’ve faced many similar challenges that other start-ups face, clarifying our business model, a couple of pivots until we got our positioning right, ensuring we understand our customers and what they want is an ongoing process. Being a remote team we have highly efficient processes and an organised operational style. Our team has great startup experience, with a lot of previous learning so that has helped significantly in creating a successful business with Little Voyage.
What are the craziest activities you offer?
The custom trip requests that we receive tend to be really unique and special requests, for example a group of incredible women came to us to plan a trip to China to run a marathon on the Great Wall staying at beautiful boutique hotels, cuddles with pandas and a visit to the historical Terracotta Army site. Another trip we recently designed is for a special birthday experience to see the Northern Lights in Finland staying in exquisite glass igloos and luxury treehouses with a husky safari – something they always wanted to do and Little Voyage made it happen.
What activities do you offer for those who travel to Dubai and Middle East?
We’re mostly sending people from Dubai off to see the world! We will be launching our City Series of Trips soon including Dubai alongside New York, Tokyo and London. Our team have all spent time here in Dubai, it’s where Little Voyage started, and we really want travellers to see another side of the city so keep an eye out for our city series in the future.
What places do you show to visitors in Dubai?
Something that you wouldn’t see in those “Dubai visit brochures”. E.g. Al Serkal Avenue , some galleries or small restaurants in Karama…
What is the average age of your clientele?
We have a wide age group of people who travel with us (28-40), what unites them is their outlook on life, the way they want to travel and immerse themselves in local cultures, and their appreciation for unique experiences, boutique hotels, and the desire to give back.
How often do you personally travel?
Its an irony… But for the last year I was so focused on the business that I haven’t actually travelled.
What was your last trip?
My last trip was to Burning man! Which was a challenge to organize, but it’s an incredible experience!