In Part 1, we were hired by a group of extremely well-traveled captains of industry to put together a once-in-a-lifetime trip, begging the question – how do you “wow” the un-wowables?

As we thought more about it, it became apparent that it had nothing to do with the canvas. The location. The destination. How could we have momentarily forgotten our purpose on earth? Nothing we ever did was about the destination. It is about value. The journey. The pleasant surprise. The spontaneity. Our journeys have always been a metaphor for life.

We went back to our roots. I mean 1999 roots, where theatre-of-the-absurd was a business model and Bond films inspired trip ideas. Our singular mission was to start a company to deliver the ultimate commodity: joy. To this day, it has nothing to do with destinations. At its most basic level, travel is merely about dates and destinations – but for us travel is the medium through which we create joy.

We zoomed in on innovation and Imagination. We needed to gain this group’s trust from day one, flight one, meal one, evening one. We had to send a message that we were about to unfurl the world as we see it with only them in mind.

The Experience

We conceived a bold cocktail of firsts. From a private train party in a Gatsby-esque pageantry of locomotive fun, to a soulful Lanna-inspired cultural evening with heritage crafts and preservation projects. We concocted an armed-forces style themed dance party in the forest (think of that crazy scene in Apocalypse Now, and yep, that was pretty much what we did), and biking, hiking, rafting, painting, picnic and BBQ adventures. We met artists and ancient text experts, chatted with foodies and took textiles workshops.

The soul of what we created had nothing to do with destinations. It never does.

From individualized nightly pillow cards for each guest, written from none other than their pets back home, to customized menus, personalized historical overviews of each region, bottles, face masks (damn you, Covid!), personalized indigo robes and more, we stopped at nothing to remind everyone (ourselves included) how lucky we are to be in a business like this.

Joy is the commodity, not the destination.

“We went back to our roots. I mean 1999 roots, where theatre-of-the-absurd was a business model and Bond films inspired trip ideas. Our singular mission was to start a company to deliver the ultimate commodity: joy.”

Surprise & Self-Discovery

The trip was peppered with raw pranks, wholesome touches, raunchy gimmicks, and meaningful moments sprinkled liberally throughout. One evening we presented a painted portrait of the host couple done as a “Whisper of Love” rendition from a famous mural painting in Nan. There were twists, both whimsical and thoughtful, sometimes absurd and sometimes charming. We focused intently on the brief, “surprise us”, and ensured we delivered that departure from normalcy. After all, isn’t that what travel – and by extension, a meaningful life – is all about?

Unexpectedly, the trip became one of surprise and self-discovery for both the guests and the Smiling Albino team. Instead of fear of failure, we were driven by the mission to impress. Our viewpoints changed from being “the last trip we ever do”, to “this feels like the first trip we’ve ever done”. We achieved a mind shift from the end zone to the starting blocks. It reminds me of the simple potency of Jeff Bezos’ “day one” reference in his annual reports. Never lose sight of this. We had to prove it to ourselves as much as the guests.

This amazing adventure rekindled the essence of what Smiling Albino is all about. It shined a light on some metaphors for life we’ve built our business around. Those being:

  • The journey is the experience.
  • If you’re not adding value, your brand is slowly dying.
  • If you’re not being bold, you’ll quickly be replaceable.
  • If you’re not madly obsessed with every step of the customer experience, then you’ve got a vulnerable business model

We bring that sense of duty to impress on all of our trips. This feeling re-kindled our 1999 mantra: Do it differently, do it better, seek to wow.

Covid isn’t over. But we’re back.

The final verdict:

Smiling Albino has exceeded our expectations in every way shape and form. Our two-week tour from the south to the north of Thailand was exceptionally coordinated with one great surprise after another. There is not even one tiny thing that Dan + Team could have done better. Thank you Smiling Albino!

— Bill & Jirachai Bensley