Duxbury residents Darren and Caitlin Humphreys, owners of the luxury travel concierge company Travel Sommelier, spend their days coordinating elaborate vacations for VIP clients. We sat down with Darren to learn more about his love for wildlife safaris, South African wines and his new role at the Duxbury Food & Wine Festival.Photography by Jack Foley
What were you doing for work before you created Travel Sommelier?
I was a principal at a boutique investment bank trading distressed debt and special situations, having spent some 20 years on trading floors around the world. Caitlin was a business litigation attorney in New York City specializing in white collar criminal defense and employment law.
What inspired you to switch gears and start a luxury travel business?
Caitlin and I ticked off most (if not all) of the boxes we wanted to in our professions and were keen to follow a path that allowed us to have a flexible lifestyle (we have a young family). We appreciate travel and wanted to have a business that we were deeply passionate about.
What kind of services do you offer to travelers?
Travel Sommelier is a luxury travel concierge company. We specialize in trips to Africa but also design custom itineraries in niche markets across the globe. Irrespective of the destination, we offer a comprehensive suite of services including safari experiences, boutique hotels, transfers, flights and special interests. Our services are personal. All trip planning starts with a blank sheet of paper and once we have an intimate understanding of what the client is looking for we tailor the itinerary accordingly.
What are some of your most popular safari experiences?
Classic BIG 5 safari experiences in South Africa are a must for first-timers. Many people become enamored by Africa and want to return and experience something different. The scenery, stillness and desert-adapted wildlife in Namibia is one focus. So too is gorilla tracking and other primate experiences in Rwanda and Uganda. Recently, Madagascar has become the new vanguard of ecotourism. As a side note, many people want to combine safari with South African cities and the most beautiful beaches in the world.
How rustic, or luxurious, are the accommodations?
We typically favor the luxury end of the market, most often “best in show” product. We are constantly mindful of value, so these are not necessarily the most expensive properties, but they offer a real sense of place and ensure that our clients feel like insiders.
How do you choose the resorts and safari operators that you work with?
We spend an inordinate amount of time in our respective source markets experiencing product firsthand. In fact, when I started the business I took a six month sabbatical to visit as many lodges, hotels, products and guides as I possibly could. And this is an abiding philosophy. Our motto is that unless we have experienced a place firsthand, the product does not make it into our portfolio.
How does ecotourism help wildlife conservation efforts and local communities?
It is uplifting and educational. We stress to our clients that going on safari helps preserve wildlife for future generations and benefits local communities. This dovetails with our ‘travel for a purpose’ philosophy. When lodge owners invest in adjacent rural communities—establishing water supplies, communal gardens, medical clinics and educational platforms—this collaboration builds a thread of sustainable tourism. Similarly, when lodge guests visit they can see their tourism dollars at work firsthand—protected wildlife resources supported by a network of surrounding communities.
What steps do you take to ensure that travelers have safe, pleasant experiences?
We spend an extensive amount of time exploring and researching our products. We pride ourselves on having first-rate relationships in our source markets that keep us updated on micro and macro geopolitical developments. Our clients are not left to fend for themselves. From being met at the airport to being driven by carefully vetted and informative drivers, we do everything in our power to make their trips a pleasurable experience.
With a name like Travel Sommelier, wine tourism must also be a big part of the business. What do you think people should know about South African wines?
South Africa has a truly diverse wine region. There are 14 distinct appellations; each specialized in unique grape varietals. In addition, this majestic wine region offers the best wine tourism model in the world, with boutique hotels, gastronomy and wine-less experiences. I like to steer first-time visitors to elegantly crafted Pinotage, thoughtfully blended red wines and Chenin Blanc when they visit South Africa.
You’re coordinating the Grand Tasting at the Duxbury Food & Wine Festival. What can people expect at this year’s event?
We have a stellar lineup of artisanal food purveyors, restaurateurs and wineries. There will be exciting seminars and workshops focused on wine, food and travel. Proceeds will support local charities such as Stepping Stones for Stella, which provides buggies for physically challenged children to allow them to experience the beach and other terrains.
Will you be sharing your own wine knowledge at the event?
Yes, there is an entertaining and educational platform where we reveal our top five wine and food destinations to visit in 2017-2018.
Do you have a favorite wine?
Chenin Blanc is my favorite varietal and South Africa is making some of the finest Chenin Blancs in the world. Winemaker Chris Alheit makes my favorite single-vineyard wines.
What do you love most about your job?
I enjoy talking with returning clients and hearing how their travel experience inspired them. I love when they tell me that they just wanted time to stand still on several occasions during a trip. That eclipses the high I felt after a successful trade or that Caitlin felt after winning a court case.
What’s on the horizon that you are particularly excited about?
We have just introduced an opportunity in Zambia that enables clients to experience a carnivore program firsthand. It is a rare and unique opportunity to understand the role of cutting-edge conservation initiatives working to protect lion, leopard and cheetah populations in the Kafue National Park. The Kafue is the second largest protected wilderness reserve on the African continent and there is a tiny human footprint. Hardly anyone gets the opportunity to go there. In addition, there is an interactive day with Game Rangers International, including an in-depth explanation of their anti-poaching programs and platforms. The trip culminates at Victoria Falls, where clients track rhino on foot along the banks of the Zambezi river.
Duxbury Food & Wine Festival Tips
The Duxbury Food & Wine Festival will be hosting a series of delicious events from September 14 – 30. We’ve compiled a list of tips to help you sip and savor like a seasoned foodie.
Ask the Experts–Don’t be shy about asking questions. Wine reps are happy to tell you all about what makes their products great.
Designate a Driver–The Grand Tasting will showcase wines from all major growing regions around the world. Decide who’s driving ahead of time and you can sip to your heart’s content.
Keep Track of Your Favorite Wines–Bring a pen and paper to jot down notes or download an app like Drync, which allows you to snap a picture of a label and access wine reviews.
Come Hungry to the Food for Thought Event–This family-friendly event will feature everything from fresh locally sourced products to tasty food truck grub.
Don’t Forget the Beer–Okay, so technically the title of the festival is “Food and Wine” but if it’s anything like previous years, the Oktoberfest Under the Tent will be an event you won’t want to miss.
September 14: Festival Kickoff Party
September 16: Farm Day- A “Food for Thought”
Experience at Historic O’Neil Farm
September 29: Oktoberfest Under the Tent
September 30: Festival Grand Tasting and Seminars