Planning a holiday can be stressful, especially at a time in which we want to take a mindful approach to the way we consume things that potentially have a negative impact on the environment – including vacations. What if we told you that there is someone who could help you to curate the perfect luxury holiday in some of the world’s most beautiful destinations, at which your carbon footprint would be minimal? Because, Danielle Wilson Naqvi is the woman behind the bespoke travel company, Unique Family Travels, and has a passion for curating family travel itineraries that include unique experiences and stays at luxurious properties in stunning surroundings.
Seeing a huge gap in the market for responsible travel, Naqvi’s partnerships are mindfully hand selected by herself, as she focuses on memorable vacations that combine luxury with sustainable eco-tourism, that are tailored to your preferences.
Not only is Danielle a businesswoman, she is a wife and mother who also runs a charity in memory of her late daughter Zahra, called The ZB Foundation. The charity’s objective is to raise awareness about the importance of New Born Screening, by collaborating with clinics and hospitals to allow for babies to have a heel prick test within 72 of being born in order to detect rare metabolic diseases. The blood samples are the tested for up to 40 disease at The ZB Foundation’s lab in Pakistan and detection of these diseases at the crucial time after being born, could save the lives of countless babies.
AboutHer.com caught up with the UAE based entrepreneur and philanthropic figure, to talk about all things conscious consumerism in the travel and tourism sector, her most memorable trips around the world and more.
Tell us a little about your background and where Unique Family Travels began for you.
I have always been a lover of travel and even did a travel degree in college before moving to Dubai 25 years ago. I have been fortunate to enjoy and explore many countries and cities around the world. For me personally, a huge part of traveling is staying at beautiful and unique properties. Once I had kids, I wanted them to enjoy travel as much as I do, so I continued exploring with all three children by my side. I never worried about their age, I just switched my focus to a more child friendly experience.
Having managed my own PR business for the last 13 years, I decided, last year, to follow my passion of travel and start a bespoke luxury travel company. Unique Family Travels focuses on family travel itineraries and staying at luxurious, unique properties around the world. It was a nerve-wracking move but the entire business model that I had created excited me and showed me that there was a huge untapped market opportunity - so I took the plunge! This year alone I have already booked numerous family holidays from traversing Cambodia/Vietnam to sailing holidays in Croatia, walking with elephants In the Thailand Golden Triangle to silver back gorilla experiences in Rwanda, not to mention barefoot luxury island getaways in Maldives. It has been exhilarating and exciting and I am looking forward to growing my passion.
You specialize in sourcing sustainable yet luxury destinations and experiences. Why is that so important to you and your clients?
I am honored to be a brand ambassador for Soneva, which has two properties in the Maldives and one in Koh Kood, which is an island off Thailand. This is a brand whose entire ethos and brand ethics are centered around eco-tourism and sustainable, barefoot luxury. The founders have created the term SLOW LIFE philosophy which stands for Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences.
What this means is that the resort does not affect or damage the eco system and its surroundings. The island has a low carbon footprint. All three properties were built using sustainable materials, recycling waste materials, conserving water all to preserve the ecosystems. On the island of Soneva Fushi they have a 70kW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant which is the largest renewable energy plant in the Maldives. They also use a range of water saving technologies to reduce consumption. At Soneva Kiri they constructed a water reservoir collecting rain water that supplies the resort with fresh water.
There’s no plastic what so ever, drinks are served in glass bottles and glasses and if one breaks on the Soneva Fushi Island, there is a small glass making factory that will then create a glass bowl which your dinner maybe served in. The reefs are fully supported by conservationists protecting all species – to the point where their own sea plane will not land too close to the island in case it effects the marine life.
They grow all the crops on the property offering farm to table dining. To me, this resort is the epitome for luxury which oozes sophistication, luxury and wealth; yet you don’t have to be dining in an air-conditioned restaurant and wearing designer clothes to be luxury, strip everything back to nature, with everything you could possible want and need with your personal butler on call.
I personally believe consumers are becoming savvier with their travel requirements and especially more conscious about saving our planet as we become more educated on terms such as eco-tourism and sustainability. Resorts that are more conscious also offer a more unique experience such as tree house living or glamping. Travelers are now more inclined to spend on an experience that provides meaningful memories.
As people are now being more mindful of conscious living and travelling, what top 5 (eco-friendly/responsible) things should people consider when planning their next vacation?
- Buy products from local artisans as the money will go towards their own family and their own needs.
- A lot of socially conscious resorts have a CSR initiative giving back to the region such as building homes or schools for their employees, supporting conservation programs attached to the resort for example one of the initiatives the Anantara Group support is the rehabilitation of street elephants in Thailand.
- Conserve water - use a refillable water container some hotels will provide one or take your own.
- Don’t drop any waste into the sea or on the beach, everything you leave behind will either be swallowed up by or damage coral reefs.
- Use local base tour operators once on the ground as they will also provide you with a more authentic experience and cost you a lot less.
Unique Family Travels has also recently done a Unique Girls Tour, tell us about that. And, why it could be so attractive to women in this region?
We had the most amazing time as I took 10 Arab women from the region to Thailand to discover Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. In Bangkok we stayed at the beautiful newly opened Rosewood Hotel and had dinner at the only Michelin star street food restaurant in the world Jay Fai. We then stayed at the Anantara Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai where the highlight was us walking with elephants that are being rehabilitated back into nature. We then stayed a couple of nights at the wonderful 137 Pillars in Chiang Mai before heading back to Bangkok.
These trips are designed and curated with a goal to bring together like-minded female travelers and provide them life changing and empowering experiences. All the guests are personally invited by me to join the experience.
Most people find planning and figuring out what to do and where to go on vacation difficult, time consuming and confusing at the best of times. How do you curate the perfect vacation?
Travel is my passion so I find joy in what others find confusing and difficult. I firstly understand a little more about my clients’ needs and wants in a holiday, then I find the perfect destination encompassing their requirements add what I believe is the best luxury property and then throw in a little “je ne sais quoi” in order to make it even more memorable.
As someone who specializes in creating a luxurious escape for others, what has been your most memorable/favorite vacation to date?
I have two memorable vacations, which I enjoyed with my own family:
- Soneva Fushi, Maldives; simply because my kids loved free diving and snorkeling, experiencing the marine life, and a superb kids club with water slides and tree houses, cinema under the stars and of course the laid back life style were as a family we had no interruptions.
- This year my kids were finally old enough to enjoy their first real African safari. We stayed at a luxury private lodge in Welgevonden Game Reserve 3 hours from Johannesburg. The entire experience was mesmerizing from dining on a terrace watching wild elephants in front of you, to a female cheetah chasing down her prey and then feeding the kill to her cubs. The children were engrossed into the entire experience asking questions, sitting patiently and quietly and learning how to fully appreciate wildlife.
Starting and running a business is no easy feat. What are the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
Currently Unique Family Travels is a small business with very low overheads. I think my biggest challenge will be when I want to scale the business and how I go about doing that. For now, I am enjoying the challenge of growing my business, converting my passion into my work and offering a bespoke service to my clients that is rarely found in the travel industry.
Who are the women that inspire you and why?
I actually have a few – the will, determination and strength that Malala Yousafzai has shown as a young women and her plight for education, being one of them, and also, as the founder of an NGO in Pakistan, I admire Melinda Gates and the work her foundation is doing on a global scale. I admire women who work hard, multi task family life and their careers, who have drive and ambition but at the same time don’t take themselves too seriously.
As an inspirational entrepreneur, mother and wife, how do you use your enterprise to empower other women?
I wouldn’t refer to myself as an inspirational entrepreneur but I would refer to myself as a go getter and doer! I would prefer to have failed trying than never trying at all.
If you really want something you have to go out and get it and that’s proof when it comes to the biggest achievement in my life, which was starting my charity The ZB Foundation in Pakistan. My husband and I are not from a medical or in fact an NGO background but with passion and a determination not to let children die like our daughter did, we are the only screening facility in the country - over the last 20 years people have tried to offer screening however I guess we just went that extra mile!
What motivates you?
Money does drive me. I aim for an abundance of money as the more money I have the more I can do with it for my family, friends and my charity. I want to see more of the world and I want my loved ones to see it with me. The more money I have the more I can fund my charity resulting in more babies tested. If you are not greedy, wealth can do so much so from a young age I have taught my children empathy and compassion so they understand that money isn’t everything - it’s simply a vessel to achieve more good in the world.
Whats next for Unique Family Travels?
2020 is going to be an exciting year with the launch of our adventure eco-tourism travel arm. Like-minded adventurist will get to explore, enjoy and witness some of the most amazing places on our planet, which will be done under the umbrella of ‘socially conscious’. Eco-tourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. We will strongly adhere to that promise as I feel passionately that going forward we will all travel the world more, but we will do it not only for the experience it but also to save it for our future generations.