Mary Gostelow features Luca Franco in The Gostelow Report
LUCA FRANCO founding CEO of Luxury Frontiers
Written By: Mary Gostelow
The Chicago-based Italian says tents are high fashion, and they too evolve. The next trend will be hybrid, apparently – yes, there will continue to be traditional shapes in waterproofed high-performance multi-layered canvas. But expect to be amazed at intrusion of such other materials as bamboo and fabrics contributing to such forward-looking artistic gems as Jean Nouvel’s resort opening early 2022 at Saudi Arabia’s AlUla. Luxury Frontiers, says Franco, has several such projects in KSA: it also has a pipeline that includes Costa Rica and Mexico through to The Maldives and he personally would love to add Pakistan to that list (it is such a beautiful country, he says with a smile).
Luca Franca realised 10 years ago that, after the financial crisis of 2008, experiential travel would be big, and additions to the necessities are such words as sustainability and regeneration. It is no longer enough to be aware of the planet and the environment. It is essential to leave a place in a better state than when you arrived. All trends have been accelerated over the last 18 months, as has the demand for luxury hospitality that is part of nature. For Franco, his business is not all about tents but how his nature-driven concepts and design fit into communities and embrace its land.
Financiers agree. 60% of the firm is already held by sophisticated investors with passion for the great outdoors, with luxury. Luca Franco hopes to secure further funding by year-end. He has 48 full-time employees, in San Francisco and Johannesburg – many Luxury Frontiers designs are custom-made in South Africa but others are commissioned close-to project. With a total of 15 tented resorts in 8 countries now up and running, he expects to double that tally by 2023. For a simple project, expect a 10- month gestation from conception to birth, at a cost of about 50% of a traditional hotel room. Tent should last 10-25 years: manufacturers give 8-10 years’ warranty and can have replacement parts as necessary. Operationally, biggest challenges are maintenance and housekeeping, but Luxury Frontiers supplies training manuals.
Sleeping in a tent is totally immersive and consumers will sometimes pay a premium – for the record, as of 27th May, Canyon’s Utah Amangiri prices Thursday 1st July started at $3,700, while at its 10-tent sibling, Camp Sarika, 30 minutes’ hike away, were one available it would start at $3,500 (all prices including 3 meals for 2, alcohol extra). However, this hospitality life is not for everyone, admits Luca Franco. There are some who miss vertical walls and there are others who miss the claustrophobia of city life (he has no plans for a tented camp in New York’s Central Park). Franco is a keynote speaker, joining Mantis Collection’s Paul Gardiner and environmental entertainment guru, and Chief Boy Scout, Bear Grylls, at Glamping Business’ virtual Eco Hotel Restart Summit, 17-18 June.