How the luxury travel industry in Toronto is adapting to COVID-era demands

Mere months ago, sinking your toes into warm, glittering beaches or traversing cobblestone streets soaked in old-world history was entirely out of reach as the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted Canada into a third wave. But with borders reopening, the travel industry has had to change course slightly to cater to the desires of those looking to travel again. Luxury travel companies, forced to lay low for months or close altogether, are experiencing a potential resurgence now – and it’s possible that they’re uniquely poised to entertain these COVID-era changes.

Toronto-based couple Jamsheed and Jennica Pocha were confident the industry could bounce back and founded their new luxury lifestyle and travel business, The Pelican Club, in the middle of the pandemic. This members club specializes in bespoke, luxury travel planning for individuals, families, corporations and executives, an it was borne out of years of experience in hospitality and tourism and a rapidly changing industry in the wake of an ongoing, global pandemic.

“There are so many aspects of life you would never hesitate to appoint a specialist for. Your personal life and time off should be no exception,” says the couple.

The pair studied together at the acclaimed hospitality management school Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne in Switzerland and worked at various luxury hotels in London, Rome, Barcelona and the Caribbean before moving to Toronto in 2017. It was then they began working on a business plan for what is now The Pelican Club – and now that restrictions are easing, the Pochas appear to have launched at just the right time.


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“Whether it’s a weekend in New York or a month of island hopping in Indonesia, we are your travel agent, personal assistant, concierge and ‘that well connected friend’ all wrapped into one,” they explain.

In a world that felt stalled for so long, travel helps ignite a spark in people and a sense of hopefulness, excitement and allure. While the industry has suffered because of COVID-19, forcing airlines, hotels and tour companies to navigate stay-at-home-orders, travel bans and border closings, luxury travel businesses promises a solace for anxious travelers looking to get back out into the world and impeccable destinations begging to be experienced safely and hassle-free.

The pandemic has changed many travelers’ outlook on vacations

According to George Alexandrou, CEO of Alexandrou Travel Design, another luxury travel company based out of Toronto, the ongoing pandemic has created a huge shift in not only practical concerns surrounding cleanliness, space and COVID-19 protocols but also an emotional shift in the ways travelers are choosing to invest their time and money.

“Through COVID, people have realized the importance of family and so we are seeing more multi-generational trips and trips with families and their kids, curating their experiences so the whole family can participate.”

In addition, he has seen an uptick in more purpose-driven travelers. These are individuals increasingly seeking itineraries backed by socially-conscious suppliers and hoteliers and/or choosing experiences that offer volunteer opportunities baked in.

The Pochas’ opinion is similar, predicting that, “destinations that can find ways to manage their impact on the environment and local community while maintaining exceptional service will be the next generation of luxury.”

Predictably, health and safety is also at the forefront for consumers, with many travelers seeking out more intimate transportation and accommodation options.

“We have noticed an increase in requests for private jets and villas and smaller resorts or hotels. For understandable reasons, people want more space,” says Andrew Satkowiak, Executive Vice President of The Luxury Travel Agency, another Toronto-based company that focuses on highly-curated, luxury experiences for the upmarket jetsetter.

Demand for travel services is on the rise

Andrew has also noticed a move toward more impulsive bookings, in stark contrast to pre-COVID times when many people would put off bucket-list trips for years and years.

“If nothing else, the pandemic has shown that none of us know what tomorrow will bring and now more than ever people are ready to enjoy life again.”

The Pelican Club knows this firsthand. After a slow start due to a mid-COVID launch, the duo are busier than ever booking trips to increasingly sought-after locations like Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada or Nihi Sumba in Indonesia.

For the Pochas, luxury travel is less about how exotic the destination is or what swanky excursions or accommodations you book and more about the service you experience while you’re there. The pair aims to emulate the exceptional service model they expect of their vendors and partners throughout the trip-planning process, too, so luxury is bestowed upon you long before your trip even begins.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO