Luxury Leader | Tom Marchant, Owner & Co-Founder, Black Tomato

Our first Luxury Leader of the year is Tom Marchant, founder of luxury travel brand – and new Walpole member – Black Tomato. Here Tom discusses what inspires him, his big break, and why luxury should always be about thoughtfulness (and challenging your customers)…

Tom regularly writes and speaks on trends and the future of the luxury travel and lifestyle industries at conferences and on broadcast segments around the world and has been named young entrepreneur of the year by the British Travel Industry Hall of Fame. Tom and Black Tomato have been identified in the media by publications such as Vogue, The NY Times, Conde Nast Traveller, Forbes and the FT as leaders in shaping the future of the luxury travel and lifestyle industries. Tom is a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar and Inc Magazine and a former member of Travel + Leisure’s Advisory board and AFAR media’s advisory board. In 2018 Conde Nast Traveller named him as one of the 50 people in the world changing the way you travel. In 2019 he won the ‘Contribution to Experiential Travel’ award at the Pure Life Experiences annual awards.

What does British luxury mean to you?
British luxury is the standard bearer for quality offerings around the world. And while in the past it has been possible to fall back on age of establishment, British luxury is not – in 2020 – directly coincident with British heritage. Today, British luxury is about cutting-edge thinking. That’s why I find it heartwarming to see heritage brands embracing contemporary thinking. And for those newer brands that don’t yet have this heritage status, they’ll acquire it in the future because of the attitudes they foster today.

What’s your vision for the company?
To be recognised as the leading purveyor of luxury travel experiences in the world. But also to be recognised as the travel company that continually challenges and asks questions of its customers. And not only about where they want to travel, but how – and why. I want to see Black Tomato recognised not only within our own industry, but within the wider luxury sector as a whole.

What do you see as the future of luxury?
The future of luxury is that people won’t be asking what the future of luxury is. Or, to put it another way, they’ll acknowledge that luxury as an offering is always evolving. Perhaps the most important thing is that luxury – for Black Tomato  – is always about thoughtfulness. Meaning, are we always creating experiences for our clients that show we are doing this just for them? And do those products truly get them? This can, of course, materialise in many different ways. Ultimately, then, modern luxury isn’t defined by the cookie-cutter of cost of materials or excess. It’s about being understanding and intuitive.

What inspires you?
Everything or – put differently – everywhere. For example; other industries, and how they approach solving a problem. Alternatively – and this is a major blessing – that, as a travel company, we get to work with hundreds of different cultures. We witness not only their takes on business but their takes on life; on the most human side of their existence. This is inspiring to me.

What was your big break?
The first was a chance meeting which led to the three of us being featured in a full page photoshoot for Conde Nast Traveler. The feature was about the people who were going to change the way we travel. The second big break was winning the Guardian Observer’s annual travel award for best website – which we then defended the following year. For us, it was about building our credibility through editorial endorsement – one step at a time.

What piece of advice would you give to someone entering the luxury industry now?
A few things. Don’t assume that because your audience has high net worth that they will spend easily and in vast quantities. The luxury consumer is savvy. If nothing else, they’re much more particular about how they spend than a conventional customer. You need to make your case to survive, and be beyond reproach. 

In a parallel life, what would you be doing?
I’d be a foreign correspondent. I would have loved to pursue that – in the pattern of someone like Kate Adie or Marie Colvin.

What’s your favourite luxury?
The freedom to travel with my job. That’s why we started this company; to find a reason to keep travelling and to build a business out of that. And now I get to do that with my wife and daughter, which makes it all the more special.

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