Learning in the age of authenticity
As I uncovered various creative perspectives on Bangkok this last week, I was treated to a tour organized by Bangkok's funkiest travel agency, Smiling Albino. The company was founded in 1999 by two crazy Canadians, Scott Coates and Daniel Fraser, to "bring a unique travel experience […] the result of continuous travel, innovation and refinement".
Unique, here, is the keyword. As we strolled through the streets of the City of Angels for a few hours (we actually loved it so much we called for a second private tour a few days later), it truly felt like we were on an adventure worthy of a Casey Neistat stunt. Yet it became clear that everyone we met, including our tour guide, were for real.
The new luxury
Our friend and cllbr Paris correspondent Gregory Casper likes to think and write about how Gen Y's relationship to luxury is very different from that of previous generations.
In Casper's words, luxury items have become dissociated from extraordinary circumstance and are increasingly embedded in our daily lives. For several individuals, luxurious products are considered durable investments in their identity; something they can display, wear, inhabit and promote as an extension of their public persona.
If luxury as a concept is losing its power as an element of superficial prestige, it is gaining in other attributes. The new luxury — from fashion, to travel, to education — consists of custom-made, experiential, relational and narratable experiences. It is the product of on-going self-appraisal, of learning about oneself and the world.
Custom-made, experiential, relational and narratable
Several luxury brands today have understood the necessity to exit the system of "quality mass production" to enter a new era of specificity where every item and every experience is unique (or at least, feels that way).
Long gone are the days where, for instance, luxury travel consisted of 5-star hotels and private drivers to take tourists from their resorts to air-conditioned shopping malls. Today, high end travellers want to experience something they feel was designed for them, not for the greater masses: they want to be rocked, sit close to the water, get their shoes and hands dirty, surrounded by local smells, tastes, sights and people.
What sets Smiling Albino's value proposal aside from other experiential learning programs is their ability to invent such experiences through continuous interaction with select hosts and service providers.
The same can be said of Creative Bangkok — by all means, a breakthrough in terms of creative pedagogy —, sketching a relatable thread between individuals, venues and activities.
Its guides do so by building sustained relationships with hosts as well as with adventurers. Rates may be higher, guests pay willingly, and return in vast numbers. In the case of the travel agency, this has led the company to expand to Nepal, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. For Creative Bangkok, this may mean sustainable leadership in its ability to serve as a worldwide hub for such further initiatives.
As it looks further to its second edition, Creative Bangkok has also inspired individuals with an intent to produce programs in the Philippines, Bahreïn, and maybe elsewhere. We will be very interested to find out how Bangkok can play a defining role in the coming of age of Middle Eastern and Asian creativity.
This new type of learning experience promises to deliver more in the years to come, with a view towards genuine and authentic jumps into local realities. In this new luxury of travel and education, your tour guide is actually part of the group, hands dirty, eyes shinny, and fully involved in the action.
We look forward to more. And so should you!