Our next AFAR Conversations, which takes place in New York City on July 15, will focus on exceptional experiences, the theme of our August/September issue. In advance of our soirée, AFAR asked panelist Mark Izatt, founder of the London-based consulting group Communicating Luxury, to share his thoughts on the topic.

AFAR: What are the components of an exceptional experience?
Izatt: I would argue that today’s time-strapped, overworked person, who’s torn in a million directions, now sees silence, sustainability, and lack of clutter as luxuries. When it comes to hard goods, place and provenance continue to be key. People want to know about the origin of things. It all goes back to that search for authenticity.

One trend we’re seeing is surprise as the new luxury. How do you see this playing out?
Surprise and delight are absolutely critical to luxury. You have a benchmark for what you expect, and anything that’s pleasant beyond that is what seals the deal. I remember going to a busy city center hotel twice in a short period of time, and on my second visit, the bartender remembered my drink and asked me if I would like to have it again. These days, service can feel very anonymous. If a complete stranger can remember something about us, or reach out to us in a personalized way, it makes huge difference in our day. That type of customer service is very powerful, and has a lasting impression.

Describe your travel style.
When I’m traveling for pleasure, I’m always seeking that element of surprise. I will deliberately only research enough about a destination to allow me to make the right decisions in the first 24 hours. After that, I don’t want to read about it or pore over guidebooks. I like to see what’s thrown at me with the least amount of prescription possible, so that I can take full advantage of opportunities that come along.

Tell us about your most exceptional travel experience.
I went to Luxor, Egypt, several years ago. It was my first time on a horse, and I was traveling at sunset on the West Bank with a guide. One horse bolted and was chased by my guide, so I found myself alone on horseback as the sun went down on the banks of the River Nile. The horse ambled for almost an hour, and then turned around and got me back safe and sound. It was a magical moment.

Photo courtesy of Mark Izatt