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AFAR Conversations: A Toast to Exceptional Experiences

By Joseph Diaz

Aug 22, 2014

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New York City; July 29, 2014. AFAR Conversations is an opportunity to bring leaders in various fields together for a discussion on ideas and topics that can have a positive impact on our world. We’ve experienced that when curious, intelligent, and passionate people gather for an evening of conversation interesting things happen.

On July 29, I was excited to moderate our fifth  AFAR Conversation on the topic of “Exceptional Experiences.” Now before you groan and say, “How many more times do I need to hear brands mention the word ‘experience’,” I can tell you I empathize.

In 2009, we launched AFAR dedicated to inspiring, enabling, and guiding deeper, richer, and more authentic travel experiences. Companies hadn’t caught on that people wanted more than just things. In just five years, however, everything has changed. Today, everyone from hotels to automakers seems to have stopped selling services and products and instead offer “experiences.”

While most companies use the word “experience” as a marketing term, AFAR believes in the power of travel experiences. If you’re curious about the world, incredible things can happen. As the leader in this movement, it’s our duty to take the idea of exceptional experiences deeper.


I asked three individuals to help AFAR do that: Dianna Balabon, vice president of sales and marketing at Rosewood Hotels & Resorts; Jack Calhoun, global president of Banana Republic; and Trent Fraser, vice president of Dom Pérignon. Over the course of the evening, we explored the ingredients of exceptional experiences. I was inspired by the conversation, particularly when we turned to topics such as the importance of company culture, hiring, and technology in providing richer experiences. Jack even shared his unexpected insights from a visit to Chili’s—yes, the “I’ve got my baby back, baby back, baby back ribs” Chili’s—describing how technology made his meal unexpectedly memorable. Personal stories like his added even more color to the evening.

The combination of space (thanks to NeueHouse for providing the inspirational setting), panelists, and a curious audience created an evening where the conversations about the role we all play in creating exceptional experiences continued long after the mics powered down and the last bottles of wine and Champagne were polished off.

Take a look at the video recap and check back for more updates from AFAR Conversations.

AFAR Conversations, July 2014: NeueHouse, NYC from AFAR Media on Vimeo.

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