Global exploration just got a lot more exciting with the merger of travel companies Scott Dunn and Country Holidays. Here’s how these two pioneering brands have redefined travel to deliver a range of carefully curated adventures. By Marissa Carruthers.
A lifelong passion for travel is what unites the founders of Scott Dunn and Country Holidays. Both avid explorers from a young age, they wanted to share their sense of adventure with the rest of the world, never imagining that one day, together they would realise their vision.
It was in 1986 that Andrew Dunn, founder of Scott Dunn, decided he wanted to organise stylish ski holidays. Starting with two chalets in Switzerland, Dunn brought together a group of friends to create a truly unique and luxurious chalet experience. Tapping into what travellers sought when heading to the slopes, from private chefs and dedicated hosts to experienced nannies, a new vision of the luxury ski holiday was forged, and travel company Scott Dunn was born, quickly carving a space for itself in the blossoming luxury ski market.
“When Scott Dunn first launched there were very few luxury tour operators, none of which were offering luxury catered ski chalets, which is where the demand was,” says CEO Simon Russell. “The level of service was so important in those early days; little things such as offering guests a wake-up call service with a cup of tea, taking their skis down to the lift, and making the chalet a luxurious home from home made Scott Dunn stand out from the crowd.”
Determined to offer more to the growing number of discerning travellers wanting to explore the world, Scott Dunn expanded its portfolio to offer more global, tailor-made trips. These included first-time family safaris in Africa, trips of discovery in South America, and luxurious private island honeymoons, all delivered with a sense of adventure but without the loss of creature comforts.
“Over the years, Scott Dunn has done it all from closing a pyramid in Egypt for a private dinner for an esteemed guest to organising a wedding in a hot air balloon over the Masai Mara in Kenya,” says Simon. The company has also developed a portfolio of Mediterranean villas mirroring the success of the alpine chalet holidays it pioneered. It has also developed a range of vacations geared towards children and teens through its Explorers children’s clubs and Crew Programme in Europe and the Maldives.
In similar style, Country Holidays founder Theng Hwee’s appetite for travel drove the formation of his company. During his university days in Singapore, he recalls how he led several trips of an outdoor adventure club, including taking a group of 12 trekking through the Himalayas, a destination he had not visited previously. Hooked, after graduating he continued running the student trips, eventually taking the plunge to found Country Holidays in 1993 with his wife Siew Yim.
Three years later, Theng Hwee was further inspired after meeting the first Australian to climb Everest, Greg Mortimer. “He is also an experienced Antarctic expedition leader,” says Theng Hwee. “With a leap of faith, I launched the first Antarctic trip for Singaporeans and it was a stunning success. This led me to believe Singaporeans will go anywhere and I launched many more exciting destinations, including Africa, Latin America, Iran and Timbuktu.”
Since then, the company has grown from a three-person start-up selling Nepal hiking to one that has offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Dubai, which offers trips to all corners of the globe.
With changing travel demands, new destinations opening and people’s passion for exploration expanding, both companies have had to work hard to remain leaders in their game, seeking out hidden corners of the globe and unique travel experiences, and setting travel trends rather than simply following them.
“While Scott Dunn guests still demand a high level of service, this has become expected and therefore the hotel aspect of a holiday isn’t as important as it was say 15 years ago,” says Simon. “An increasing number of Scott Dunn guests are seeking unique and exclusive experiences that they can tick off their travel bucket list.” Examples include teepee wilderness camping in Lapland, helicopter glacier kayaking in British Colombia and photographing the annual Black Necked Crane festival in Bhutan with renowned private photographers such as Scott Woodward.
For Country Holidays, continuing to deliver unforgettable experiences continues as its top priority. “We remain true to our original focus of bringing clients to the remotest corners of the world with intimate, personalised and pristine experiences,” says Theng Hwee, who cites the Antarctic’s pristine wilderness and Iran and Guatemala’s cultural experiences as his top destinations.
Both leaders in their field, in 2016 merger talks began between the two companies, with 18 months of negotiations taking place. The result is a travel organisation that ticks all the boxes, offering a diverse range of unique experiences and activities across the world.
Country Holidays clients will have access to Scott Dunn’s Explorers kid’s clubs, Crew Programme, and portfolio of luxury catered chalets and villas in Europe, while Scott Dunn holiday-makers can now tap into the unique destinations Country Holidays offers. These include Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Georgia – all countries previously unavailable.
This merger offers travellers more than just a shared vision. Combining Scott Dunn and Country Holidays also means there will be advanced services in place to help guests, from a 24-hour hotline and faster response time from travel consultants thanks to advanced technology. Together the two brands will have a stronger buying power, ensuring competitive rates for guests, who will also have access to even more experienced travel consultants, including specialists with true insight into the world’s most fascinating destinations. This allows the philosophies of Scott Dunn and Country Holidays to continue, but with an enhanced guest experience.
“The alliance of both the Scott Dunn Asia and Country Holidays brands will mean expertise in both the local and expat markets with specialist teams on both sides to create one highly skilled team that lives and breathes travel,” says Simon.
Intrepid high-end travellers have an exciting string of destinations to explore in the coming year, with Theng Hwee predicting that Bolivia, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Rwanda are set to shine, while Simon expects the spotlight to be thrown on Jordan and Oman in 2019.
“Both countries offer something completely unique from what can be found in Asia,” says Simon. “From the luna-esque landscape of the Wadi Rum and rose-red city of Petra to the sparkling gold of Muscat’s Grand Mosque and glamping under the stars at Wahiba Sands in Oman.”
Going ahead, there’s a bright future for these two dynamic companies.
Country Holidays will be rebranded as Scott Dunn, with the existing Scott Dunn and Country Holidays teams in Singapore merging and inspiring each other at a brand new headquarters in the Lion City. Theng Hwee will take on responsibilities as CEO of Scott Dunn Asia and Simon will continue his role as Group CEO. These two pioneering travellers will forge a new vision for the Scott Dunn brand that incorporates the passions and aspirations of both Scott Dunn and Country Holidays travellers, both in Asia and beyond.
A British journalist who has lived in Cambodia for the last six years. Marissa writes about travel, lifestyle and culture across Southeast Asia for various publications, including the South China Morning Post, AsiaLIFE Cambodia and TTG Asia.