Deep Dive with The Thinking Traveller’s Head of Brand


Even brands with a genuinely superior product struggle to stand out. We spoke to The Thinking Traveller’s Elena Fotiadi on how going back to your origins can take you somewhere new again.

WO Why did The Thinking Traveller need a rebrand?

EF Before villa rental companies became established, people were a bit scared of renting a villa because the experience wasn’t branded, it didn’t assure them like a Four Seasons did. A villa could be owned by anyone, to any standard – and luxury villas at £30k a week didn’t come with the recognisable standards of a brand. During the last 15 years, a lot of serious villa companies proved that they were offering an amazing product and they started to brand themselves. But this led to a mushrooming of villa rental companies, with no standards, no experience, no expertise – just an internet platform with no substance behind it. And it’s very easy to copy the leading brands – the slogans, the visuals, the client journey on the website. Before you know it, you have no idea where you are because every site is saying the same thing. So it was time for the leading companies to dare to be different, to show that there is a different kind of quality behind that concept.

WO The Thinking Traveller already had that difference – but it was getting lost in a sea of infinity pools?

EF Yes. Most villa rental companies share collections but The Thinking Traveller’s villas are genuinely exclusive and can only be rented through us. This model was really groundbreaking and it’s as close as you can get to branding a villa experience – you have an exclusive bond with the villa owner, you invest in the location, you create unified standards of what it means to rent a house and what to expect during the stay.

WO So what were you looking for in a brand design agency?

EF It was an international search; we didn’t confine ourselves to the UK market. Initially we were looking for design agencies that had experience in luxury travel and hospitality, and I remember thinking that Without wasn’t one of them, but they had good credentials, so they made it to the final four agencies and the chemistry sessions. These sessions are the most important to us. Maybe they wouldn’t be for another company, but that human element, the people behind the business are crucial. We were looking for creative partners to love the brand and to help it grow.

WO Why did you choose Without?

EF Without did something in the pitch that no one else did; something simple and universal that stood out from the terminology that other agencies threw at us (we know our industry). Without found the soul of the brand; its essence and beauty.

Brand strategy agency - The Thinking Traveller photoshoot

WO What impressed you the most about the partnership?

EF Every time we had a presentation or board meeting, we moved a step ahead, everybody left the room happy. There was never any fundamental point of “oh, we don’t like this, let’s go back and change it”, which shows that every move was so carefully and thoughtfully taken by Without. And it’s not just that they’re very creative – a sophisticated creativity – but that they’re also very organised. When you have such a complex project as the rebranding of an entire company, and everything that is involved in that, strong project management skills are so important. The team made a very difficult, long journey so easy, pleasant and organised. Just the fact that we launched on the original launch date speaks for itself.

WO You’d never know that the shoot took place in November…

EF  You wouldn’t! It was as if it was still summer! And the weather wasn’t the only challenge. We had other, logistical complications that threatened to postpone the shoot. There was a bit of luck, but also dedication and organisational skills. We stayed calm, and it paid off.

WO Has the rebrand helped to bring teams together internally, after The Thinking Traveller acquired White Key Villas, where you were a director?

EF Absolutely. The Thinking Traveller and White Key Villas had shared values but, aesthetically, there were differences before the rebrand. So the rebrand has created a new home for everyone: it has accommodated the rebrand The Thinking Traveller needed (even if there hadn’t been the acquisition) and it has embraced everyone coming from White Key, including the villas. It is something that unites everyone in the company, but also harbours all the villas that we have geographically.

WO How do you safeguard your difference, as the luxury travel sector evolves and grows?

EF There is a lot of funding in the sector at the moment, with larger companies buying smaller ones, and this brings expansion into other regions. For example, we could take on villas in the Bahamas, which is an interesting territory. However, we have no clue what’s happening in the Bahamas, we don’t have that knowledge and expertise, so we continue to serve the destinations that we know and love – which is testament to the quality behind our philosophy and concept. This – together with keeping our villas exclusive – is the best way to keep the industry premium, secure and safe for clients because it’s the most sincere and honest way to do it. You have the partnership with the owners, you vet the properties really well based on the standards that you create. Then you attract the villa owners who are very willing to listen and to invest in their properties in order for them to excel in not just being amazing private homes but also amazing hospitality units.

WO If you could travel anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?

EF It’s not a specific place that I would go to, it’s the people you travel with that take you away. So I would travel with my family, for sure, and it doesn’t matter how far we go. I would go anywhere.

WO Without creativity…

EF Without’s creativity spurs from the team’s deep dive into the brand’s soul, to discover the essence and beauty of it and to come back with a definition of how to conceptually design language and image. Without the agency is bigger than the word “without”.

Sign up for insight, interviews and news from Out There.