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THE INTERVIEW: DIANE MCDAVITT, LUXURY LINK

Dmcdavittheadshot I was having dinner with a New York couple last winter at the Arlberg Hospiz Hotel St. Christoph in Austria, one of the Alps’ most desirable ski hotels. The husband, a Wall Streeter with a townhouse in Midtown, confessed to me that he hadn’t paid anywhere close to full price.

(Diane McDavitt)

"I won it on Luxury Link," he admitted, swearing me to secrecy. Well, his identity is safe with me, but I can’t resist bragging about his travel acumen. Over the past five years, he and his wife have gone to two Orient-Express safari camps in South Africa and have taken deluxe ski vacations in Lech, Austria, and Grindelwald, Switzerland. They have watched the sun rise while staying at the Sanctuary Lodge, the finest private hotel in Machu Picchu. And this street-smart New Yorker figured he had paid an average of 60% of retail for all these vacations.

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Which made it imperative that I seek out Diane McDavitt, president and COO of Luxury Link. Founded in 1997, the company is considered to be the premier online luxury travel resource. They offer auctions, fixed-price offers and a la carte bookings. And clients enjoy a roster of very good deals, with hundreds of auctions each week. Just perusing the website is an exercise in travel fantasy, as you sift through Caribbean villas, luxe resorts in Vietnam, and retreats in the Peruvian Amazon. I caught up with McDavitt in Palm Springs.

WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR LUXURY LINK?

Luxury Link was originally meant to be a research tool for retail travel agents specializing in high-end travel. That was in 1997. The Chairman of our Board is a very successful entrepreneur within the financial industry. He is married to a travel agent who was a client of mine for years when I worked for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. Researching options for sophisticated travelers who were looking for ‘the next best kept secret’ was cumbersome, to say the least, in those days. Utilizing the web to help was still a new concept back then. Shortly after we launched the company, we realized there was a real pent-up demand for this kind of information from the travelers themselves, which led us to make the site available to consumers as well.Lux2

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE RESORTS AND HOTELS THAT WORK WITH LUXURY LINK?

We have a committee comprised of veteran luxury travelers and our editorial board which vets and approves all properties to ensure they meet our standards for inclusion on the site. We do receive hundreds of inquiries from hotels and resorts around the world but accept less than 10%.

WHAT ARE THE HOTTEST HOTELS OR DESTINATIONS THIS YEAR?

We have found villa vacations to be the hottest trend in 2007. Whether the villa is in Umbria or the Napa Valley, the idea of renting a private home or estate and bringing along 7 or 8 of your closest friends or your family has taken off with the Luxury Link clientele. When it comes to a destination per se, our travelers do seem to choose Italy again and again.

ANY SLEEPERS, PLACES THAT OFFER GREAT VALUE BUT FOR SOME REASON HAVE BEEN OVERLOOKED?

I’m not sure if it can qualify as overlooked these days but we have received quite a bit of great feedback on Croatia. Travelers who may have chosen not to go 10 or 15 years ago are planning and going — the gorgeous beaches, architecture, food and wine, and of course the people have certainly resonated with our users.

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RECENTLY, I SAW APARTMENTS ON LUXURY LINK (A THREE BEDROOM SUBLET ON THE UPPER WEST SIDE), NOT TO MENTION JEWELRY, WINES AND RESORT REAL ESTATE. WHY DID YOU BRANCH OUT FROM TRAVEL?

We listened to our users. They told us Luxury Link is often where they turn for ideas when it comes to enjoying life. They told us more lifestyle-oriented options on the site would be welcome and a complement to the special travel opportunities we feature. We started with boutique wine auctions and the response was terrific, so we expanded further into luggage, golf items, and more.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU TRAVEL? IS IT USUALLY FOR BUSINESS OR FOR PLEASURE?

The irony is I travel less for pleasure these days than for business, though when one’s business is travel the lines do get a bit blurred! In general I travel once or twice per quarter, and generally the trip is for business, though I make it a point to try new restaurants or visit new places wherever I am, even if it’s a city I find myself in very regularly.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT TRAVEL? WHAT DO YOU DETEST?

I love the discovery of it. I am happiest when I am visiting a destination that is authentic — people, food, architecture. I often delude myself into thinking I fit right in and no one can tell I’m just a visitor, but I’m sure the jig is up on that more than I realize.Lux3

Outside of all the normal things most people don’t like – airport lines, crowds, etc – I detest the lack of attention to preservation of what is authentic, what gives a destination its sense of place. Overbuilding, over-commercializing, overdoing it in general which is often fueled by greed. It can destroy a place and that is very sad to me. I think this is why many sophisticated travelers do often find themselves on a quest for the next ‘best kept secret;’ it’s all a way of keeping ahead of that wave.

IS THERE A SPECIAL PLACE YOU’D LIKE TO VISIT?

Petra.

ANY PLACES THAT COUNT AS YOUR FAVORITES AT THIS MOMENT?

I have spent my career in luxury travel and I certainly enjoy a 5-star hotel when I am lucky enough to be in one. But my favorite place right now is a private beach in Baja California, just south of Ensenada. There is no hotel, no spa, no restaurant. I was there on an outdoor adventure — I might as well say it, a camping trip — on a quiet strip of sand on a private piece of land uninhabited save for the groundskeepers. Fabulous.

WHAT CAN YOU LEAVE HOME WITHOUT WHEN YOU TRAVEL?

My reading glasses, miniature binoculars and sugarless gum. What I am always trying to leave – unsuccessfully – is my Blackberry. But one of these days…

WHERE ARE YOU OFF TO NEXT?

Outside of a business trip (naturally) to Morocco I have never really explored any part of Africa. It’s on my 2007 list.

THE NEXT BIG AREA FOR LUXURY LINK?

We’ll be doing more in the area of luxury real estate. Stay tuned …

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