The Ultra-Luxe Vacation

In conversation with Umer Agha, the CEO of Zero Below

2016-05-11T21:06:01+05:00 Faizan Hussain

Zero Below, an alternative to hotel living. Why live in a room when you can spend it in a perfectly curated chalet, villa or private island?

Tell us something about Zero Below? What is the significance of its name?

I conceived the company with a focus on skiing and snowboarding, and so we came up with a name that is a play on temperature. Needless to say, we now offer much more than just skiing and snowboarding trips; with a focus on accommodation, we offer an alternative to hotel living.

How did the idea of making a travel company come to mind?

Wealthy Pakistanis spend a substantial sum of money on international vacations annually and demand a certain level of luxury and service. My company encourages them to take a different kind of vacation without giving up an ounce of luxury: stay in a self-contained serviced villa instead of in a hotel, try skiing/ snowboarding/ scuba diving, and so on. The idea is that we do all the legwork and our clients don’t have to worry about a thing!

Is Zero Below an independent company?

Yes, we are independent but have a number of international partners in Europe, Japan, Thailand and the Maldives. The best bit is, Zero Below is free! Our commission comes from the properties, so our clients don’t pay a penny more than if they went direct (and they get the benefit of our knowledge base and concierge services). There is a concierge service available wherever our clients go. In addition, our local partners in each destination provide 5-star service around the clock.

How does your company make for truly memorable holidays?

We have a strong belief that experiences are more important than things – so we encourage our clients to invest in vacations that will result in a lifetime of meaningful memories. The backbone is our very strong property portfolio. Many of our properties are award-winning and have been written about in leading global Lifestyle & Travel publications. The “wow factor” begins from the moment our clients step into their accommodation. We want our clients to try skiing, snowboarding or scuba diving and are very confident that these activities, when done with your significant other, family or friends create cherished memories.

So... judging by your focus on luxury, how big is your target market in Pakistan?

Quite small! As an exclusive, upscale service, we are targeting a very small slice of society.

Other than accommodation, what services are you guys offering?

All our services are backed by our accommodation portfolio; so, for example, backed by our ski chalets, we arrange luxurious skiing/snowboarding trips; backed by our private islands and villas, we arrange exceptional destination weddings.

How do you customize tours for different people?

Our goal is to understand our clients’ expectations and then exceed them. So, we take the customization process very seriously. I personally speak to all clients in detail and touch on a number of factors other than simply budget and group size. All our properties are stunning – the trick is recommending the right one. For example, there are hundreds of ski resorts to choose from and then each ski resort has multiple luxurious chalets available, so our job is to match our clients with the one that they will enjoy the most. This is my favorite part of the job. We save our clients from days, or even weeks, of research.

Do you hire all these amazing properties where you take your clients or do any of these belong to you?

We have rental agreements with these properties and are in the process of co-developing some designer accommodation in a variety of upscale locations worldwide.

In your opinion, what is the absolute best destination you have on offer.

I think the best experience possible is at a private island. I personally know the owners of an award-winning island and have spent time on the island too. It’s unbeatable. The entire island is yours for the period that you book it. There’s a dedicated team complete with a gourmet chef. The views are incredible, the architecture is world class and it is just a great feeling to disconnect for a while.

How do you accommodate the unusual demands of your clients on an island?

One of the things we pride ourselves on is the ability to deliver whatever our clients want. For example, if our clients want a very specific kind of apple, we will fly that into the island. No request is too outrageous. These properties have experience catering to royalty and celebrities, so they are well-equipped to handle unusual requests.

Do you also provide such exclusive accommodation services in Pakistan?

We do not offer anything within Pakistan. The reason is that we are aiming for ultra-luxe options that simply don’t exist here. Pakistan is a beautiful country and has some stunning valleys, mountains and glaciers – companies like ATP are doing a great job helping Pakistanis to see more of their country and I encourage everyone to explore more of Pakistan. We are doing something different

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