An Interview with Stig Egard

Today we’re catching up with A2D founder, owner and CEO Stig Egard about all things travel and innovation, and about what the future may hold for the company and its clients.

Stig Egard

The last couple of years brought some unprecedented changes to the worlds of travel and innovation. How did A2D adapt to the pandemic and what kind of impact did it have on the business?

Back in March 2019, as the pandemic was just beginning, I remember sitting at a restaurant in Antwerp with Ruth after having just received news of schools closing in Madrid, not quite believing what was happening. I flew straight there to see our Spanish team. At that moment I had to really think on my feet: I looked at what business we had going at the time, which were our innovation programs – our core business – as well as the beginning of a health and wellbeing offering, which we had just started to implement.

3 days later I set up a conference call with our team, and we started from there, connecting every week and talking about new ideas and what was important to us. The whole experience made us become more flexible and adaptable, teaching us to be able to respond to the constant changes as they came. And I also feel it made us more connected, not just as a team but also with our clients: we became more in tune with their evolving needs.

And so where is A2D right now?

Now we’re in a stronger position than we’ve ever been before! Our 4 brands are all up and running, with a talented international team ready to design and deliver smart, creative and innovative solutions. We have fantastic relationships with our long-term clients and have been busy connecting with more, and we’ve got a portfolio of incredible partners, suppliers, venues and properties. It’s all hands on deck right now as travel is opening up!

The A2D Team in Barcelona in December 2021
Our 4 Brands

A2D'S MISSION

How did the pandemic make you think about the impact that you wish to have as a company?

I really believe in the power of human connection: everything A2D does is about bringing people together, whether that’s through team innovation trips, business and cultural events, family celebrations and holidays, or workshops and programs. One of the biggest gifts of the last couple of years was that it gave us some time to really contemplate what we do best and how we do it. One thing became clear: the immense wealth of experience, knowledge and contacts that we’ve accumulated over the past 27 years.

This led us to think of new ways we could bring our industry knowledge, creative approach and extensive network directly to our clients. For example, our Business Innovation Travel offering – which combines innovation and networking programs for teams alongside entertainment and travel – gave us the inspiration for Wow by A2D, which became an international network of innovative companies, specialists and experts in all kinds of fields – from health and wellbeing to leadership – on hand to create professional programs for our clients.

We also wanted to present Norway as a destination to our private and business clients, adding to it an A2D twist. That’s how Black Book Properties was born, in partnership with Kirsten Thorseth Poppe and Aleris CEO Erik Sandøy (below), to offer unique private venues and cultural properties for events, celebrations, conferences. And finally, we developed the Travel Wonders Club for the family and private travel market to give clients a fun and exciting way to access our expertise and insight into global travel. Our aim with the Club is to create long-term relationships, growing its content organically over the last few months. Although it is by invitation, our intention is not to exclude people either: people can request to join.

Kirsten Thorseth Poppe
Erik Sandøy

What are some examples of A2D’s innovative thinking? How can the four A2D brands help businesses to innovate, expand and lead?

I’ll give you an example for each of our brands: First of all, we have Business Innovation Travel, which is great for organisations that want to inspire and energise their teams while offering them something fun and different. Then we have Wow by A2D, which draws on our extensive network to offer programs for businesses or families focused on health, wellbeing, personal development, leadership or creativity.

These two brands work hand-in-hand with each other: for example, a company looking for innovation and inspiration in New York can access a whole portfolio of tech hubs, companies, start-ups and experts, in fields such as technology, green housing, retail, media – or whatever they are interested in. Cross-pollination between industries is a great way to inspire new ideas.

Black Book Properties is another great example: it’s a unique and innovative partnership to help our clients offer corporate or cultural events and celebrations in unique and exciting private venues. And finally, A2D Travel has been focusing on the concept of smart travel, to help our private and corporate clients enjoy hassle-free and easy traveling experiences, and to access some of the best accommodation and restaurants – even in the midst of all the changes and chaos!

{Note from editor: You can click on the links above to see sample programs and examples}

Brooklyn Yards Tech Hub in New York
Black Book property in Norway

SMART TRAVEL

What is smart travel? Why is it so important right now?

Travelling smart to me is looking at where the crowds are going to be, and planning differently. It’s about finding the nuggets of gold and knowing where and when to go to have the best experience – without the overwhelm or stress. Over the past few months, many people have been afraid to travel for example due to the changing restrictions. However, we’ve found that it has instead offered some of the best times to travel: hotels are cheaper, restaurants are more flexible, and when you know how to navigate all the regulations – which we help our clients do – it’s actually very enjoyable and relaxing. I’ve had many meetings, events and trips across Europe recently: between July and December last year I traveled several times to Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Istanbul and Bodrum, and had some of the easiest and best trips I’ve ever taken, with hardly any tourists, great hotel deals and even better service than usual.

What would be an example of smart travel?

Here’s a great example: with the changes in work patterns and the rise of remote working, people can plan weekend trips on weekdays to avoid crowded (and expensive) venues, flights and hotels. People tend to avoid weekdays and only focus on weekends, however, there is a lot happening during the week if you know where to look. You even get more of a taste of local living!

Can you give some examples of smart travel destinations? Where are you headed this year?

I would highly recommend the places I’ve been to in the past few months: Paris, London, Barcelona, Madrid and Spain, in general, are very easy to travel to right now, and are far less busy than normal while still offering easy flight access. There are also some countries that offer fantastic resorts and boutique retreats to get away from the crowds, in places like Mexico, Fiji or Indonesia. And Venice, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Rome have all taken measures to reduce the number of visitors, focusing on quality instead of quantity: Venice for example no longer allows cruise ships in its lagoon, to help protect both the fragile eco-system and the city’s cultural history.

We regular feature Smart Travel destinations on our monthly Magazine and our Travel Wonders Club collections – I would highly recommend anyone who is interested to sign up to our email list and request an invitation to the Club.

Private island wilderness resort in Indonesia
Istanbul, Turkey

FUTURE TRENDS

What other interesting or exciting travel trends are you seeing in 2022?

A few trends that are continuing in 2022 are the focus on health and wellbeing, and eco-friendly and sustainable travel and accommodation. I believe that plant-based food is in the same position in the market as sushi was in the 80s, fast becoming recognised as the healthy and planet-friendly option it offers. We’re also seeing an interesting trend in people booking entire hotels or private islands, and new sleeper train routes such as the new Orient Express offering completely new travel experiences.

What about in business innovation: what do you think will change for companies that desire to have a positive impact?

As for travel, sustainability, health and plant-based food are high on the agenda for many companies, and those that wish to stay ahead will simply have to lead the way, exploring new ways of being increasingly conscious of their impact on society and the planet. We’ve been exploring the field of conscious leadership for example in our Wow Programs. Specialists in that field are clear that the industry leaders of the future will be those that can step up as conscious leaders and encourage innovation and creativity both amongst their teams and for their clients. Having a positive impact in 2022 and beyond will mean being increasingly aware of the changing needs of both people and planet, and having the foresight and flexibility to respond to those evolving needs.

Boutique wellness retreat in Thailand
Plant-based deliciousness

So what does the future hold for A2D?

We’re simply looking to continue doing what we do best: to use our platform to continue to offer unique and creative solutions, tailored for any individual, family or company. I really believe in what we are doing and what we represent. I’m excited to continue to offer inspiring content and ideas, and to lead the way in these changing times: we’re working for example toward a bigger A2D Magazine, to launch before the end of the year, which will be filled with more ideas, trends and highlights for our clients.

And lastly, what are your personal favourite hotel and restaurant to go to?

To be honest, a hotel which really surprised me was the Mandarin Oriental in Bodrum, Turkey: you can combine it with their sister property in Istanbul and take a seaplane between the two, which is quite an experience! In terms of restaurants, I was lucky to try Xavier Pellicer in Barcelona and his Healthy Kitchen concept, recommended by our foodie friend David Rius at the Mandarin Oriental in Passeig de Gracia. It was incredible, offering a great introduction to plant-based eating, as well as delicious and cruelty-free meat options: the free-range chicken there was the best I have ever tasted! The restaurant also features a 20-person private dining room, which is always a good idea for large families or teams who are keen to explore Barcelona’s (and Catalunya’s) amazing food scene.

Xavier Pellicer in Barcelona
The Mandarin Oriental in Bodrum

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