AHL INSIDER

David Prior

Founder of experiential travel company PRIOR

David Prior

07.08.21

It was food that first provided David Prior a gateway to the world. Growing up in Brisbane, Australia, he went on to study at the University of Gastronomic Science in Pollenza, Italy — run by the founder of the Slow Food movement, Carlo Petrini — who David describes as a personal hero, “He’s like David Attenborough, but of deliciousness.” After graduating, David moved to the U.S. and began his career working alongside iconic American restaurateur, author and activist, Alice Waters, as Director of Communications at Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard Project.

To fund his travels, David started writing for various magazines. He quickly built a reputation as an authority on food, travel, and style as a Contributing International Editor at Condé Nast Traveler, a Contributing Editor at Vogue Living, and regular contributor to T: The New York Times Style Magazine, WSJ Magazine, Bon Appétit, and the Financial Times.

In 2018 David launched PRIOR — a community of curious travelers. Its refreshing approach to luxury travel immediately captured the attention of the industry with Bloomberg naming David as “One to Watch” on the list of “Global 50: The People Who Defined Business,” while Travel Weekly was quick to predict that PRIOR, and David, would “influence the future of travel.”

The last year shook all of that up, however, when David found himself not only grounded, but cut off from his sense of smell and taste after contracting COVID-19. “I was kind of demented — I went for the most burning Rajasthani takeaway curries to come back to life, hardcore eucalyptus up my nose. It all came back thankfully. But food and flowers have really been a bit of a lifeline. Esoteric, but I found dried persimmons called hoshigaki in January in New York (which are the most delicious thing ever), and they took me instantly to Japan — to the last trip I took with my nieces and nephews, and I just remembered rolling through the market of Kyoto munching on them happy as can be.”

AHL’s U.K. and Culture Editor Caroline Lever caught up with David as he prepared to unveil his new, expanded offering, from PRIOR Club to PRIOR World. This expanded offering includes two types of membership — a PRIOR world membership, and a limited number of bespoke memberships by application or referral only. Regardless of which option, members will be able to purchase half- or full-day curated experiences to add to their own via the website, as well as access to custom travel planning services, group gatherings and destination guides.

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Caroline Lever: The group voyages sound like fun!  Where are we going next and who is coming?

David Prior: They are! We have a trip hiking up, in and around the incredibly special Happy House in Nepal — which I am looking forward to, a weekend with Chef Ana Ros in her beautiful valley in Slovenia, grilling with Mallman in Uruguay, taking a felucca down the Nile, a scent-led trip from Provence to Paris, horseback riding in the Dolomites. All sorts of once-in-a-never-again trips through Africa. The groups vary in size from as little as 6-8, to full take-overs of a little village to, say, 28 people, where it’s a real weekend party. Who takes the trips? People who would have never gone on a group trip typically.

Caroline: What is unique about the experiences you curate?

David: I come from an editorial background and so I hope we take that approach. Always editing and then elevating. Then sprinkling the fairy dust. But we are always trying to get to what is essential about a place. I want to have the drink that is of that place, I want to see the art of that place, the tradition of there. It might seem logical to most travelers, but you’d be surprised how often travel companies simply want to top it off with a glass of champagne and call it a day. We really try to do something more nuanced than that. I hope we succeed. It’s a dynamic game and we won’t always get it right but we take risks with heart.

Preview of PRIOR safari trips for 2022
Preview of PRIOR safari trips for 2022
PRIOR's safari trips depart March - September 2022
PRIOR's safari trips depart March - September 2022

Caroline: What has been the most challenging trip you’ve ever had to put together?

David: Good question. Putting together trips is pure joy honestly. It is my favorite thing to do if I know a place, and I am lucky I have a military-like team that are both creative and organized, unlike me.

Ironically it can be places you might not expect that can be challenging like for instance Calabria in Southern Italy is a very closed society and that was hard to crack but actually putting together a trip once you’ve made friends and found those little gems of a hotel and that perfect trail or beach — that’s so fun.

Caroline: And if I’m looking to self-drive, how are your destination guides different from any other?

David: We’re only interested in what is entirely unique about a place. You’ll definitely have the best places to stay, but they won’t be ranked on stars or hallmarks. They’ll be judged on how they best reflect the character of that place rather than, say, consistency. You’ll get up to date with timely and rigorous information on where to eat and drink and what to see but it will always be heavy on the timeless. And we’ll always have stories that are offbeat and romantic and maybe a silliness that belies an essential truth i.e. graphic representations or essays on, say, Tokyo through the eyes of a fish, the anatomy of Mexico City via its markets (eyes as flowers, witchcraft as kidneys, produce as stomach etc.) or the villains of Rome that look at everyone from Nero to Berlusconi.

From PRIOR’s guide to Todos Santos
From PRIOR’s guide to Todos Santos
Paradero Hotels in PRIOR's guide to Todos Santos
Paradero Hotels in PRIOR's guide to Todos Santos

Caroline: Besides memories, what are some of the most precious souvenirs you have brought back from your many trips?

David: Aside from strange sauces, oils, infused waters and preserves (that almost always break in my bag or get held up in customs as much as I try), I have begun collecting textiles — which was really sparked in India — we do trips now that are solely focused on the textile artisans of that country. Every culture has a culture of fiber. They speak literally and metaphorically to the fabric of those societies and are usually tied to the success of female entrepreneurship, so it interests me greatly and it’s always a thing of great beauty.

Caroline: In only its third year of operation PRIOR was named a legend of the travel industry. What changes have you noticed in the travel industry since you started out?

David: I remember going with my mum into the travel agent after school and looking at the brochures. You used to go there like the doctor. Well perhaps not the doctor, but there was a level of trust because they were sending you out into the world, and they were supposedly knowledgeable and reliable. Then we became more sophisticated largely, I think, because of magazines — some that were beautiful (the Australian ones of the ‘90s and ‘00s were particularly strong), others that were authoritative (those that had the budget to be full of integrity) — they provided high aspiration and authority to the traveler, so they became informed and empowered. Then came online booking, and in turn influencers that provided affordability and access which opened things up a lot and democratized it dramatically. Now we’ve reached a point where we are coming full circle I think. Not suggesting that people will want to go to the high street for a sit down, but I do think trusted advice is going to be key, and we’ll be taking the best elements of the evolutions of the past forty years of travel and junking the rest.

Caroline: How can travel have a positive impact?

David: If you search out good environmental and cultural stewards, and then put your money there, you are ensuring the survival of both.

Caroline: What do you see as the future of travel?

David: Travel inspires our curiosity in each other and in the world around us, and if we don’t have that we don’t connect with the world or with each other. So put plainly, if we don’t travel we’re effed.

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