By Richard Simon | NB Independent Newspaper
January 17, 2014
As a precocious child living in Persia, Heidi Lakani remembers the moment she realized that world travel would be her future.
She and her brother were watching a documentary about two men who had traveled around the world on their motorcycles, when she exclaimed, “That’s what I’m going to do!”
Her brother called her “nuts.”
Lakani’s first step toward that blurted promise began when she and her family immigrated post-Shah to Chicago, where ultimately she gradu- ated with honors in psychology from Roosevelt University. Those lessons in behavioral sciences would prove invaluable to her later in life.
Upon graduation, Lakani took an internship at the five-star Ambassador Hotel in the Windy City, where management recognized her interpersonal skills. They placed her in charge of the VIP section of Guest Services, where she attended to a stellar list of clients that included Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and the Kennedys.
Nevertheless, it was a desk job, and Lakani still harbored that long-ago promise of “that’s what I’m going to do”
Twenty-five years later, Lakani has become one of the most respected “boutique” leisure travel designers in the world: Lakani World Tours, which escorts many of the world’s elite on global excursions of uncommon elegance, design and detail.
She based her business in Newport Beach, having identified the market as ideal for her specialized services.
In her more than 35 years of arranging unique international tours, Lakani herself has guided, by her count, “at least 50 around-the-world adventures to more than 200 countries, as well as many shorter trips to all continents.”
Lakani offers two types of travel: the two-to-four week private jet tours, whose itineraries can cost up to $94,000 and consist of no more than two dozen around-the-world travelers, and the less costly two-week trip to Africa, India and/or Europe.
Her tailor-made tours, designed in the minutest detail in consultation with her individual clients, are priced accordingly.
One memorable vacation plan involved the bike-racing sons of a major New York executive. Lakani arranged for them to pedal exotic routes through the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, while the parents “roughed it” in a limousine traveling along a parallel route.
Another involved an art-collecting power couple for which Lakani scored a private tour of a very private Europe- an estate to view an art collection that rivaled the world’s finest museums.
It’s what Heidi coordinates in each country that she says separates her from the competition. Much of this uniqueness stems from her in-country contacts, most of whom she has worked with for decades.
“They know what we want, they learn about our clients in advance, they plan unique excursions and visits, and do they deliver!” Lakani exclaimed.
When airborne en route, world-class chefs turn every custom flight into a high altitude experience of haute cuisine.
Most of Lakani’s guests report that the dining is as important as the attentive flight crew, and the artistic menus prepared to each individual’s orders are why “most of our passengers are in no hurry to reach their destinations.”
Heidi hires aircraft most appropriate for a particular destination.
For international flights, she charters the latest, designed to carry up to 130 persons, but which have been reconfigured to pamper no more than 24.
These are so sumptuous that European royalty (who demand she not reveal who they are) book their flights exclusively on them. Executive jets are booked in those countries whose air- port terminals can only accommodate smaller aircraft.
Everything that can be planned for is, Lakani said with pride. But some things just can’t, such as political upheavals, civil wars and riots.
She meets most other challenges with an uncommon calmness, and this is where she believes her psychology education comes into play.
Working with so many different individuals and making them happy is what makes Lakani happy. And that’s her real success, she says.