Being More – Nicole Figueiredo
Nicole is a senior travel planner with our Portugal team, she is also focussed on how we can add more value to the travel experience. From Curitiba in Brazil and now living in Lisbon she is exceptionally design and trend aware as well as being a consummate organiser. Nicole typifies the epic approach to travel planning, ensuring a lot of creativity and care goes into the entire process from the first contact to final delivery and beyond.
What were you doing before you joined epic?
I was working as a community manager for a project that connected people and places in Portugal and also as a freelance copywriter. I always loved to get people together and to tell their stories.
What attracted you to the world of travel?
I am a curious and observant person, I wonder about people and about things and I am always trying to know the why’s and how’s behind everything. As I said before, I love a good story and I believe that traveling is a great way to explore this curiosity.
I don’t think there’s a better teacher in life than travelling. Travel exposes us to different cultures, authentic encounters and teaches about humanity. We embrace and celebrate our differences and we cherish the similarities, travel teaches about respect and about empathy and gives you a bigger appreciation for life.
When observing a city I don’t take anything for granted, I try to keep a lyric eye, I think you can gain a lot by looking properly, not just at the nice stuff but the gritty or typically unattractive things, for me everything can be interpreted as a signal that the city or people are giving you, you just need to be present. That’s what attracts me to the world of travel, you are always present!
What is your own memorable travel experience? Why?
That’s a difficult question, one of my favourite memories was the first time I went on an adventure own my own and stayed a year travelling around Europe. Coincidence or not, one of the countries I visited was Portugal, where I stayed for over a month and which now I call home. Another one was when I did, also by myself, the Caminho de Santiago de Compostela and walked for 33 days over 900 km.
In both situations I remember the anxiousness of planning everything, a bit of fear and a lot of excitement. I loved to be so free and the feeling of going into the unknown. I always left room for the unexpected and I think that was always my favourite part in any of my travels. It was a powerful and life changing experience.
How do epic travel planners work with clients?
Travel is much more than just getting from point A to point B, we are dealing with customers’ dreams and desires and our goal is always to exceed their expectations. How do we do it? Paying close attention to the clients, understanding who they are and what motivates them. We don’t ask “where do you want to go”, we ask “what brings a smile to your face” “what are your passions” and that changes everything.
We have a very personal approach to clients, their dreams become ours. We genuinely care!
What kind of interesting or different requests have you had?
A specific feather pillow to use through all the journey, finding a shop from the 1950s where the client’s mother bought a medal when she was young, sourcing flower necklaces to celebrate 40 years of wedding anniversary – as an Indian tradition.
Sometimes it is not even a request, we just like to go beyond. When a client confided to us that she had difficulty sleeping and that pretty rooms in hotels could always help – we promptly tried our hardest to upgrade her hotel rooms and we made a special “Sleeping Beauty Kit” with a sleeping mask, lavender essence, ear plugs and a special Portuguese tea to ease her stay – I love doing things like that.
What’s the best thing about being a travel planner?
The opportunity to get to know so many amazing and different people and prepare little surprises on the way to delight. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing people happy!
What is the scope of things visitors can do in mainland Portugal and the Azores?
I think the beauty of Portugal mainland and the Azores is that you can do such a diversity of things. If you like to be active or just to relax, if you like to be outdoors or in a museum, if you like to learn about history or just have fun, if you are more introspective or more outgoing, if you have a passion for music, for dancing, if you like to be in nature, in the sea, or on top of a mountain, if you are passionate about wine, about food but like the balance between what is local and what is a bit more exclusive. This is what I like about Portugal, there is something for everyone here!
When is the best time to visit The Azores?
The Azores is a really tropical place, Azoreans joke that the islands have 5 seasons in just one day – the regular 4 ones and another that no one else knows. That makes the island always a bit of a surprise when visiting, you will feel cold and hot, you will have sun, rain, cloudy weather and all of this in a matter of 10 minutes. It’s a beautiful experience but confusing when packing – of course we help with that!
Late spring to early autumn from June to October is perfect, but the sunshine and warmth can often run into November. That being said, I suggest October and May, still the low season and better temperatures.
You’re developing some new products in Portugal – give us a sneak peak of some of the latest things travellers will be able to do!
Epic has always been about being local, respecting and helping to develop local business, professionals and even communities, so the goal is to offer very authentic experiences, things that you can’t google. We have a team of ‘scouts’ who are always out and about discovering new things to do and see.
For example now you can go to Sr. João’s farm, pick oranges in his orchard with him and after that go to his home, where, together with Maria, his wife, you will learn how to make an orange jam. With experiences like this, nothing is ‘produced’, the towel at the bathroom might be wet, and Maria might taste the jam in an “unorthodox” way, but it is a real Portuguese and human experience.
For the more adventurous, there’s a way to explore the country on a motorbike and sleep on top of a mountain in a glamping site for instance. We can create anything a client can dream up and more.
Finally with your training in trends, what do you think is going to be the next big travel trend?
The future of luxury is human contact and genuine experiences and that’s the trend Epic connects with the most.
Tourists don’t want to be treated like tourists anymore. Of course they still want to see the main monuments or have the “famous” experiences, but they want to do it in a more authentic way and they want the hidden gems, the places where no one else has been before.
The pandemic accelerated the craving to create connections. To be together with others, hearing about different backgrounds and life stories makes the experience meaningful and memorable. Being able to connect on a deeper level is a must and to develop a trip like you are a storyteller – it is a differential.