Last week was the 60th anniversary of James Bond’s debut in cinemas. To mark the event, EON Productions - makers of the James Bond empire - has handpicked travel company Black Tomato to be the exclusive and first ever official 007 travel partner. Euronews Culture goes undercover to talk to one of the co-founders.
Admit it – whether you idolize the world’s most fictional spy or think he’s a misogynist relic of the Cold War that should have retired ages ago (not least because of liver failure and an aggressively potent cocktail of STDs), no one would pass up the opportunity to live like James Bond for a few days.
Let alone travel like him.
Enter Black Tomato, the UK and US-based luxury travel company which has been the go-to name when it comes to unique travel experiences. They’ve been at it since 2006, and in case you were wondering about the name, it comes from an episode during the founding members’ travels in Russia, where they discovered the black tomato in, a depressing twist of irony, a Ukrainian restaurant in Moscow.
"The way we approach travelling is to connect travel to people’s wider passions," explains Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato.
“We’ve always thought that, even subconsciously, people tend to travel to indulge in their other passions. Storytelling is a part of that and has always been at the heart of what we do. Literature, film and culture has always been a massive source of inspiration for travel, and whenever I’m reading a book or watching something, I’m always thinking about how to bring people into that world,” he tells Euronews Culture.
Put simply, if 007 is who you call if you need a dastardly plot thwarted or nuclear missiles recovered, then Black Tomato is your first port of call for immersive bespoke holidays unlike any other.
Following Bond’s footsteps
Whether it's gastronomic getaways or basejumping, Black Tomato’s previous trips have gone all out. But they have specialized of late in a certain type of travelling, something which in travel jargon is referred to as the "storification" trend : taking iconic stories and turning them into a reality.
"We launched a series a few years ago called Take me on a Story," says Marchant. "That had a terrific response from our customers and wider audience, and on the back of that, the Agatha Christie estate reached out to create a trip inspired by her grand tour."
Black Tomato’s collaboration with Agatha Christie Limited, which took their customers on a jaunt that chronicled the writer’s around-the-world tour (which inspired so many of her mystery stories), proved to be such a hit that EON gave them a call to bring Bond to life in travel form.
“It’s incredibly significant to be part of the Bond universe, and a huge privilege. Bond is such an icon – probably one of the best and most well-known British brands – and to be handpicked by EON is a special milestone in our company’s growth.”
And Black Tomato know what’s at stake…
"When it comes to Bond, and I don’t want to sound too gravitas-esque about this, there's a responsibility not only to our customers but to EON to prove to them that we can bring Bond to life,” explains Marchant. “It’s not a standard partnership in that both parties are incredibly passionate about getting it right. You have to treat something like this with a massive amount of respect and care, and we need to get it right.”
Considering the backdrops and filming locations in the Bond films often get equal star billing with whoever is donning the tux, the pressure’s on.
It all kicks off next year in March 2023, with a multi-country European itinerary to celebrate the continent which has hosted so many Bond films over the past 60 years.
Black Tomato have worked with the Bond team, including some of the film franchise’s location scouts, to pay homage to the stylish spy’s most memorable travel plans.
The immersive adventure has only 60 limited edition bookable private trips, which will be available for purchase next year.
“The Assignment: Europe” starts in London, the home of Bond. The next legs of the trip will take place over 10-12 days and span Paris, Monaco, and Venice.
“We craft structured journeys and it's all about the full comprehensive experience, immersing the client in 007’s world. The character has always been a combination of thrilling and incredibly discerning, an arbiter of incredible experiences.”
And it’s this same level of discernment that Black Tomato are aiming for. It’s not just seeing the backdrop of some of Bond’s iconic moments - it’s living within them. Echoing their press release, which states that the lucky 60 travellers can expect “cars, yachts, helicopter and iconic train journeys to feature throughout the assignment", Marchant teases that their clients can expect a lot more than just a pitstop tour.
“It’s not just “Bond was shot there so let’s go there”. We are being incredibly thorough to ensure that the provenance of everything we’re doing connects properly to Bond and the vision that EON and the Broccoli family have. EON have been incredibly collaborative in supporting this trip, and we want to do this properly, with a whole host of additional aspects.”
These aspects are on a need-to-know basis for the moment – For Your Eyes Only, if you will – with the full details announced in March 2023. However, Euronews Culture did manage to get the inside scoop.
There’ll be equestrian adventures outside Paris, tipping its rider’s cap to A View To A Kill, as well as a Lake Como adventure, including exclusive villa tours, water skiing along the Moltrasio shoreline, and a private seaplane ride above the picturesque towns of Bellagio, Varenna and _Casino Royale_’s nefarious Mr. White’s lakeside home, Villa La Gaeta.
No news on whether there’ll be a Blofeld lair or if everyone involved will be issued their own white Persian cats to stroke, but you can bet that with the amount of research and passion Black Tomato are putting into it, this is one mission Bond fans won’t want to miss.
“Whether it’s travel, accommodation or outstanding dining experiences, every aspect of the trip has signifier Bond moments and aspects that will be brought to life,” says Marchant. “As much as I can’t reveal too much right now, we’ve been pouring over the books, researching every detail. We're all about thoroughness and taking every opportunity to show to the clients that we’ve thought about them and what they’re doing.”
Anything else that we should know?
“I can safely say that vodka martinis will be drunk on this trip.”
Well, that’s a relief.
“I’m the money.” “Every penny of it.”
What might be less of a relief is the price tag, as being a discerning Bond is an expensive business.
Whether it’s 007 memorabilia and collectors’ items, it often seems like you need to be paid as much as the man with the golden gun per kill in order to nab precious trinkets of your favourite film series. And considering the locations, the length of the trip and the bold ambition of "The Assignment: Europe", Black Tomato’s plans are no different.
Naturally, the company remains tightlipped about the value of the trip.
“There are many ways of defining what the word 'luxury' means – but we are a luxury travel company,” explains Marchant. “The depth of the travel and what we’ll be doing means that it is definitely a high-end trip.”
Casual Bond fans or dedicated Euronews journalists whose wallets are as knackered as Bond’s unmentionables following a Le Chiffre carpet-beater battering need not apply. Immersive Secret Cinema jaunts will have to suffice.
But for those who have Auric Goldfinger-sized wallets, why wouldn’t you?
Next year’s Bond assignment spans arts and culture, “with uncompromising luxury throughout”, and considering James Bond has always been one for enjoying the finer things in life, a 007 trip can’t really be a budget getaway.
On a practical level, Black Tomato’s soon-to-be Bond clientele need to register their interest now. They’ll get a countdown notifications for the public sale next March.
And just so that there are no misunderstandings, considering the hamfisted Bond references in this article, Euronews Culture condones bank robbery, Fort Knox assaults or any SPECTRE-like deeds to gather the funds for next year’s Bond experience. You can, however, clue yourself up on our Bond coverage, including the latest Bond auction in London and our team’s favourite Bond musical themes.
Don’t say we don’t treat you. We'll just have to leave the immersion thrills to Black Tomato.