My dear friend and travel industry colleague Greg Tepper founded Exeter International 25 years ago. To celebrate this milestone anniversary, we’ve chatted with him for our Travel Notebook about Exeter, the luxury travel market and his own travel habits.
Greg, who continues to host select Exeter departures in Russia, was first drawn to the country’s language, history, culture and people when he was just 16 years old and began studying the language six days a week. He later lived in Russia – during the time of transition from the USSR – and upon his return to the States, decided to share his passion for this complex region with others. Exeter International was born and continues to this day to be an industry leader in immersive, first-class experiences, from St. Petersburg to Moscow and beyond.
How many years have you worked in the travel industry?
What inspired you to enter the luxury travel business?
I am a Russian speaker and fell in love with Russia as a Russian Studies major in college. It is my love for Russia and Eastern Europe that brought me into the travel world as I sought to reintroduce a luxury travel product that did not exist during the Communist years.
What sets Exeter apart for custom luxury tour operators?
We focus solely on Central and Eastern Europe with Scandinavia. No other luxury tour operator specializes in our part of the world.
What’s new for Exeter in 2018?
Croatia is not new, but it has never been hotter! We are also seeing tremendous interest in the Caucasus region: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Give us a portrait of the typical Exeter client.
A retired couple or the same couple with their children and grandchildren. They will have an interest in history, art, theater and architecture. They are looking for something beyond the standard sightseeing tour and want entrée into museums, palaces with top curators and often into sights not normally opened to the public.
What do you see as the next must-see destinations and/or experiences for history buffs? art lovers? foodies?
The Impressionist collection at the Hermitage has been moved into an expansive space across the square from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Some paintings were in storage for decades as they did not fit into the Hermitage and are now on display for the first time. Georgia is the food and wine destination — indeed wine was invented there 5,000 years ago.
Do you remember the first place you visited outside the United States?
Amsterdam, which was the first stop on a summer trip through all of Europe when I was 18 years old. One bus, 40 students and a lot of fun!
What is the strangest thing you have eaten while traveling?
I recently ate sheep lung in Tibet … I would rather not have known what it was!
Tell us about the most extravagant trip you’ve planned for a client.
We have taken over palaces and museums for special events and meals for clients, but I will always remember gaining access for our clients once to drive into the Kremlin in Moscow and see the Armoury Museum with its Faberge Eggs, before the museum opened to the public. No one but top Kremlin officials can actually drive into the Kremlin, but we got permission for our VIP clients.
Now tell us about the most extravagant travel experience you’ve had yourself.
Helicoptering around Nepal with Rebecca!
What three things are always in your carry-on?
Noise-canceling headphones, protein bars (I’m always hungry!) and my iPad with pre-loaded movies.
From all of your world travels, which souvenir do you most treasure?
An ancient Silk Road camel bag that I bought in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1995. You cannot imagine how rare that piece is now.