RUBEN DERKSEN Product & Marketing Director – EXO Group
Joining EXO Travel first as Product Director, Ruben’s responsibilities have since expanded to cover the overall product, contracting and marketing strategies for EXO Travel Group. In addition to having an MBA and heaps of experience within the industry, Ruben also has a very interesting story. As the son to the former Dutch Counsel to Bhutan and Nepal, he literally has travel in his DNA. He took his first international flight at the tender age of two months and has, since then, lived in 13 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. He also speaks English, Dutch and French fluently, and can even read and write Tibetan. is responsible for setting and executing the overall product, contracting and marketing strategies for EXO Travel Group.
YOU HAVE A PRETTY UNIQUE BACKGROUND. COULD YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT IT AND HOW THIS SHAPES YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON TRAVEL IN ASIA?
I’ve had the unique and fortunate opportunity to spend significant lengths of time learning about and integrating with cultures across the globe. This not only helps me relate with people from various backgrounds, but it gives me an appreciation of the diversity that makes our world so amazing. I’ve learned that, regardless of where people come from, we all share certain human tendencies. At the same time, the way people express this humanity is so varied: from art and architecture to religion and tradition. The beauty of travelling, to me, is in being able to witness this variation –and this is what I try to highlight in everything we do.
IF YOU ‘ARE WHAT YOU EAT’, ONE COULD ALSO SAY YOU ‘ARE WHERE YOU GO’. IF YOU COULD GO ANYWHERE IN ASIA, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHY?
In terms of food, I like things spicy. I like my travel destinations the same way. The kind of places that I personally enjoy the most, though, are places where I can get lost in nature. I’m really drawn to the incredible biodiversity in Asia. The region is home to some of the world’s most lush and verdant landscapes and filled with an array of impossibly exotic wildlife that, even after 20 years of living here, still blows my mind. Borneo’s a great example of this. Although I’ve been there once, I still haven’t properly explored it. I dream of visiting places like Gunung Mulu and Bako National Parks in Sarawak.
ASIA HAS INSPIRED TRAVELLER’S IMAGINATIONS FOR GENERATIONS. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE REGION THAT MAKES IT SO MAGICAL?
Part of what makes Asia such a magical place is how steeped in history it is –both naturally and culturally. It’s home to the oldest rainforests on earth. Places like Taman Negara, in Peninsular Malaysia, harbour rainforests that have existed mostly as they are today for more than 130 million years. At the same time, Asia is also home to the oldest continually existing civilisation on earth. Chinese civilisation, which has profound cultural influence throughout Asia, is rooted in at least 5,000 years of history. The result of this deep connection to history is a place that often allows travellers to feel as though they’ve stepped back in time.
EXO has always recognised the importance of ‘little things’ in creating successful travel products. It’s part of what separates us and our partners from the competition.
ALTHOUGH ASIA IS KNOWN FOR ITS ICONIC LANDSCAPES AND DESTINATIONS, IT’S OFTEN THE ‘LITTLE THINGS’ WHICH ARE MOST MEMORABLE. HOW DOES EXO INCORPORATE THESE INTO ITS OFFERINGS?
I couldn’t agree more. EXO has always recognised the importance of ‘little things’ in creating successful travel products. It’s part of what separates us and our partners from the competition. Designing ‘highlights tours’ is a necessary part of the game. Ultimately, you want to offer guests what they want to see. By including exclusive encounters with local people and visits to hidden spots along the way, we’re able to introduce guests to an entirely different aspect of destinations that they might not experience otherwise. We also believe including ‘little things’ operationally as well. This is often a simple matter of finding out what our guests’ personal preferences are, and taking an extra step to include them in tours.
TRAVEL IS AN EVER-CHANGING INDUSTRY. WHAT ARE SOME TRENDS THAT YOU SEE SHAPING THE WAY PEOPLE TRAVEL IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
One of the biggest things that’s transforming travel these days is connectivity. Never before have people separated by vast distances been able to share experiences so easily. In some ways, this connectivity lacks a real human element to it, though. So we’ve found that there’s an increasing desire from our guests to bridge this digital divide through real-world cultural interactions. This is one of the reasons EXO has been making a big push into experiential cultural encounters that bring travellers face to face with local people in mutually beneficial experiences such as our Insider Access and Local Dining tours.