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Q&A with A-Pass client, The Luxe Nomad

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From being a television presenter to launching her own luxury start-up, founder Stephanie Chai shares how The Luxe Nomad came to be. Whilst the company started off with humble beginnings in Chai's apartment (with two cats), today it has established itself as Asia Pacific's fastest-growing luxury villa management and booking portal, with over 85+ managed villas across Bali, Koh Samui, and Phuket.

What inspired the creation of The Luxe Nomad?

"I’ve always liked to stay in nice places, and years ago a friend of mine 'owed me' a business idea, and one day shared a link to Jetsetter in the States, which was running luxury flash sales. Whilst that was how we originally started, we found our sweet spot was really in villa-bookings as they are high-touch, and from there, we’ve naturally expanded into management."

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What were some of the challenges your company faced in the beginning and creation of The Luxe Nomad?

"Lots of challenges, of course - starting a business is never easy! Whilst I majored in Finance and International business at university, I went on as a fresh grad to become a television presenter for lifestyle TV shows for Malaysia and Singapore, so never had typical corporate experience. When I started The Luxe Nomad it was a steep learning curve, to get up to speed on e-commerce, travel, fundraising etc."

With no previous background in the travel industry, Stephanie pretty much taught herself everything she needed to know, or reached out to friends in the industry. She shares that the main challenge was acquiring customers, as travel is a very competitive industry — but despite this she grew The Luxe Nomad to be one of the biggest luxury travel brands in Asia.

"Given the cost of customer acquisition is high, we had to be creative with marketing, and we really didn’t spend much on marketing when we first started. It was very organic and viral. If I saw a competitor running an ad with a magazine, we would approach the same media partner but offer them a barter. I guess that is one reason why our main competitor (during the early days) didn't end up continuing on, we were always careful with our spend."

Another challenge she faced was going back to square one when a friend who originally wanted to start the company with her, decided they didn't want to leave their full-time job.

"When you first start a business, you really need to be hands-on as there is no team to delegate to. Hence time is important."

Steph shared that it was a blessing in disguise that they didn't end up doing it together.

"As I recall she was adamant that she could keep her full-time job and run The Luxe Nomad with me as she "didn't need to sleep". It was a bit disheartening as I had to start from scratch, as she took the web designer I had found. However, she didn't end up launching the company and did something else. So there are always challenges, you just gotta get through them. I always have faith in the long run things work out better!"

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What differentiates your company from competitors?

"I think The Luxe Nomad differentiates ourselves by being very personalized and offering fantastic service. We have a 97% Excellent rate on Trustpilot, and that's because we really go above and beyond with our customers. When something goes wrong, I genuinely feel upset about it and I know so does the rest of my team."

"I would say our brand is also our strength, I think we’ve built something that has resonated with people, connects with them, and hopefully inspires them — to dream a little, and travel a lot, or I should say travel again."
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What were the biggest challenges your company faced with Covid-19 affecting the travel industry?

"Well overnight, our revenue went to $0 pretty much, because everything shut down. Imagine, you’re running a business, you have an entire team, and suddenly, you just can't make any more money, because airports are closed and cities are under lockdown, so that was a massive challenge. We were literally redoing our cashflow forecast week to week."

Chai shares there were some tough decisions, such as pay cuts, cutting costs everywhere, and not rehiring for certain positions. Amidst the problems, she mentions she's very proud of her adaptable team.

Despite the challenges we went through, we kept our morale high, and we still love what we do, and now that it’s re-opening, it was worth the tough times. Our townhall calls were still full of smiles and laughs!

How did you adapt to the travel ban among different countries?

"We had to go local. In places like Bali, this actually did really well. Our team worked very cohesively together, both in HQ and in Bali, and we had 60% occupancy in 2021 for our villas, outperforming the rest of the market. Being agile and looking at new source channels for bookings was one key tactic we did well. In Thailand, we found it definitely more challenging, because in Thailand 20% of the GDP is tourism, and that just shows you how much supply there is in the market. So Thailand was a lot trickier. Again you had to reduce rates for local market and really try to take what you could get. Given the good deals, it was the best time to travel but of course the irony is no one could!"


What were key wins you had during 2020-2022?

"Well one of the key wins was we were awarded Best Management Company in Asia by AltoVita in the UK. We also grew a portfolio in Bali by 20%. We have recently also had a fantastic new General Manager join us in Samui, who’s making great changes, and also, we were profitable in both years. Being very prudent with our spending and being creative with increasing top-line helps us to be profitable. Obviously we are not making a lot of money in 2021 as it was still all lockdown, but at least we weren’t burning a lot of our investors’ cash, which was key."

What are key services A-PASS supports you in?

"A-PASS has been our corp-sec in Hong Kong and have been fantastic in assisting us in a number of different things. Not only did they provide us with advice on how to go about establishing companies in Hong Kong and Singapore, they set up our registered offices and put in place every aspect of local administration.

There is so much to manage when expanding into another country, and A-PASS has helped us understand all of it.

— from unfamiliar tax regulations, employment laws, and obtaining trading licenses. They also assist in aspects of payroll, cash management, accounting, and complex financial reporting. Hence, working with such a well-founded and dependable team has truly allowed us to grow as a company.

Learn more about The Luxe Nomad on their website here.