Stephanie Chai, founder of luxury villa booking portal The Luxe Nomad, shares her favorite travel destinations, beauty tips, as well as her secret to starting her own business
Stephanie Chai has always had a penchant for travel and launched The Luxe Nomad in 2012. With regional offices in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, Stephanie Chai and her team seek to solve the issues of ‘time and trust’ by offering travelers a highly curated collection of luxury properties.
HOW DID YOU START THE LUXE NOMAD?
A friend of mine sent me the link of a similar site in the United States. Within five minutes, I had emailed back and said, “I’m going to do this!” I put about US$50,000 in to get the business going and hired two staff. Six months later, we raised a round of fundraising of US$200,000 from Tigris Capital in Singapore and launched the site!
WHAT KIND OF GAP DID YOU SEE IN THE MARKET AT THE TIME?
In Asia, there simply weren’t any inspirational, beautiful booking sites for luxury travel. It was all functional, and discount focused.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
A lot of things! Every day I have a list of at least 10 new things to get done! Currently, I’m working on some projects with our revenue, tech and marketing teams. It always changes.
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DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS
Funny (or maybe just to myself), driven, and positive.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT TRAVEL?
Getting on the plane, going somewhere new – it is not just an escape, but it’s a learning curve in life itself.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?
When I was six or seven, I wanted to be Head of the United Nations and a part-time doctor (to make my father happy), a hairdresser (because my mother said I had messy hair) and an actress (I had an early penchant for drama). Thankfully that was a passing phase; clearly, I guess I imagined being Head of the United Nations would be a breeze, ha!
YOUR ALL-TIME FAVORITE VILLA
That’s a difficult question given we manage 85+ villas! I would say, if it’s for a wedding, Baan Kilee in Koh Samui has the most beautiful beach and view. For a group getaway with friends, The View Samui is modern with a luxe party vibe. In Bali for weddings, beachfront Villa Vedas is amazing with a sky pool and interiors (such as the floating stairs) being hand carved.
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YOUR LIFE ON INSTAGRAM LOOKS SUPER GLAMOROUS. YOU’RE ALWAYS TRAVELING TO EXOTIC DESTINATIONS AND STAYING IN THE BEST VILLAS. WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE BEHIND THE SCENES?
I literally spend every day behind a laptop (when I’m not traveling, that is) and am usually online from 8am till about 7 or 8pm. I could post that sad reality daily, but they might start calling me #thesadnomad. I can’t complain though, anyone who runs a business would agree that you can’t build anything great without a bit of hard work! And I find what I do interesting.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN
“Just launch the website and get things going – it is never going to be perfect, and no one can see how cheap/nasty it is in the backend!” When I first launched the website, we had major tech challenges as the agency we hired in Singapore had ‘outsourced’ it to a company in Vietnam. There were lots of (website) bugs we had to deal with. But my friend was right, you just have to get it going!
MOST EPIC TRIP?
Any time I go to Italy…Tuscany, Amalfi – one can never tire of Italy!
Villa Treville Positano – because my brother got married there.
3 THINGS YOU WOULD PACK?
My laptop, a dress and flats.
YOUR SIGNATURE SCENT
YOUR BEAUTY SECRET
Honestly, nothing hydrates like Aotea’s Harakeke Seed Oil Night Cream (after application it feels like I had a facial) – and it has surpassed all my expensive creams in effectiveness, especially when skiing in Niseko – this night cream does the job!
FAVORITE ‘ME’ TIME
Right now it’s watching an hour of Killing Eve before bed – it’s so funny! Or a session of yin yoga.
YOUR FAVORITE SPA
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.
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WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT?
Work. Or little switches with light or gaps in the curtain – I need absolute blackout!
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
People. I love reading about people who are changing the world.
WHAT’S ON YOUR PLAYLIST?
Sound healing on Spotify…I find it very ohm (albeit my apartment ends up sounding like a monastery).
THE BOOK ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
I’m always too ambitious and have three books going at the moment: Pachinko, Alibaba and The New Silk Roads.
YOU’VE RECENTLY ALSO EXPANDED INTO VILLA MANAGEMENT, WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE LUXE NOMAD?
More expansion vertically in the villa industry space.
YOUR FAVORITE QUOTE
“Don’t leave the world having just paid the taxes!” I think this is a quote I made up when I was 12!