Luxtripper’s long-term vision of a hybrid travel company that digitises the luxury planning journey and supplements it with the chance to speak to an actual human seems to be paying off.
Running a travel business at the moment is an unenviable role beset by challenges. But some companies will emerge stronger, having battled through by staying true to their company strategy or ethos and ready to reap the rewards of when travel does pick up again.
Very few travel companies however will have managed to secure external funding to help drive their business plan in such dire times.
Much like Luxtripper’s founder Nena Chaletzos though, investors have seen the long-term promise of a hybrid company that digitises the luxury planning journey and supplements it with the chance to speak to an actual human too.
“I always wanted to combine the benefits of having that relationship with your traditional travel agent, of trust and rapport, but allowing customers to also efficiently search and use tech to give them a bit of digital control over the planning too – when I looked around, no-one was doing that, so I started Luxtripper,” Chaletzos says.
Around half the company’s clients will book purely using the site’s tools, but for the other 50%, there’s a voice at the end of the line for them. “We spend a lot of time looking at the customer journey through the site and working to make that search easier for people,” she explains. “We also feel like we’ve taken luxury product to a new demographic – a younger audience who appreciate a nimble online journey and expect a speedy return on itineraries and interaction with us, as that’s what they experience when buying anything else.”
Luxtripper’s client base is also subtly shifting though. Historically it was more based around younger digital-first career professionals, but as older consumers get more tech savvy, she sees them coming to use the site, while also appreciating being able to combine it with speaking to someone.
Generally speaking, Chaletzos agrees there is an uptick in people wanting to use a travel company generally. “The thought of organizing anything in this climate is so complex, so people appreciate someone being able to guide them through the new landscape.”
Chaletzos’ problem-solving approach and hybrid model of combining pain-free tech with high-touch service when needed for affluent travellers are what appealed to investors, as Luxtripper secured £1.2 million in its latest funding round, despite travel facing its most challenging time for decades.
The investment was raised from “high-net worth individuals and former travel executives”, and means that total investment in the business since its launch in 2015 has now topped £3.1 million.
Funds are no sticking plaster for any current struggles; the plan was always for investment to be used to continue Luxtripper’s strategic goal to “double the destination offering over the next three years, further develop its proprietary technology platform, and hire for roles across the business”.
“The challenge for any business has always been to stay relevant and right now, it’s to remain agile and adapt to all these changes. We have a long journey to go on, but I think people see how we fill a gap in the luxury travel space and support our vision to focus on the customer journey, and to invest in technology that simplifies that and allows us to create product our clients really want,” says Chaletzos.
She adds that five new people have already been hired in the concierge team this year, as well as a head of customer excellence, a new role in the business. “We’re hiring consistently and conservatively – there is a lot of talent out there at the moment.”
There is also an underpinning focus on offering responsible and meaningful travel, and Luxtripper added Madagascar to its product offering most recently.
“Madagascar gives that perfect blend of stunning landscapes, unique wildlife, and friendly local communities with a fascinating history,” she says.
“Now more than ever, our clients are looking for immersive, meaningful travel that will reconnect them with the world, so we’re delighted to add another destination that brings them just that.
“The way I look at it, we are so blessed to work in travel and to be able to share the best of the world with clients, and Madagascar fits with that,” she says, while acknowledging it’s not somewhere people are going to go to right now.
“For short term travel, it could be that people are still too nervous to book the more experiential, immersive trips and want to stick with what might be considered safe, less populated places, but from next year and as the vaccine rolls out, that will be more likely – people will be back to those kind of places,” she says.
“And what we’re seeing now is this trend for people booking two holidays at once, one they can do as soon as possible, and that longer, more complex one, perhaps for next year.”
Like many travel companies, Luxtripper is seeing larger numbers of people come onto bookings now, suggesting clients are connecting with groups of family or friends, and the average length of stay is nudging up from seven or eight days to 14 and upwards.
“We hear about there being a lot more holiday days around, with people rolling days over as they didn’t use them last year, but I don’t think there is going to be a surge of people taking super-long breaks as such, because companies are going to need people around as business gets going again. We have definitely seen longer stays than our usual coming through though,” she says.
“Overall, this crisis has made people believe that things can be done differently – whether that’s how employers think about how they can run their business, and how teams think about a more collaborative approach and the ‘all in this together’ mentality, or from the consumer side, of how grateful we should be for life. It’s really put things in perspective for a lot of people.”
She says there has also been a much shorter conversion time than pre-pandemic. “It looks like that because everyone’s at home together more they’ve been able to connect to talk about the holiday plans and make decisions quicker, narrowing that window between enquiring and booking.”
Luxtripper has its base in London and employs around 55 people in the UK as well as a team of 17 in India. She says that as a former HR director, she’s always had a “people first” approach to running a business and says “furlough doesn’t really work for travel” in the sense of needing to have people working throughout the crisis, but says she did sadly have to make a handful of redundancies.
She agrees the current trend to flexible and home working necessitated by the pandemic will continue and says the business was already set up to operate in this way before the pandemic. She has since declared a “work from home forever if you want” policy for staff, even when offices can fully reopen.
“People are more productive without that commuting time and they can achieve a better work/life balance, which is a good thing,” she says, adding however that she will still maintain a London office too. During all the lockdowns and work from home orders, the company has been putting on an hour of activity over Zoom every day that people can down tools and tune into, such as a concert, energy healer, gym sessions, or just for the team to chat.
And as for when bookings will start to return to those 2019 days, she says it all depends of course on what’s happening around the world.
“We keep adapting the core product and messaging as and when things change and a flexible guarantee for clients is crucial,” she says. “The question these days is not so much ‘can you get me a deal’, but ‘how will you help me if I need it’. And customers know that a person won’t desert them and will do whatever it takes to get things done – in this regard, travel agents have proven their worth during the crisis.”