Interview with Simon Westcott: CEO of Luxe City Guides
Luxe City Guides have been telling avid travellers where to go for over a decade now. Well, where to go, nicely! The travel guide series continues to expand, now publishing print editions and apps to keep travellers updated while they’re on the go. Antonino Tati interviews Simon Westcott, the luxury guide brand’s lucky (and very busy!) CEO.
How would you say Luxe City Guides have evolved from their conception 11 years ago?
In some ways, the spirit of the Luxe City Guides has stayed remarkably true to its original conception. The idea came to founder Grant Thatcher when he was told at a party of a photocopied ‘insider’s guide’ to Bangkok by an ex-resident that he simply had to take with him on his next trip. What the acquaintance didn’t know was that Grant was the author. Still today, the guides are written by resident editors with a unique inside track on what is stylish and unique in their cities.
As CEO of Luxe City Guides, would you say your role is fairly hands-on?
Tell me about it! We’re a classic ‘small giant’ company – a global business with hundreds of thousands of customers run by a smart but tight team of enthusiasts. We’ve bought new investment to the business, too, and have ambitious plans to transform Luxe’s digital products and services, and enter the Chinese market. I’ve never worked harder!
You have a background in connection with Lonely Planet, as its publisher for seven years. To many people, Lonely Planet connotes a kind of ‘backpacker’ ethos to travelling, whereas Luxe City Guides seem more luxury-based – looking at its name alone. Would you say there is room for both budget travel ideas and luxury travel suggestions in the one guide?
Well, for the last five years I have also set-up boutique and luxury hotel guide and booking service, Mr & Mrs Smith. And my personal tastes have always run to the chic and comfortable! In fact, Lonely Planet was a broad church and we did a lot on my watch to make it more relevant to the cashed-up ex-hippies that still loved and used it. Most importantly, though, Luxe City Guides value quality, craft, the unique and individual, the most interesting… It’s not really about ’80s gold-tap luxury. We’re quite comfortable saying a place has divine food and a drab interior, or living it up at a sexy new rooftop bar – it’s not about how much money you spend but [about] the experience it buys.
Luxe have created many apps already – 21 at last count. How different is creating an app as a guide, compared to creating a guide in the traditional physical format?
At the moment, Luxe’s apps are pretty much a kind of e-book on your phone. Our new version will have more pics and maps, extra content and more contemporary design and functionality. Of course in many ways apps are perfect in the rapidly changing landscape of modern cities, but we’re also interested in exploring how technology can help us update our print guides more regularly. I like to think of the guides as the ‘original app’ – they fitted in your pockets long before phones did.
Is it difficult keeping on top of updates? Do you have people in different locations constantly updating you with information of what’s hot, new and happening?
Yes, since the model is driven by resident editors, and a big part of our investment is going to be on making sure recommendations are updated more regularly (as much as monthly). This won’t be a breathless list of what’s new and hot though – it will still be rigorously curated and we’ll only recommend what we truly believe worthy of the guide.
Is it a very long process selecting appropriate hotels to include, and have you stayed in many of the places suggested in your own guides?
Through my work with Mr & Mrs Smith I have been lucky enough to have stayed in many of the region – and world’s – best and most interesting hotels. Luxe actually focuses more on what to do when you’re in the destination – we’re especially good on restaurants, bars, shopping, spa and beauty, art and activities – but we do give a small selection of our favourite hotels in a city – again, from our resident editors’ perspectives.
Can you tell us about any of the new guides to be released in the next 12-24 months?
We’re publishing our first guides to new destinations in two years this year – to Kuala Lumpur, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. I’m going to help with the research to Rio, personally! [There’s also going to be] a new look website with more free destination content, in a few months.
What three general travel tips can you provide Cream readers that you think are often overlooked but that you know will make a holiday that much better?
(01) Look at what’s being advertised on flyers and posters in the city that you’re travelling in – often they’re the most interesting gigs, shows or concerts. (02) Have a haircut – it’s a great way to connect with locals. (03) Pick a restaurant in a residential suburb – again, you won’t be surrounded by people with guidebooks on their tables…
For more information, visit www.luxecityguides.com.