We’d like to introduce you to Chinmoy Lad, whose love for luxury travel began at a very young age. He started his career as a travel writer, working for luxury publications however quickly realised he was very good at (and enjoyed) the guest-facing side of the travel world. In 2014 he founded The Suite Life – a concierge-service business and has never looked back. Read on to discover more about this enviable journey ,what it’s like to curate high end experiences for guests and take in some top travel tips for yourself.
Please tell us about yourself and where your love for the luxury travel sector blossomed?
I travelled around Southeast Asia fairly regularly with family when I was younger. But even at a young age, the difference between staying in a Marriott or a Hilton versus a Peninsula, a Shangri-La or an InterContinental was very much noticeable, and the whole ‘star rating’ (and the inconsistencies around it) had my curiosity piqued.
As someone who is a stickler for detail and perfection, it was only natural that when I was introduced to luxurious properties such as the Amans or the Taj Palaces, I immediately fell in love. To me, they delivered the incredible stay that you’d expect of its calibre, and often well beyond that, in proactive service and in crafting special experiences that are out of the ordinary.
I got my break in travel and luxury travel writing for print and online publications about ten years ago, which gave me access to that ‘next’ level of luxury. When I was on the road, I would start posting photos to my Instagram (which was a new platform, and @chinmoylad was only meant to be a personal account!), and quickly started gaining more followers. Early on, I didn’t put myself in the photos – the focus was the hotel or the destination, and it has stayed that way since.
Eventually, I started getting requests from friends and followers to help assist with their travel plans, so I decided to switch to a concierge-service business back in 2014.
And it worked out! I still occasionally write for my own website, but I much prefer to be guest-facing.
You founded The Suite Life which offers a service to plan luxury bespoke holidays and you are a Virtuoso travel advisor. Please tell our readers more about your services and the benefits you offer.
I curate experiences for guests, starting from finding out exactly what it is they are looking to achieve with a trip, and then creating a custom-made trip from scratch for them based on their preferences.
On top of hotels and flights, I ensure that all their special requests are taken care of – whether its planning their daily itinerary and activities and excursions, or preparing that surprise picnic breakfast after the hike, complete with the guest’s preferred soy milk cappuccino.
They only have to ask, and I also learn their preferences as I go and plan, and sometimes over multiple trips.
It’s also about knowing the little details of a destination – for example, the sunset tour at Borobudur in Central Java, Indonesia, is generally better for most guests of ours just because it’s much less crowded (compared to sunrise). However, guests who are photography lovers would still appreciate the sunrise tour because of how spectacular it is. And for serious photography enthusiasts, it may even be worth doing both for the difference in light.
But if a guest just needs a hotel with airport transfers booked and no more, I can assist with that too, primarily with the benefits I offer at the hotels.
As part of the Virtuoso network (and also hotel group affiliation programmes) in association with the agency Zebrano Travel, our guests receive VIP benefits at our partner properties which include priority on upgrades, early check-in and late check-out, breakfast included in the rates and more. These are just some of the tangible benefits. The real key is being able to communicate preferences to our friends at the hotel to ensure they have a seamless stay.
Who is your typical client?
Despite being based in Hong Kong, I have guests from all around the world (thanks to the Internet and Instagram and referrals!). Many have two things in common: they LOVE their epic, curated trips that take them off the beaten path for memorable experiences, and they LOVE their boutique hotels. Low key counts are highly valued. Guests are typically happy to spend on hotel when it comes to accommodation: high level rooms, suites and villas because privacy and seclusion are priceless.
What can a client expect from your service?
I always aim to provide the best service I can. Often, it’s just about responding in a timely manner, and being available 24/7 and being understanding of their requirements.
I personally visit and stay at many of these hotels and resorts (along with The Suite Life team) to better understand which hotel and resort is best fit for which type of guest.
Increasingly, it’s about being able to recommend the right length of stay at a place, or the right hotel or room type. It can go as deep as recommending and eventually guaranteeing a specific room number. Remember, not all ‘sea view’ rooms are made equal!
You have a big focus on suites, tell us about some of the most amazing suites you have booked for clients and experienced for yourself.
One that I have experienced myself that I love to book is the Amanoi Ocean Pool Villa at Amanoi (Vietnam) with its protruding private pool. There are three of them, each with a slightly different view – I stayed in #1, which I personally prefer, but guests who want an uninterrupted ocean view will prefer #3.
I also love the two-bedroom Dalem Jiwo Suite at Amanjiwo (Indonesia) – I got a glimpse of it during my stay. Much like the rest of the property, it is design-heaven, modelled after the stupas of Borobudur itself, with a central pavilion offering lounging space under an epic rotunda, matched only by the views over the 15-metre private pool looking out onto the fields and the volcanoes beyond.
You cover a wide range of luxury destinations, which are your favourite three and what makes them so special?
I love how varied Indonesia is – most tourists only really see Bali, and even then, just a tiny section of Bali. As a case point, for Bali itself – there is so more to the island than the southern Bukit Peninsula, Seminyak and Ubud (which only makes up roughly 20% of Bali’s total area). But that is what many to Bali experience. Our job is to guide our guests to experience real Bali. This applies to Indonesia as a whole, where many never step beyond Bali. But Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago – the best way to explore it isn’t to hang around Bali, it’s actually to get on a boat and sail the many islands!
I’m a sucker for great beaches and for private islands, so I have to say Amanpulo on Pamalican Island in Palawan, Philippines would be on this list. I’ve yet to see it bettered.
And finally, I love San Francisco: it’s that perfect mix of big town and small city, great food for all ranges, and there is so much to explore within a few hours drive. It combines beautifully with a wider California trip with Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, for short haul trips to Mexico or for long haul to Pacific Island destinations.
Luxury means different things to different people what does it mean for you?
Beyond the bells and and whistles of hard products and amenities, luxury to me is about the warmth of the people. There are hotels in Asia and Southeast Asia that border on what is termed luxury or even fall just short of it when it comes to the product, but the warmth of the service elevates it to far beyond that. And I would always prefer that to a beautifully built hotel with no soul.
And what do you love most about luxury travel?
As a follow up, too many people have yet another misconception of luxury travel. Yes, while there are certain places in the world where you want to cocoon yourself in a private villa, at the heart of it, it’s about going out and exploring a new world that you haven’t before. And in the case of luxury travel, it’s about how the properties use their location to curate a unique experience for the traveller with journeys and experiences both in the immediate vicinity and beyond.
In Siem Reap, it’s about your assigned guide building your itinerary such that you will never feel like you’re just another tourist among tens of thousands. It’s about your guide discreetly contacting your driver as you head back from your walk, so just when you arrive at your car, there is a fresh, cold, coconut waiting for you.
It’s the big trips and the little touches…
With a background in luxury travel writing and a large Instagram following you will have seen the luxury travel marketing change significantly over the last ten years. With the current world travel restrictions how do you see the luxury travel sector changing/developing in the next few years?
In the immediate future, I do think there will be ‘bubbles’ forming that will only allow for domestic or short haul travel which will restrict things.
Over the next few years, private everything will become more popular for luxury: jets over commercial, yachts over cruises, villas over big hotels. Intimate, boutique hotels will become even more popular, and become the new norm. Guests who haven’t previously looked at these will definitely start considering them as an option. I am already seeing this with an upcoming reservation for Hawaii.
But more than anything, with the chaos that the virus has caused, I think the general traveller will once again start seeing the value of a travel consultant or advisor, who maintains great contacts with the hotels, over faceless reservations with poor support systems when things go wrong.
You are based in Hong Kong – one of TLE’s favourite luxe destinations, please share you insider top tips for the ultimate HK experience.
When you mention Hong Kong, most think of four things: skyscrapers, nightlife, shopping and food. But you have to remember, only 30% of Hong Kong’s land mass is actually developed: the rest is just mountains and beaches, including some of the best I have seen.
In recent years, it has become a bit more popular as publications have focused on Hong Kong’s natural beauty, but it’s still a backpacker-style experience that has been marketed.
However, it IS possible to do this experience in style! If guests are coming at the right time of the year (spring and autumn), I love to arrange a trip out for clients to see Hong Kong’s wild side. This would include a helicopter transfer in the late morning to a remote beach, a lunch picnic set up, and then a return home on a sleek yacht (where you can also freshen up and change) sailing into Victoria Harbour facing west into the stunning sunset over the Hong Kong skyline, arriving just in time for a private kitchen at one of Hong Kong’s many restaurants.
Finally, what is your life motto?
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes, which is something I actually have embedded into my business card, so we truly believe in it: “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”