Trade Talk: Lucy Jackson Walsh of Lightfoot Travel

A Q&A with the luxe operator’s Co-founder and Director in charge of business development, who shares how Covid-19 is reshaping the world of high-end vacations.

Photo courtesy of Lucy Jackson Walsh

What is the current outlook for luxury travel in the Asia-Pacific region?

The luxury travel segment will continue to grow, especially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This will not happen initially but once we are free to travel again and within a few years we will see the uptick again. Luxury travelers are acutely aware of how precarious our global environment is; there’s more of a need for considerate and sustainable travel with a footprint that invests heavily into the local communities. At the luxury end of travel, more care is taken to use the best suppliers who harness this awareness and transfer it across at a local level, while maintaining the highest standards. Luxury travel will increasingly be about reciprocity. In-country experiences and the educational aspects of traveling will prevail over mass-market package tours and excessive consumerism.

 

How have client preferences for tailor-made holidays shifted since the beginning of the pandemic?

Clients have maintained their thirst and interest in travel. We have continued to discuss travel requests but obviously we have worked with our clients to postpone or amend their trips until government guidelines change and borders open. The requests that we’re currently seeing have a focus on reconnecting with family. We’ve always had multi-generational groups of travelers but now it’s a question of pressing the button on when these tailor-made holidays can go ahead safely. A substantial change has been the way that we’re operating to reflect flexible terms and conditions to our clients and advising them more about health protocols than we’ve ever had to in the past—while acknowledging that we are not experts in the health industry—giving them an idea of what to expect before departure.

A pottery-making class at Artha Ceramic Studio in Ubud, Bali. (Photo: Artha Ceramic Studio)

With so many of us now working from home, has there been an uptick in interest for “productive vacations”?

We’ve seen a rise in clients wanting to travel with a purpose. Whether this is educational—based on culture or physically learning a new skill—it can mean different things for different people. Each client has their own personal requirements when they travel but I think everyone deserves a feeling of productivity through travel at a time when the world feels like we’re in a holding pattern.

 

You’re now based in Bali. How do you help clients in Indonesia navigate the additional paperwork and Covid testing requirements that differ from province to province?

Having flown into Jakarta and then back to Bali the other week, I have some personal experience of this. Ultimately, it’s to be armed with all the paperwork and be well-prepared wherever you’re traveling to, which is something that we ensure for all of our clients regardless of where they are going. Also, to always expect the unexpected as Covid-19 protocols are changing all the time, so we try and anticipate these with our global connections and then mitigate the hassle for our clients.

Migrating wildebeest seen in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. (Photo: Jorge Tung/Unsplash)

What sort of itineraries does Lightfoot Travel offer in places where the scope for domestic travel is limited, for example Hong Kong and Singapore?

We are very inventive with the staycations but they are limited by geography. Instead of suggesting that you’re going to get all the travel requirements that you need domestically, we also are encouraging our clients to dream and book international travel again—perhaps looking at those “bucket-list” trips that they’ve been putting off due to work commitments. I think everyone needs something to look forward to, even if that’s not until the end of 2021. In the instance of the wildebeest migration in Africa, we’ve booked clients for 2022 as 2021 is filling up fast. Availability will become more of an issue next year with limited flight schedules and operators in business, so it’s worth booking now and traveling later—just make sure it’s with a supplier that you trust.

 

In terms of bookings and inquiries, do you see signs of recovery in countries such as China and Thailand?

Interestingly, we’ve had a 100 percent rise in our website traffic out of China year-on-year in the past month. The signs of recovery are there and it’ll be the countries in Asia that have handled the recovery in the best way to support the economy that will come out stronger.

New Zealand’s Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park seen from a ski plane. (Photo: Dan Burt/Unsplash)

What travel trends do you think we’ll see once a Covid-19 vaccine is rolled out and borders reopen?

Wilderness travel and those bucket-list trips, so we anticipate more requests for countries like Namibia, New Zealand, and Australia. Also, places that are deemed “safest” in terms of their Covid-19 response— whether that’s through high-quality healthcare systems or better access to testing—will see a surge in bookings.

 

What opportunities do you see for Lightfoot Travel in the next few years?

As the leaders of experiential travel in Asia, we will be focusing our growth on sustainability. We also want to give more transparency to our client base with unique access to special offers with the Lightfoot Travel Club. There are still a lot of exciting developments within the travel space that we are exploring. It’s also about how we harness the lessons that Covid-19 is teaching us and ensure that the company develops in a way that embraces technology, while maintaining our personal touch and relationships that our clients and suppliers know and trust.

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