Sevasti Kaichis: Asia excels in wellness and cultural experiences

September 24, 2019

We catch up with travel designer Sevasti Kaichis from Switzerland-based Deluxe Targets to talk about trends driving the booming Asian luxury travel market.

With almost 30 years’ experience in tourism, Sevasti’s rich background as a manager of five-star hotels and luxury resorts, as well as a tour director, gives her unique insights into the personalised luxury service and experiences that travellers are looking for.

Have you seen increased demand from clients to visit Asia in the past few years?

Asia-Pacific travel has been booming! We’ve seen consistently high demand from our clients in the past five years and we see it continuing. Travellers are getting comfortable with the idea of travelling farther distances for more novel cultural experiences. They’re looking not just for a getaway but an experience that will leave a lasting impression. Asia-Pacific offers that and so much more. I would say that six out of ten of our clients are keenly motivated and interested in travelling to Asia-Pacific.

What destinations and experiences are growing in popularity amongst your clients?

Thailand is still in highest demand and ranked at number one with our clients - specifically Koh Samet, which has some of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Asia. An emerging theme is that our clients now feel more confident in travelling there in the rainy season too, during the European summer.

Vietnam is the top destination for clients looking for a combination of culture and beach vacations, along with Cambodia and Laos.

Bangkok is the most popular city destination, followed by Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai. Next come the key cities in East Asia—Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei and Osaka. Mumbai is the only Indian city in Asia-Pacific that could be placed in our top ten.

What destinations or experiences do you recommend to first-time visitors?

Asia is one of the most diverse and captivating continents on Earth. While some Asian countries have many similarities, each has its own unique culture and charm, so we always begin by personalising.

It really does depend on our client’s interests, needs and wants, which is our first priority and the most important part of our job in organising tailor-made holidays. As the number of Asian travellers is on the rise, it’s even more important that we understand our client's mindset and the experiences they want.

Borneo jungle

We often recommend Thailand for family getaways, as it offers great luxury accommodation options for families of all sizes. More active guests love to explore the jungles of Borneo, and a very common combination is the cities of Bangkok and Singapore, or Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

Lush green rice paddies, Bali

Another favourite destination is Bali, which we specifically recommend to clients seeking an absolute tropical paradise. With white sandy beaches and many luxurious resorts, it’s the perfect destination for those seeking an Asian getaway. For those who enjoy a slightly more active holiday, there are also plenty of fantastic hiking trails and some of the world’s best diving spots. The island’s mixed Buddhist and Hindu heritage gives it a fascinating combination of history and culture, with striking temples around almost every corner.

What ‘hidden gems’ do you recommend to clients looking for something new or different?

Asia is a huge and mysterious part of the world which has so many incredible places. It's so rich in terms of architectural, spiritual and cultural heritage that it would be a great omission to limit encounters with Asia only to the places everyone knows. t’s important to recommend hidden gems where there is so much more to be discovered.

Indonesia, spanning four time zones and with more than 18,000 islands, has so many treasures to offer adventure seekers. It would be impossible to mention all of them, but a few stand out. These islands are more difficult to access, but they offer great rewards for more adventurous travellers.

In the last couple of years, Bawah Reserve has revealed itself as a hidden gem. It’s not well-known at all but we’ve heard great things from our clients, who sometimes have been the only guests on this private island. They’ve been delighted by the exclusive feeling of ‘owning’ their own island.

The Kei Islands, in the east of Indonesia’s famous spice region Maluku, have pristine, untouched beaches often regarded as the best in Indonesia, along with rich seas and unspoilt jungle. The most magical is Ngurbloat Beach, also known as Pantai Pasir Panjang, or ‘long sand beach’. Ngurbloat stretches for more than 5km, with white sands that feel as soft as flour underfoot.

The water is crystal clear, the waves calm, and the coastline is fringed by thousands of coconut trees. Tanimbar Kei is the most remote of all the islands but well-known for its traditional culture. There is so much that can be done on the various islands, such as birdwatching, kitesurfing, diving and snorkelling, while the local people are very welcoming to visitors and make them feel very much at home.

Another hidden gem is Koh Rong island in Cambodia – the place to be for tropical luxury. Jungle wilderness fringed with white sand beaches and the cutest little villages make it a perfect destination to add to your South East Asia bucket list.

Con Dao Islands are one of the hidden gems of Vietnam and another secret hideout for those who are drawn to the magic of tropical beaches. This slice of paradise is quite isolated and looks otherworldly. But it wasn't always like this. When Vietnam was under American and French-backed governments, Con Dao was an infamous penitentiary for political prisoners. You can enjoy a tropical beach holiday on the empty beaches, drinking cocktails, swimming in the clear sea and enjoying the jungles, while also exploring the colonial-era prisons and learning about their conditions directly from former inmates, many of whom now work as guides.

What themes or trends have you seen emerge in Asian luxury travel recently?

I think wellness is definitely the leading theme associated with Asian luxury travel. According to the Global Wellness Institute, “Asia’s millennia-old wellness traditions have practically defined the world market” and Asia-Pacific is the fastest-growing wellness tourism market. Wellness trips to Asia have jumped by 33% in the last two years and the market will essentially double from 2017 to 2022, from US$137 billion to US$252 billion.

In terms of sustainability, Asia-Pacific is at the beginning of a journey that will increasingly see environmental, social and governance factors considered alongside economic drivers when decisions are made by governments, corporates and citizens. Most luxury hotels are already working hard to protect the environment and spreading the message in educational projects to local communities about recycling and saving the planet. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been helped raise the profile of environmental and other issues and all UN members in Asia have signed up to them. Many countries have developed strategies to address poverty, clean energy and pollution, while some have introduced new legislation and regulatory controls to help direct the economy towards more sustainable activity.

When it comes to ‘giving back’, our clients often find a cause they’d like to support when first visiting an Asia-Pacific destination, and then change their future plans to get more involved. One of our clients, a wonderful doctor who travelled to Laos with his family, decided to volunteer in a local hospital while he was there, and now makes the same trip every year where he volunteers for 14 days. He has even brought seven more doctors from Europe to volunteer for at least ten days each year.

What is something that might surprise us about luxury travel in Asia?

Asia excels in every form of luxury you can expect, from the best-known hotel brands in the world to extraordinary private islands. It has fabulous locations, eastern culture, ancient temples, world-class service and facilities, exceptional food, style, soul, design, seclusion and romantic settings. Private jet travel, wellness spas, special menus, private island rentals and private yachts are some of the unique services offered to luxury travellers across Asia.

The incredibly high standard of luxury in Asia may surprise a first-time visitor, but what really stands out is the way service is offered with a smile, and the genuine friendliness of the people.

What is the best VIP experience in Asia?

‘VIP’ isn’t found at a specific destination. It’s about how a guest is made to feel. Of course, there is every kind of VIP treatment you could ask for in Asia, with too many VIP services to list. What we do best at Deluxe Targets is make sure that every single client is offered a 100% tailored experience to fit their expectations. Every client is a very important person. As travel designers, we make sure that customer service is not a department, it is a philosophy. We approach our clients with a ‘servant’s heart’ by making every client feel important and extraordinary. That’s what VIP is all about.

What is the height of luxury in Asia?

Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos

Asia is a treasure trove of destinations. From the most luxurious hotels, stunning beaches and elephant sanctuaries to once-in-a-lifetime adventure, unspoilt jungles, hiking trails and water activities. The great thing about Asia is that much of the region’s beauty has yet to be discovered.

There are unlimited luxury options, particularly around wellbeing. You can go on a spiritual quest, find your place of peace or even live for a month in a secluded monastery. Other options include playing the best three golf courses in China in a day, with unique transfers by private jets, chauffeured limousines or yachts, or a private dinner in Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

South East Asia’s coastal areas are a paradise for beach vacationers, whether for romantic seclusion, family bonding or luxurious refinement in a beachfront hideaway steps from crystal-clear, turquoise water. A peaceful residence in the hills overlooking Vietnam’s luxury resort of Vinh Hy Bay would be just right for couples or families who want to keep adventurous activities an option.

What does luxury mean to you these days?

Luxury means many things. It’s making a customer feel valued, by ensuring perfection and attention to even the smallest detail of a client’s holiday plans. It’s personalisation. It’s about making your client feel validated and taken care of in the most thoughtful of ways. You can stay in a perfect golden palace, but if there is no warm, welcoming, hospitable atmosphere then it won’t be luxurious. Luxury is taking pleasure in being able to make your clients genuinely smile!  

Luxury is being able to take time out from your hectic lifestyle and enjoy every minute to the fullest, by being fully present in every luxurious moment, switching off your phone and letting go of work, schedules and ‘to do’ lists. Above all, luxury is a feeling of freedom, and you can definitely capture this feeling on most of the private islands in Asia-Pacific.

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