paths less travelled
Simon Westcott’s resume reads like a voyager’s dream career. After seven years at Lonely Planet, co-founding the Asian subsidiary of the Mr & Mrs Smith hotel collection and a lifetime of travelling, he moved to Hong Kong in 2014 and took ownership of LUXE City Guides. Under his leadership, LUXE has supplemented its laser-sharp recommendations and laugh-out-loud style with a dynamic digital platform that is a happy marriage of paper and pixels. To advise travellers, one needs to be a traveller themselves… and Westcott talks to us about the journey that has brought him today, and the journey forward.
On travelling and travel as a career
I believe people ‘catch’ the travel bug for one of two reasons: because they grew up in different cultures or with adventurous parents forever dragging them around the globe, or because they were stuck in suburban environments and itched to get out. I was in the latter group. I first got on a train to France on my own at the age of 15 and have never looked back; I travelled to war-torn Lebanon, the Peruvian Amazon and all over Europe while still a teenager. That’s not so rare anymore of course.
The career opportunity was more accidental. After college, and travelling under the guise of further study, I fell into a literary publishing career in London. When I moved to Australia, one of the largest local publishers with global reach was Lonely Planet. It seemed a marriage made in heaven.
On LUXE City Guides
To give proper credit, the idea behind the wonderful LUXE City Guides was founder Grant Thatcher’s. Grant had an extraordinary ‘gimlet eye’ for the finer things of life and believed that an increasingly sophisticated traveller class needed a more reliable and engaging ‘little black book’ of the best a city has to offer. The pocket guide format was genius – plenty of choice but no faff, one long, hand-folded piece of paper small enough to fit into your jacket or LV clutch long before mobiles did – and our archly opinionated voice (‘brutally frank and sometimes, frankly, brutal’) suitably distinctive. Within a matter of years, we were covering 30 cities around the world.
On the revamp of LUXE City Guides
Since buying the business in 2014, we’ve done little to tinker with the beautiful heritage artefact of the print guide, but have radically transformed the digital offering. Of course, in today’s hyper-connected world, ‘curation’ needs to be constant, so our resident editors (lifestyle mavens living the LUXE life on their own dime) now submit new recommendations and re-check existing places on a continuous basis. All of that editorial currency is available ‘same day’ through an easy-to-use native app and supplemented by inspirational free content on our website. Everything is geo-located and works offline. We also have a strong footprint in the business-to-business market, both through co-brandable versions of our print and digital guides and a new directory platform designed to deliver fully customisable itineraries to our clients’ clients. It’s why some of the world’s best hotels, high-end travel agents and concierge services – The Peninsula Group, Goldman Travel in Australia, Citibank Prestige, regional providers of the AMEX Centurion concierge – are now partnering with us.
The exciting development is a full relaunch of the print guides in May, which now includes a free six-month subscription to the app. We’re huge believers in the happy co-existence of print and digital, with travellers constantly switching between platforms and formats in the course of planning or travelling in destination.
On juggling different pursuits
I do have a voracious appetite for doing things and a desire to be useful in life, but as I’ve got older I’ve been a bit more careful about balancing it all. I’m very selective about the non-work stuff I take on, but also find, in the entrepreneurial context, a very fertile symbiosis between the worlds of travel, creativity and politics. I am also a meditator; my daily practice, 30 minutes every morning, has been the single most transformative activity of the past ten years. You see the mindfulness cult everywhere now, but I can’t recommend it enough for enhancing the quality of life, whatever it throws it you.
On his best travels
How long do you have? In no particular order, and limiting myself to four, I would say:
– Being one of only eight people at Angkor Wat early one morning a couple of years after the UN left in the mid-90s; it was hard to go back again
– A recent meal at Can Roca outside Girona
– A trip to the Argentinian high Andes a few years ago outside the small regional city of Salta, and in particular the private museum of wine producer Bodega Colome, a virtually unvisited shrine to the work of light artist James Turrell
– Walking home one steamy summer through the East Village in New York City after clubbing all night in my twenties
On his bucket list
Bhutan, Mongolia, Sikkim, getting back to Europe more, especially Central Europe
On his advice to other travellers
– Try, whenever possible, but at least once, to travel on public transport; you will only truly understand a place if you travel through it with locals.
– Never take too much; you will be physically and metaphorically held back
– Eat from the street as well as from slates and wooden boards
– Seek out the artisan – that’s proper trickle down economics
– Get to the wild while you can, and fight hard and practically to protect the places you enjoy when you do