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Villa vision: meet Stephanie Chai, founder of The Luxe Nomad

The Luxe Nomad has become Asia Pacific's largest luxury vacation rental management company with more than 1,300 keys in its portfolio in Indonesia, Thailand and Japan. Karryon speaks to its founder to learn about the journey.

The Luxe Nomad has become Asia Pacific’s largest luxury vacation rental management company with more than 1,300 keys in its portfolio in Indonesia, Thailand and Japan. Karryon speaks to its founder to learn about the journey.

Commencing in 2012, Stephanie says The Luxe Nomad started at a time when the world was in a ‘Groupon’ and flash sale phase. That concept didn’t quite work in Asia, she says, as it can be a fragmented market with different languages, different countries.

“What I felt was a sweet spot was the villa industry, because they’re more high touch and they require a bit of personalised service,” she said. 

While there are multiple trusted hotel brands in existence, Stephanie says there had been a pressing need for one, trusted ‘villa’ brand. 

As The Luxe Nomad business became more established, they expanded into villa management starting in Bali in 2017, taking over a small company there, and then moving into Thailand in 2019 with 50 villas in Koh Samui. 

“My long term goal was to go into Niseko, Japan. In 2023, we took over a company called Nisade which was founded by an Australian and now we’ve got 900 rooms there and about 20 buildings. We’re the biggest ski-in/ski-out management company as well, and that’s been doing phenomenally well,” she said. 

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Tsubasa chalet in Niseko.

Australians represent around one fifth of their market in Niseko and in Bali around 40 per cent, with Australians being a key customer base for the group. 

“It’s worked really well because this business model has economies of scale. So the bigger we get, the more we can do and the more creative we can be as well,” she said.

During Covid, Stephanie took a pay cut, as did other staff, and the team contracted from 70 down to 35. 

“We made sure that it was enough that everyone could get by. Some people just also naturally resigned as they wanted do something else,” she said. 

Stephanie was stuck in New Zealand for all of 2021, managing her team remotely. It afforded her the opportunity to really delve into the financial side of the business, something that was previously handled more closely by a CFO.

“There’s always a silver lining. You feel really good and I think the team felt really good that we got through it. We stuck by the owners and by the guests, always updating them,” she said. 

Where it all began

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Stephanie Chai.

Born in New Zealand to a Malaysian father and Kiwi mother, Stephanie spent her earlier years in Malaysia before returning to Auckland at the age of 12, and going on to study finance and international business at an Auckland university. 

“Then I was a television presenter in Singapore and Malaysia for about six years. I always wanted to start a business – my dad had his own business and his father too.  I was always looking for a great business idea. I went through a lot of them!”

“It’s not easy to find something you really believe in. One day, I had a friend who sent me the link for a site called Jetsetter in the US and he said, ‘You like to stay in nice places, but you don’t want to pay for it, so you should do this’ – and I thought what a great idea! I’ve been between Singapore and Hong Kong for the last 10 years,” she said.

About the villas

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Sava Beach Villas, Phuket.

The villas range from four and five-star – from affordable luxury to very high end. Niseko rentals, for instance, can cost USD$20,000 per night for a four-bedroom villa at Christmas.  

“That’s something really interesting about our region – you can come to Bali, and the top end of our market will be about USD$3,000 per night for five bedrooms. It really differs from market to market,” she said.

They work with a few local independent Virtuoso agents and multiple Australian agents.

Where to from here?

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Onsen in the Tsubasa Chalet, Hanaridge, Niseko.

Given her New Zealand lineage, Steph says it “makes a lot of sense” to look next towards Australia and New Zealand. 

“Especially with Aussies being such a big component. If you look at travel, generally, 70 per cent of travel is conducted within the region because there’s a smaller portion of people who have the time for long haul trips to Europe or the US. It makes sense for us to really consolidate Asia Pacific,” she said. 

“Our dream really is to be the brand, globally, for luxury vacation rental. So that when someone thinks of a villa rental or they want to go skiing at a condo hotel, they say, ‘I trust The Luxe Nomad, I love what they do, they have amazing service and beautiful properties,’” she said.