By EHM Feature Writer Ainslie Young
With extensive international business experience across multiple industries and having lived in Singapore, the UK and now Thailand, Australian entrepreneur, Leigh Pulford is passionate about changing the way entrepreneurs spend time travelling and working abroad. With exclusivity and opulence in mind, Leigh helps you think global to totally ‘wow’ your clients with spectacular private villas in South-East Asia. We sat down with Leigh to learn why private villas are the perfect backdrop for high-end retreats and workshops and why bespoke travel planning is a surefire way to delight your clients.
Tell us what inspired you to start Opulence in Travel
I’ve lived and worked abroad for the last 10 years and as a result I’ve experienced first hand the need for seamless organisation when it comes to business travel and event management. I know what it’s like travelling between five cities in five days all whilst holding meetings and hosting client events. This experience made me realise the power of a great concierge service. Their solid, local knowledge was always so vital to the success and enjoyment level of my trip.
As an aside, I’ve always enjoyed staying in villas when holidaying in Asia and four years ago I saw a gap in the market. Luxury villas weren’t as accessible for short and long-term rentals. So my aim was to enhance villa accessibility across Thailand, Vietnam and Bali and incorporate bespoke travel and event planning for individuals and businesses so they could benefit from this high-end, luxury experience.
How is OIT is different to other travel and event management services?
Both myself and my team are focused on taking the time to drill down into the detail so we really understand our clients’ needs and expectations from creating a holiday of a lifetime to running an unforgettable retreat.
I have a full event planning process, which commences well before the event start date. I like to put together tailored destination guides, discuss any private activities or tour options they have in mind. This could be anything from customised yoga classes, sailing on a private yacht or booking them into the best Beach Club to enjoy sunset cocktails. As well as the usual conference and event set up, I also go into detail about menu choices and food options and organise for the villa staff to source organic products and cater to any dietary requirements.
Significant strength of ours is that we have a proven network of suppliers and vendors. I have the utmost confidence in these partnerships and I know they will deliver exactly what was promised in terms of high-end, luxury events and retreats.
In general, I think I’m quite intuitive and the fact that I like to be fully versed in what my clients are hoping to achieve and what outcomes they are aiming. This ensures that together we’ll create a memorable event!
What type of clients do you like working with?
I love working with clients who are keen to create grand and innovative events and retreats. I also enjoy working with clients who want to go into the detail and draw on inspiration from other high-end events. For example, we’ve had clients who have taken elements from the Cannes Film Festival and incorporated into decorative elements. We’ve also had clients who’ve taken concepts from London and Paris Fashion Week and created a Welcome Party echoing this vibe. The more grand and creative the vision, the better!
Tell us about some of the great events/experiences that you’ve helped to plan and create.
Recently I organised a corporate retreat for an Australian boutique accounting firm. This firm had previously conducted team retreats in Asian hotels but they wanted something different, so I created a bespoke retreat in a private villa in Koh Sumui, Thailand.
I knew this team was quite active so I organised a villa that catered to their needs. This particular villa had tennis and volleyball courts and a fantastic infinity pool. I also organised for a yoga instructor to run classes and in-villa massages were a part of their package, which helped the clients unwind.
My client didn’t have to do anything during their team retreat. Prior to their arrival we worked together to create the meal plan for the three days, which brought together both Thai and Western elements and catered to any food allergies and dietary requirements.
Clients have raved about the benefit of hosting retreats and workshops in private villas as their productivity is enhanced, team bonding is more natural and free flowing and the teams’ creativity really comes to life.
We’ve found that clients are really able to embrace the idyllic and private villa locations and as a result thrive on being away from the hustle and bustle of their usual environment. Also, for these guys I made sure that their conference room was set up so their outlook was of the amazing ocean view. There are no stuffy window-less hotel ballrooms here!
What other events are on the horizon?
Currently I’m working on combining amazing villa-based holidays with the added advantage of experiencing premium lifestyle brands. For example, I’m running ‘The Connoisseurs Tour’ in Koh Samui and Phuket where our guests enjoy holidaying in lux villas whilst experiencing private showings of premium whisky and cigars.
Obviously this is targeted at males, but I also have some great ideas for more female oriented events. I have fantastic relationships with premium liquor houses such as Dom Perigon and Veuve Clicquot.
We’re looking at flying in the Brand Ambassador to provide a tasting of four different vintages, speak about the interesting history of the brand and then the champagne can be paired with a chef-curated meal!
There are so many possibilities and I have big plans around partnering with high-end fashion houses, jewellery designers and luxury car manufacturers. So watch this space!
What are the positives/benefits of hosting an event or retreat in private villas across South East Asia?
Private villas really are the perfect backdrop for product launches and high-end retreats because of their superb locations. It brings total exclusivity. Imagine hosting an event or retreat where you’re perched cliff-side overlooking the ocean with your own private beach, or in a charming villa nestled in the mountains surrounded by lush vegetation.
A part from the great locations, a significant benefit is the service level in private villas, which is second to none. The villa staff that we work with are extremely resourceful and always aim to please. Often you may have to change event details at the last minute and nothing is a problem, which is vital when running such high-end events.
Also, South-East Asia is extremely accessible from most parts of the world, especially Australia, with many direct flights into Bali, Thailand and Vietnam.
What tips can you provide business owners wanting to run events and retreats overseas? What common mistakes do you often see?
One of the most important tips I can share is to work very closely with your suppliers and local vendors. You have to work hard to find suppliers that you can trust and whom you know will come through, so your event runs smoothly. Also I strongly suggest that you always have a Plan B for each element of your event. For example, you want to make sure you have a back up option for your decorative elements, sound system, lighting etc.
Another major consideration for hosting an event or retreat abroad is to really allow enough time for the planning and set up phase. I usually work with my clients’ several months in advance to understand their needs and event expectations. Often the client will join me for a site visit where we scope out Villa’s together (this is totally optional) and then the client will arrive a few days prior to the event and we’ll go over the last minute details. Planning and preparation is key.
Finally, what do you love most about your role within OIT?
I love the travel element of my business and I enjoy establishing meaningful and long lasting partnerships with premium consumer brands, who I know will make my clients excited and engaged.
But what really excites me is working with clients who have ambitious ideas for their events, retreats and even holidays! It’s so rewarding and inspiring collaborating with other entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas and really aspire to ‘Wowing’ their own clients!
You can find out more about Opulence in Travel and Leigh’s bespoke services HERE
All photo credits belong to Opulence in Travel