Matt Vlemmiks is the Director of Lightfoot Travel in Dubai and father of Lucia, 5 years old. Matt has developed a passion for travelling after graduating from university and hasn’t stopped exploring the world since then. He now has the company of his beautiful family – wife, Fiona and daughter Lucia – during his adventures.
Having landed in Dubai nearly two years ago to set up a office for Lightfoot Travel, Matt Vlemmiks has taken some time to share with us his traveling expertise and what to expect from a personalised holiday.
Lightfoot Travel is a luxury tour operator specialised in designer holidays to countries spanning six continents around the world. They offer a highly personalised services not found with local travel agents or when booking online.
Please tell me about your family, and about your move to Dubai. Where were you previously located?
I was previously based in the south of England, in the Cotswold, working for another luxury tailor-made travel company that are based in that region. Lightfoot gave me the opportunity to relocate to Dubai and set-up their new office here, which appealed to me as a great challenge and definitely something a bit different from Oxfordshire! So I relocated in November 2013, along with my wife and my daughter Lucia (who was then only three). With the odd bump in the road here and there, we have all enjoyed living in Dubai for these last 18 months.
Can you tell us about Lightfoot Travel?
Lightfoot Travel is a luxury tailor-made tour operator with bases in three countries, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. We offer entirely bespoke itineraries for each of our clients to destinations across the globe and our trips encompass a massive range of experiences, from a simple Eid beach break to a three-week self-drive itinerary in Namibia or an Antarctic cruise.
What are some of the benefits or value added advantages for families travelling with Lightfoot travel?
There is a range of benefits. Firstly, cost-wise our contracts should usually be more than competitive with what can be found direct or online, both with our preferred accommodations and in terms of the activities and experiences we offer. Secondly, each of our Travel Designers specialise in a limited number of destinations that are of specific importance to them and where they can offer highly personalised, first-hand advice. They travel regularly to each of their designated areas to keep their knowledge as up-to-the-minute as possible, and we also seek to obtain extensive feedback from all of our clients after a holiday, so that we almost have our own (far more objective) “Trip Advisor” to draw upon when advising clients. Thirdly, service is a massive priority for Lightfoot. We don’t send enormous volumes of people away on trips but instead focus on providing high levels of attention and personalised service for each and every one of our clients, right throughout the planning process and their trip itself until they return. In this way, we hope to encourage our clients to travel with us again and to recommend us to their friends, family and colleagues.
There are more and more luxury travel operators coming to the market but we, as your potential clients, are still confused about luxury operators differ to normal ones. The biggest fear is that you will cost the customer more. Can you explain how does a company like Lightfoot Travel essentially make its money?
We certainly shouldn’t cost more than you are able to find elsewhere, and we are actually very honest in advising potential clients to snap up a price from elsewhere if for some reason it is something that we are unable to match. With all of our contracted partners, from hotels to safari lodges, cruise operators and activity providers, we receive discounted net rates from the partner. This enables us to add a markup to these costs in order for us to remain sustainable and profitable as a business while still offering a fair price for our clients. In today’s world, some hotels might on occasion offer an exclusive online sale rate for direct bookings, or through an online booking portal that we don’t have access to, so we can’t promise this in 100% of cases, but in my experience we are more than competitive at least 90% of the time. And even then, clients will not receive the same levels of service by booking through these other channels, and if we discover that we are not receiving the best possible rates from a close partner, they will often open these to us on an ad hoc basis if it will help us to confirm a booking.
What areas in the world would you say were Lightfoot Travel’s expertise?
We genuinely specialise in virtually all corners of the globe. Asia is obviously a massive area of strength, given that we have two Asian-bases that have been operating for longer than our Dubai office. The staff here are virtually all of an Asian background and have travelled extensively in the region from an early age. For myself, I have specialised in African safaris and the Middle East for nearly 10 years, while we have recently taken on a top Designer for Latin America and Polar Cruises. And then, for all of our staff that aren’t from an Asian background, we will tend to be European and have great experience travelling in Europe and organising holidays there. So outside of some highly obscure destinations that you wouldn’t necessarily want to visit, and perhaps some of the more mass-market destinations where we can’t offer any value based on our own experiences and contracts, I honestly think we can organise our clients a memorable holiday to just about anywhere.
You have a five year old girl, can you suggest 3 top holiday choices for your family, perhaps places you have been and places you would like to go.
A) We have just returned from Vietnam, spending time in Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An with some friends and their 3 year old son. This was a fantastic trip that was enjoyed across the age spectrum! There are direct flights with Emirates; the culture and history is fascinating; there are beautiful hotels, from the boutique to the more child friendly; the food is fantastic, and it’s incredibly good value! It can also be very easily combined with the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia, for older children with an Indiana Jones / Lara Croft adventurous streak.
B) South Africa is perfect for families, especially as children become old enough to appreciate all that it has to offer (I will be taking Lucia for her first African adventure next year). Safaris can be enjoyed in malaria-free national parks where you are guaranteed to see amazing Big Game, and there are an increasing number of safari lodges or private safari houses that specialise in providing specifically tailored activities and workshops for children. There are penguins and whale watching on the south coast, incredible scenery and Cape Town is one of the world’s most exciting and scenic cities. There are direct flights from the UAE to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, and like Vietnam, it’s also exceptionally good value.
C) For those looking for a more sedate holiday experience with specifically tailored facilities, Kids’ Clubs and entertainments, I’m told the Seychelles is perfect. I will be visiting this summer so will be able to report back in more detail after my trip.
What has been the most memorable holiday for your daughter?
My daughter loves going back to the UK! But she’s also had great times in Italy – Florence and Rome specifically, where the people love children, the sights are interesting for even the youngest visitors, and pizza and pasta are always on the menu.
For families with multiple children, like myself, where would you suggest I go this summer with my children who are 6 years, 4 years, 2 years and 9 months?
The familiar favourites of the Maldives, Seychelles and Thailand tend to cater well for such a range of ages, most especially with regards to your 9-month old. There are direct flights to each of them, and a range of accommodation styles that offer everything from Villas within a hotel to Kids’ Clubs and pools. Sri Lanka is fantastic for taking private villas, which again provides a level of privacy and intimate service that you might require for younger children. And if you want to cut down on flying, there are some amazing hotels in Oman and the UAE, as I’m sure you know from first-hand experience!
Lightfoot Travel has great relationships with hotel groups, and as a family of 6 plus a nanny, we would only want to take two rooms when staying in a hotel. Would you be able to arrange this with most hotel groups?
Yes, virtually all hotel groups can accommodate this. City hotels now often offer “interconnecting” rooms which are actually two rooms with a front door that can be closed off to separate them – something that has been pioneered to a large extent in this region! At more beach-style accommodations, 1 or 2 Bedroom Suites and Villas are usually on offer, and even for some hotels where they might seem to have strict restrictions on occupancy if you are making an online booking, for those that we have close working relationships we might be able to arrange them to accommodate special requests outside of their usual occupancy rules on an ad hoc basis.
When travelling with multiple children, Dubai families like the option of bringing their nanny along – can Lightfoot suggests destinations where visas are not an issue, and for some more challenging destinations are you able to advise how to go about organising visas?
Seychelles is visa free and the Maldives is also extremely visa-friendly for all nationalities. For most other countries it really depends on what nationality the nanny is, although countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand are also usually reasonably easy. Europe can be less easy, although a Schengen visa can be obtained for visiting numerous different European countries in one go. For Africa and the Americas it really varies from one country to the next. Lightfoot Travel are not able to obtain visas for our clients but of course we can help out with advice.
If I wanted Lightfoot Travel’s help to book my next holiday destination, would I email, telephone or book online?
Since our itineraries are completely tailor-made then it is not yet possible to book a trip online. And I think that even if we could offer this service, it would detract somewhat from what we can offer in terms of interaction and recommendations with your Travel Designer. We can certainly be contacted with an initial request online though at www.lightfoottravel.com, or you can call the Dubai office on 04 455 8788.
If you had to take your wife away for a romantic long weekend without your little girl, where would you go?
Last year we did two nights in Paris over Bastille Day at the Royal Monceau, which became possibly my favourite city hotel. While in the region, I think I’m just about the only person in the UAE who hasn’t yet been to the Maldives, as so many of our other staff know it extremely well and there is no real business requirement for me to go! So this is definitely top of the list – I must get Lucia’s grandparents over for childcare duties…
For more information on Lightfoot Travel, please visit:
or contact their Dubai office at:
04 455 8788