Simon Westcott of Luxe City Guides
For this travel publishing veteran, producing city guides is more about hard work than glamour
Simon Westcott has an impressive track record in the travel industry. He spent seven years at Lonely Planet and co-founded the Asia subsidiary of the Mr & Mrs Smith hotel collection. Earlier this year he moved to Hong Kong to take up the post of owner and chief executive of Luxe City Guides, the cool little books that are big on travel tips.
Settling in for coffee at a Central cafe, Westcott - dressed in a smart jacket with a pocket square peeking out the top, looks every bit the discerning traveller Luxe City Guides appeals to. "Yes, I adopted the pocket square from Grant - he has impeccable taste so I have big sartorial shoes to fill," he says referring to former owner Grant Thatcher, who set up the business in Hong Kong 12 years ago. "I had a good instinct about Luxe City Guides very early on - they were doing something special with the editorial process that nobody else was doing."
He proudly hands over the latest additions to the family: Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. "Yes, there's the obvious Olympics opportunity, but we just had to get into Brazil - South America is a major player and enjoying rapid growth. It was amazing road testing what the editors on the ground had compiled. And while Rio is great, it was Sao Paulo that stole the show for me - the street art and the creative scene was amazing."
Bearing the trademark funky covers that fan out to provide a rich look into the cities, - the grooviest places to shop, eat, sleep and sight-see - the new Brazilian additions also speak the cool language Luxe City Guides has become known for.
There are tips on beach etiquette, Standout Stores, Luxe Loathes (traffic, selfies at Christ), Luxe Loves (Bar Urca - a seaside bar; Jardin Botanico - botanical gardens). Under a section titled Blah Blah are details on shop opening hours and safety advice.
"What we do is provide an experience. We can say don't go to this Hong Kong restaurant if you are feeling hungover because of the bright iridescent lights, but if you don't mind that then head there because the fishballs are amazing. It's all about the details."
British-born Westcott's zeal for travel started early.
"Travel has been a passion since I was young. When I was 15 I travelled on my own to Lebanon at a time when bombs were going off."
While many might envy Westcott's job, the 50-year-old is quick to dilute the glam factor. "It feels very glamorous to go into a city, but it's really hard work. You're there for a limited time, working 18-hour days … sleeping feels indulgent. And every bit of food you eat you want to be validating or testing something."
As for changes, Westcott is keen to expand the footprint with new destinations, a process he calls "incredibly rigorous. Our people on the ground - our resident editors - they are living in the city and plugged into the food, accommodation, arts and party scenes. They know what deserves to be in and what doesn't. They are not travel writers, but creatives - fashion designers or artists who are going out every week and finding new places."
The books are updated regularly. "There are always new things to discover. What we really focus on is keeping everything fresh and up to date. "We are doing more fact checking on the ground to make sure places are still open and, most importantly, we are adding new features."
Westcott has a trained eye for what is trending in the industry and while he says luxury is firmly on the radar he says Luxe City Guides, while luxury orientated, are much more interesting than just the "gold tap sort of way".
He says the guides are like passports to the unusual and unique. "We are really about the boutique items - the jewellery designer who makes pieces out of resin in a beautiful studio in the back street that not many people know about."
The mainland is also on the radar. "We'll be making moves into China very soon - the travel market there is really maturing with an emerging sophisticated traveller."
Westcott says the format of the pocket-friendly guides won't change. "People love the hand-folded guides … I've even been to the print factory and seen the ladies folding them by hand.
"What will change is the digital side of the business. We have just relaunched the website - its role now is to provide more inspirational content that has to be free and up to date. What we have found is that people who buy these guides do so just before they travel - sometimes at the airport as a guide to look over while on the plane."