Happy wanderer

Weekend Glitz | Crystal Wu 11 Sep 2020

A passion for travel and Asia means Heavens Portfolio founder Christine Galle-Luczak understands just what luxury travelers want.

Born and raised in France, Galle-Luczak's spark for Asia was kindled on her first trip to Myanmar at 25. "My first trip to Asia was an eye-opener and I fell in love," she said. Sometimes a place can seem like home, even though it is the first time you've visited."

So she sold everything she owned - including her car and the marketing company she had started in Paris - told her parents a lie about getting a job offer in Singapore and caught a flight out with just two suitcases.

"I never looked back. As I sat on the flight, I said to myself: 'This feels right to me.'"

For Galle-Luczak, Asia is brimming with opportunities and people are motivated in their work. Another plus is that the region is home to cuisines she enjoys. Though her hometown is famous for its food, she was drawn to the diversity and taste of Asian food.

She never doubted her gut decision, and as she traveled more, it reinforced her conviction that Asia was where she wanted to be.

Despite living just 500 meters away from her now-husband when they both resided in Bali, their paths did not cross until a trade show in Singapore, where she was an exhibitor and he was a buyer.

He later tracked her down via mutual friends and set up a date under the pretext of looking for crystalware samples for his hotel. It worked, and they fell in love.

Soon afterward, he accepted a job in Singapore and asked her to go with him.

Although Galle-Luczak was ready to give up her job in sales and marketing to follow her husband, it was her employer - the owner of Thai resort Chiva-Som - who gave her the idea of starting her own business in a similar line of work.

Upon her arrival in Singapore, she set up her hotel representative company, Heavens Portfolio, and worked out of her living room.

Though the couple soon relocated again to Macau, where they have called home for the past 14 years, she continued her business.

While some entrepreneurs try to make sure that they receive a salary, Galle-Luczak worked without compensation for three years and reinvested all the profits back into the company to open up branches across Asia.

Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Heavens Portfolio now has 40 clients spread across the world with a range of luxury travel experiences on offer, including boutique hotels, beachfront resorts, remote experience-driven camps and wellness enclaves.

As a business owner, her favorite part of work is the diversity of her duties. With no partners or shareholders and only a team of 43 across 13 cities, she wears many hats - from sales and marketing to accounting.

"My days are never the same. If I don't have to multitask, I feel that it is a boring day."

Galle-Luczak is also drawn to meeting people from all over the globe. The world is big, she says, and she enjoys getting "a bit of a feel on all of these cities" by meeting her clients and networking.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, she could be in a different city every week.

Luckily, her husband is very hands-on with their daughter's upbringing, and they have a helper. "Finding a balance is not easy," she admitted. "But it doesn't necessarily mean you need to plan things hour by hour. You need to give yourself some room for spontaneity."

Weekends are reserved for family, though.

"On weekdays, we all have our own lives and busy schedules. Then we regroup on Saturday and Sunday."

The family also takes short weekend getaways up to eight times each year, traveling to nearby Asian destinations and always bringing their daughter, who was only three months old on her first trip to Thailand.

Having worked in luxury travel for over a decade, Galle-Luczak believes the industry has come full circle. Small travel agencies are coming back in much the way it was when she first started out.

"The very wealthy are quite well traveled and have been to many places. Now they are looking for real and authentic experiences."

Local knowledge and personal touch are key. "We're still human, so we still need that human touch. Booking a trip is not only transactional, it's also much more humanized."

While this shift has been around for quite a few years, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the change. For example, when international borders closed in March, tourists stranded in Bali found it easier to reach smaller operators than larger companies with unwieldy bureaucracies and hierarchies.

Much like everyone in the industry, the biggest challenge for Galle-Luczak now is not knowing when the pandemic will run its course and allow international travel again.

"We can do pretty much everything online now, but the travel industry still relies a lot on human connection," she said.

Although she misses traveling for work, Galle-Luczak is glad to be spending more time at home with her husband and daughter.

"Covid is teaching us how to slow down and realize what is most important in life - which is your health and your family."

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