Meet The Luxury Travel Expert: An Exclusive Interview With Rebecca Masri
After spending 10 years working at Goldman Sachs, Rebecca Masri decided to leave the leading investment bank and start her own business, Little Emperors. The private luxury club allows its members to take advantage of an in-house team of travel experts and luxury advisers, and unique rates and benefits across their range of hotel partners. “The business launched and took off fairly quickly as there was plenty of opportunity in luxury travel following the 2008 crash,” says Masri.
Little Emperors presents a two-fold offering: corporate rates that are often not available for self-employed individuals or those working in smaller companies, and leisure benefits such as priority hotel upgrades and last-minute bookings at top restaurants. Little Emperors’ partner hotels include everything from 5-star luxury properties to quirky boutique properties. Nobu Hotel Barcelona, The EDITION Miami, and The Setai Tel Aviv are just some of the places members can choose from. ”The entire membership base to date has been based solely on referrals as we do not advertise, so for us the value in our hotel bookings has been the driving force in our growth,” adds Masri. Luxury travel writer Ina Yulo Stuve chats with Masri on what it was like to step away from a huge corporate and her travel secrets for a relaxing journey.
What are some of the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur?
It has been over a decade since I launched Little Emperors, which I now run alone, supported by a fantastic team of 42 across London, India, Portugal, and Salt Lake City. One of my biggest challenges throughout has been having to go from being mentored to becoming the mentor, being taught and becoming the teacher, asking the questions to answering them, being led to leading. I was faced with building trust, setting tasks, deadlines, checking, encouraging, commending, and also giving criticism, constructively, and becoming the mentor. Hiring the right team, identifying talent, setting goals, encouraging productivity, being asked permission to take holidays—these were all new to me and 10 years later, I am still adjusting! Hiring has been key, and so far I have been very blessed with a loyal and diligent team.
Our team in the UK is small, so cultural fit is as important as ability and past experience; as we spend all day together, getting on is key. I believe, of course, that if you are happy at work, you give more. Given the nature of what we do, not only are we in the office together, but we have events, travel abroad, and have regular activities where we are together. I wanted to create a family. Team bonding is key. I remember at the beginning, I was very surprised at how everyone would always agree with me. Was I right? Or was it because I was paying their salaries. It was hard to identify this, and I have learnt to hire smart, hire people who can do things that I can’t, and I also firmly believe in outsourcing. A company like mine does not need full-time PR, content, graphic design, social media – we approach industry experts and hire the best for our business. I ask the questions, I watch and follow, and I am learning from experts. We are very tech-forward and tech is entirely new to me. Whilst we have a fantastic tech team in-house, for the more complicated elements I have outsourced here too. Outsourcing and smart hiring as the business matures have allowed me to learn again.
Little Emperors has quite a large member base. What has been the driving force in attracting members and ensuring you retain them?
The product has been our biggest marketing tool. If people do not benefit, they won’t renew or refer…Delivering value has therefore been the biggest driving force in attracting new members. We help them save time and money with our quick-thinking app where members can complete a booking within four clicks, and our hotel partnerships which offer our members corporate rates or leisure benefits. We also have a ‘Lowest Rate Guaranteed’ with all our hotel partners, so if a member finds a comparable rate cheaper elsewhere, we will match it, and add something to it like an upgrade or hotel credit. We have a 98% member retention rate and each member on average will refer at least three others.
Why do you believe there was a gap in the market when you came in with your affordable luxury offering?
Timing, which is always key. We came up with the idea in 2008 and launched in 2009. It was during the crash and luxury hotels were looking at ways to confirm bookings without diluting their brands. We offered them a private channel, initially only for corporate rates, and then as we grew, into the leisure side. Additionally, our growing membership base was looking for ways to book luxury travel with real value but without the fuss. We are not a typical concierge that does an all-around service. We simplified this, charging a low entry fee for members–£250 a year—and and offering them a product that is guaranteed to give them back the value of their membership, if not in their first booking—though 90% of our members do—then soon after. We really have focused on the product and the relationships we have with hotels to deliver value to members.
What do you look for when adding hotels to your portfolio?
Diversity. Our client base is younger, with 80% of our members between 35-45. We listen to them. Our technology is very sophisticated and we use algorithms to track and also predict search and booking trends to identify new hotels and destinations. Ivana, from my team, is dedicated to following hotel trends and securing new partnerships. In popular destinations, we will generally have a big flagship hotel like a Four Seasons or a Rosewood, and also try to include a more boutique-style hotel, as long as it fits into our luxury criteria. We only work with 4 or 5-star properties.
Is there a place that you head to whenever you need an escape?
Honestly, I love being at home, which I suppose is quite convenient right now! I travel so much and spend so much of my life on the road—at conferences, meetings and events—that my downtime is usually at home in London, close to friends and family. In terms of travelling to escape, I love hot weather and being at the beach. Last year I went to the Philippines and this was really special. El Nido is an exceptional place, literally paradise on earth. If I could, I would go there.
Tell me about the new hotels in your portfolio and what makes them special.
As people’s demands change, we go through waves of what people want. Wellness has been a growing theme for many of our members and I feel a lot of hotels are now including a dedicated wellness element through programmes, food offerings, and even if they are not full-on wellness retreats, we are seeing trends of increased wellness offerings which really do make them stand out. Four Seasons opened a hotel in Hawaii called Koele, which has a wellness offering, Rosewood Hong Kong has Asaya Spa, La Reserve in Zurich, Equinox Hotel in New York is combining wellness with luxury travel, Proper Hotel in Santa Monica has a wellness element, Chable in Mexico, there are so many fantastic, luxurious, new hotels with wellness themes without actually being a wellness retreat. This trend is an answer to the demand for more meaningful travel.
What are your favourite cities for: food, design, culture –
Tel Aviv, London and New York, in that order.
What is your favourite restaurant in London and why?
Currently, Meraki. I love Greek food and find they use fresh ingredients.
What are your carry-on essentials when flying?
Contact lenses, hand sanitiser, headphones, a blanket scarf, phone and laptop charger, chewing gum, hand cream, and a good face moisturiser.
How are you continuing to engage with your members during the travel lockdown?
We have upped our social media. We are releasing a personalised message from a hotel GM to our members every other day, letting them know what the hotel is doing during lockdown to prepare for re-opening, and we are also running weekly competitions. Our newsletters go out twice a month and we have included an ‘Inspirations’ one for future travel. We are quite specific about giving as much detail as possible to our members, to restore their confidence in booking, including what measures hotels are taking and what their cancellation policies are for any future travel.
Phone: +44 203 1784984