The development so far of the company Travel Insight on Koh Lanta (an island outside Krabi) is an especially inspiring example of what can happen when a couple of Swedes move here and decide to do something creatively. Also it constitutes another proof of how Swedish and Thai cultures seem to get along well together.
One could say that one thing led to the other and, as a result, Lanta has become known as a very popular destination for Swedes. According to Stefan Lebert of Travel Insight, 90 per cent of all the visitors to the island during the 2006/2007 high season were from the Nordic country.
As ex-career persons, Camilla and Stefan Lebert who started the company has enabled a venue for Swedes needing to take a brake from the treadmill back home. They assist those; sometimes in how to help themselves and finding balance again.
They could cater to an unexpressed strong need, which was unattended to, that many Swedes turned out to have in common in a country where the number of persons on sick leave have been sky-rocketing in the new century.
A ball was set in motion. From an initial escape from physical exhaustion back in a stressed-out career environment in Sweden, to the decision to sell everything and start anew in Thailand, Camilla and Stefan today employs 24 people and had an estimated 105 000 room nights booked, besides in total 220 Swedish students in their two schools, during the latest season 2006/2007.
What started as a travel operation for retreats to Koh Lanta has turned into a large scale business operation, and all this achieved after only four seasons.
Their school project is now the largest outside Sweden.
And this is far from all. They have also become property developers, with 26 houses in their first project already finalized and sold out within a year.
They also arrange fully legal weddings for Swedish couples (96 during the last season).
Everything connects to their core business, which is assisting Swedish families who want to take ‘thaim-out’, with a programme of seminars, wellness courses in how to deal with stress, retreats with yoga and meditation etc. What they stopped doing, though, is the kind of package tours they initially offered.
“We want to give the customer his own responsibility. It’s the own will that should control one’s decision. We don’t believe in packaging and buying into something and being taken care of, but to take time out means quite demanding practical and mental steps to go through to actually take the step,” Stefan explains.
Travel Insight is all about caring for one’s way of life – should one feel something is wrong, like if the career has taken over the entire existence making one loose contact with the family. Increasingly people are unhappy with their lifestyles these days and seek ways to another, better way of living.
There were less stress-related problems, though, among their customers the latest season.
“Some are in a larger lifestyle change anyway back home and utilize this as a well-functioning alternative, using that space to take time down here and perhaps make new choices,” says Stefan. Travel Insight assists this process.
”Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that people are having problems when they’re coming here, but there is a reason why one takes a longer break, perhaps when about to make a life-changing decision. Then they often need inspiration, and someone for guidance.”
One difficulty for families with children is of course the need for a school.
“The need to take time-out and still staying within the Swedish school system is enormous now. We don’t see any end to this,” says Stefan, explaining that they are taking in as many students as they can but that there are, during the school year, simply not enough with suitable residential opportunities on the island yet. They also stick to the policy of no more than ten students in one classroom.
“We can physically take in more students but we don’t want that, we know people would get disappointed because they won’t get the kind of living they are looking for.”
The schools (one for those staying 1-4 months and another one for those attending up to a full school year) are not yet accredited as international and neither do they have permission from the Swedish Board of Education to give reports on the pupils.
Those on the senior level, who want to get proper degrees, are advised to register at the Sofia Distance programme to get reports there.
Until more accommodation alternatives can be finalised they have meanwhile opened a franchise school in Varkala, India.
To cater to the need for more housing, Travel Insight are building and initiating residential projects in collaboration with local land owners. And vice versa the property business benefit from having the school.
Camilla and Stefan have experienced upheavals and hectic times in Thailand, but perhaps of a different kind than they used to back in Sweden. Many times they let go of habits which also led to their separation during 2005, as explained on their website. Still they continue running business together and these days Stefan points out that they would like to tone down the attention and extensive publicity in Swedish media which focused so much on them.
“Now it has grown so much that we must try and ensure that the company’s services are attractive enough on their own merits, without our contribution,” is their aim.
“ith this entire ongoing business one can certainly wonder if they, themselves, have been able to live as they preach during the last years. They moved to Thailand based on that they had experienced while staying at Southern Lanta Resort “the way they wanted to live”.
To explain what that means Stefan gives the following exposition: “In the West we are accustomed to learn a lot with the left part of our brain; strategies, goals, effectiveness, money, time and all those parameters controlling our lives. In the East we have nearly the opposite pole; intuition, feeling, living more for the day. And I don’t think you must choose one side or the other, but a combination of these should be the most ultimate. That is what we’ve been experimenting with during these last years; to find the balance between these extremities and join the best parts.”
That should result in having more time left for yourself but also for the people you have around you.
“No, in the last two years we have not really been living after those ideals, but are trying to find our way back to that path. We have perhaps as managers of the company failed a bit, as our business has basically expanded 100 per cent each year. So we have hard times just to meet up to the demand. We are not those saying no first of all, but want to help as many as possible, and that of course is the reverse of the medal.”
“We have been forced once again to adapt to the Western way of viewing things. Handling many customers has demanded this, especially when you are dealing with real estate, where you get the paragraphs and a lot of legal issues.”
Their strategy now is to find back and live according to that mix of the best from the different cultures and lifestyles, by having small units and an umbrella organisation to target the customers, where it’s not based on their personal involvement.
The results they have they seen so far from those taking Thaim-out shows a pattern where many leave Sweden for a while, with very few going to Thailand.
“That leads to an essential difference in the view; going away from something. The first period is the honeymoon phase of up to six weeks, which is followed by what we call ‘Thaim-out depression’, which is a phase of frustration. 98 per cent manage to go through that and come out landing in this reality; just the same one as in Sweden but very different. And one to two cent cannot handle it.”
“Often a vacation on two, three weeks is not enough, but to make long-term changes you need longer time. That is why the distance from your life back home, makes it so beneficial, as you easier can see what you have back home that we don’t have here. Often we need this mirror to look back; we can seldom analyze what we’re doing when we are up in the middle of it. We need perspective. That is the first realization people get down here after a few months. The other beneficial thing happening is when they return to their ordinary environment in Sweden. Then they get another chance to evaluate their experience from Thailand. Then they can also make new insights and perhaps take new decisions.”
And many of those contacted Travel Insight afterwards and explained that they did so.
More info on: www.travelinsight.net