Behind the Scenes at Kostuba Travel
An interview by Yvan Vermeesch

The XO Private Founder, Yvan Vermeesch, sits down for the exclusive interview series with, Christian Leonardo, Founder Kostuba Travel, a luxury DMC in Indonesia. This boutique, owner-run DMC specializes in creating and delivering unique experiences; "Moments", in all their destinations in Indonesia. Combined with their network of luxury properties, charters, and 100% in-house ground teams, they deliver consistent top-quality service to "wow" their every guest. Christian tells us more about his trajectory, KOSTUBA Travel, and his plans for the future.

What motivated you to set-up Kostuba Travel? What catalyzed your decision?

Traveling is my passion and I have personally been to 50+ countries. It’s quite surprising for many people when they know that my first ever trip to Bali was in 2012. That’s quite unheard of, even among fellow Indonesian travel enthusiasts.

On that trip, I saw for the first time how beautiful my own country is, and regret that I never actually explored it before. At the same time, I felt the hassles of independent traveling in Indonesia. Self-exploration is challenging given limited infrastructures, and most travel packages would always take you to see the same place as everyone else.

In 2014, I took a trip to South America with my father, and it was the most amazing travel experience ever. Extremely personalized, curated experiences, and beautiful properties whose staffs all knew us very well.
A month later, on a beach in Lombok, I was sitting alone thinking to myself, why can’t I have what I had in South America, in Indonesia? And yeah, it was that simple. I established KOSTUBA Travel the following month.
Mawun Beach in Lombok - the place where Kostuba Travel idea was born
Christian Leonardo – Founder of KOSTUBA Travel 
Tiffany Destiny, KOSTUBA’s Director of Sales & Marketing
as representative DMC for Indonesia at ITB Berlin

Was this a natural evolution for you? What did you do professionally prior to founding Kostuba Travel?

No, it wasn’t. Well, my family and I have always loved luxury travel. We love staying in top properties and doing different and unique things, that not everybody does. But that’s pretty much it; I was never involved in the tourism business prior to KOSTUBA apart from being the guest.

Before, I had a good corporate life, where I handled marketing functions. I actually met my current partner here, before we both co-founded KOSTUBA.

Which were the major challenges and/or hurdles you came across when setting up your destination management company?

I can talk all day about this! Haha.

But a lot of it came down to the fact that KOSTUBA was started from absolute zero. The basic business theory holds, but when you have no knowledge of how the industry works, the value chain, and the system, things can get pretty wild. Believe it or not, we actually spent the first 2 years of the company as a B2C agent before we even learn the term “DMC”.
Ground team preparation is another big task. Often, it felt unsurmountable, having to travel very extensively in every region and trying out many many guides and drivers to assemble the perfect team.

Then, there’s the local community or organization that does not always want to cooperate with your vision. Our persistence paid off, as we started receiving the right enquiries from overseas travel agents. Slowly, this side of the business started to take over our domestic B2C, paving the way for our full transformation into a DMC

How would you describe the profile of your ideal client? Which are your main markets at the moment and which markets are you keen to explore shortly?

I’d say they would be the clients who appreciate fine things in life, who are looking for moments which they can remember 10 or even 20 years after the trip, and who are looking to explore beyond the usual places and activities that mass tourism provides.

Our current market is predominantly USA and UK, with several West Europe countries. I’ve always been interested in Central/East Europe, Canada, and the Scandinavian market. We have served clients from these regions as well but in still relatively small numbers. 
Christian Leonardo – Founder of KOSTUBA Travel 
Tiffany Destiny, KOSTUBA’s Director of Sales & Marketing as representative DMC for Indonesia at ITB Berlin
With quite a number of operators already covering the Indonesian market, what makes Kostuba Travel different? How would you describe the DNA of your company?

Our website’s leading sentence says it: “Creator of Unique and Authentic Moments”.

In every destination we operate, we spend months researching every corner of the island to craft and simulate completely new experiences that did not exist before. We call them “MOMENTS”, and we use three key framework points to plan the ideas:

• Exclusive, not commonly accessible
• Creative, new ways of enjoying things
• Unique dining occasions, private chefs and exquisite setups

Our latest program addition can explain all these principles well. It’s a program we call Eat.Pray.Love.Live The Movie. It starts with a morning panoramic cycling through Ubud village and rice paddies, arriving at the original house used as the movie set, where guests would join our guide for morning Balinese prayer and learning to make a Balinese offering. A private cooking class at the house would ensue. After lunch, guests will visit Ketut Liyer’s place from the movie for a palm-reading and Balinese cleansing ritual (melukat) session. Then, they will return to the house and enjoy some time at leisure before our private chef will be serving them with 4-course fine dining.
So if there are three words I can use to describe traveling experience with KOSTUBA, they would be Luxury, Unique, and Authentic.

Complementing that core differentiator, KOSTUBA operates our own ground team of guides and drivers. Our travel planners, who are assigned to work at the agent’s time-zone, are equipped with deep knowledge thanks to very extensive canvassing trips. We also work with top properties and boutique resorts in our every destination. And finally, we provide pricing breakdowns to provide transparency between us with our buyers and buyers with the clients. We believe this ultimately assists our buyers in handling their enquiries.

Are there some recent gems that opened their doors in your market and that reflect the type and style of accommodation that Kostuba Travel stands for?

A new opening during a pandemic is certainly rare, but if I can mention one name, it would be Raffles Bali.

Located in Jimbaran, stepping into Raffles feels like entering an oasis. Everybody is extremely nice and attentive. The resort is also impressive, elevating the cultural heritage of Indonesia while still being opulent and luxurious. The rooms are spectacular, amazing view of Jimbaran Bay with beautiful furnish and ample living space.

The food! Oh, the food! These guys do great meals that are almost entirely sourced domestically. They even do a great selection of European cheese made entirely in Indonesia, some of them even still surprise me even after all my exploration in the country. To top it all off, their beach club, Loloan, is a really beautiful place to enjoy the late afternoon. And, the best part, it is only open for in-house guests. ONLY!

I would really encourage you to check the property, and if you / your guests happen to stay in Jimbaran area, Raffles Bali would be a great option.

What does the name 'Kostuba' mean?

I was wondering if you will ask this. This is a question I get asked all the time during introductions.
It's Sanskrit, and it means “Jewel of The Ocean”. The name embodies our vision, where we want to discover and deliver the best of Indonesia. And Indonesia is more ocean than land as you can probably imagine.
"The excellence spirit, innovation, and evolution were key for the brand"
Ende Village – one of previously under-rated village in Lombok which KOSTUBA promotes
KOSTUBA Ground Team embracing the “new normal” on hygiene and safety protocols 
Highlights at one of KOSTUBA “Moments” – Eat. Pray. Love. Live The Movie
How do you see the Indonesian market develop over the next five to ten years? What about Kostuba Travel?

Indonesia has seen massive infrastructure improvements in the past 6-7 years. For example, the new Java highway, connecting 80% of the island, cut the driving time from Yogykarta to Bromo from 2 days to 7 hours. Tana Toraja now has an airport with daily flights from Makassar, which allows travelers to skip an arduous 14 hours land journey.

To top it off, our Ministry of Tourism also introduced many initiatives; including super-priority destination and luxury-only destination. The intensive development in these areas will hopefully bring many investments and prominent worldwide brands to increase presence in our country.

Creative village is another program I love. This program focuses on villages that have extraordinary views or cultural heritage, but with no existing infrastructure. I believe, in the next 5-10 years, we will definitely see new hotspots in some areas in Indonesia.

As for KOSTUBA, the vision of the company is to discover and deliver the best-curated experience across Indonesia. We’ve never wanted to be a massive DMC with volumes. We are boutique and we want to remain boutique for as long as we exist because being small in size is the key to maintain personalized service and attention to detail.

I don’t see this changing in the next 10 years. Though if I can hope, I would wish that we can open 2 or 3 more destinations in Indonesia. We’re only at 6 destinations today, our country has 16+ thousand islands!

The industry has changed significantly over the years since you started this exciting adventure. Which elements, trend or similar has impacted your business most?

With the pandemic lasting a year already, one immediate element that gets elevated beyond doubt would be concerns of hygiene and safety. We do our best to cater to this, and implemented many measures within our service; to mention a few: deep vehicle sanitization, mandatory PCR test for our guides prior to serving guests, installation of in-car plexiglass protection barrier between front and back seats (on request), and in-resort covid testing facilitation for our guests.

However, the big theme that is mentioned almost all the time is sustainability. We have been embracing this spirit since the beginning of our establishment. For starters, we selected our guides from each regency on the island. Then, there are our “MOMENTS”. At its core, these unique experiences elevate the potential of the local environment and communities. For example, our Jatiluwih cycling program in Bali has a stopping point, a small gazebo belonging to Wayan, a local farmer, where guests would enjoy betutu red rice porridge made by the farmer’s wife.

You know, if I can tell you my endgame with KOSTUBA. I am hoping to establish a foundation that will focus on educating villagers from underprivileged areas, shaping them to be tour guides, or developing micro-business which can be leveraged as attractions for our guests.

There's absolutely no doubt that you have a most hilarious or inspiring anecdote to share that happened on the job. Let us hear it!

How about terrifying? I kid you. Well, it is terrifying when it happened, but funny now that I look back at it.

It was my story in Southeast Celebes. We were on a research trip to Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park, a massive grassland that is home to the endemic maleo bird species. You probably have never heard of this place and for good reason. It is not a tourist place. In fact, it was very not touristy that when I enquired to stay at the national park, the office thought I was from National Geographic!

We took the midnight flight from Jakarta to Makassar, then another domestic flight to Kendari, then a 4 hours road trip to reach the national park. We arrived at around 3 PM in our lodge and drove straight with trail motorbikes to the grassland. You can probably imagine how tired we were already, but the national park was so big and we only had 2 nights to explore it, so there was no time to waste.
We arrived at the maleo nest about an hour later. We didn’t find any maleo bird, only the empty shell of its eggs. It was pretty disappointing, to say the least, but we decided to move on and check the nearby hill to enjoy the sunset.

The mood turned great as we saw much wildlife along the way, we even had a babirusa (deer-pig) giving chase to our motorbikes for a bit! And the sunset was straight out of a movie. Extremely clear sky, green-yellow-red savanna glowing by the late afternoon sun.

Then, disaster came. We drove back to our starting point, but after about an hour or so, we realized that we’ve been going through the same small river many times. It was clear that we were completely lost! It was 8 PM when we gave up and rested for a while. Our gasoline was low and maps were not working.

We survived thanks to the old navigation trick. I was looking at the crescent moon, and I remembered my father telling me that in the early evening, the crescent moon is always visible heading west. We knew we entered the savanna from the east, and so the direction to return has to be west.

We started using phone compass and drive west for a good 2 hours before we eventually escaped, emerging back to an asphalt road. Granted, we were very far from our starting point, but you can probably imagine how happy we were when we managed to exit the savanna.

We periodically do this sort of research/canvassing trips to map new destinations and trips. We went through all these hassles as part of our curation process. We have very many stories, but this one definitely takes the cream.
Jatiluwih, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where KOSTUBA tailors a special panoramic cycling trip
Late afternoon at Rawa Aopa Watumohai National Park
If there are three words I can use to describe traveling experience with KOSTUBA, they would be Luxury, Unique, and Authentic.” – Christian Leonardo
Yvan Vermeesch
A Belgian by birth, Yvan Vermeesch grew up across Africa before heading to the Caribbean followed by the stunning city of Prague before calling the Mediterranean island of Mallorca home. Always looking to innovate across the board and with a clear penchant for everything experiential in travel, Yvan Vermeesch takes great pride in connecting the finest players in bespoke travel around the globe.