Founder & Owner of Special Personal Sojourns (SPS Travel), Shy is specialized in tailor made, privately guided trips all around the world’s continents, creating bounds between unique experiences and eager clients. Last summer, we had the pleasure to have her with us joining The Wine Tour, a unique journey to discover our Italian wineries estates from north to south.
When you travel for business, your eyes are opened to detect new ideas for your clients and continuously absorbing information not only for your personal pleasure, but also to apply it in the professional world. How did you start with your job?
This work fell on my lap, completely unexpectedly.
I was living and working in China with a conventional marketing job in a big company. Then, in 2002, I got married and moved to Hong Kong; I wanted to keep working in the marketing industry and kept searching and searching for a job, but due to SARS, the market was pretty bad back then. At the same time, I was arranging my honeymoon to Africa in contact with a bespoke travel company. The trip was life changing to say the least, that when I came back my enthusiasm pushed me to organize slideshows at my place and meetings with my friends to show them our journey, especially because almost nobody from my circle was a fan of Africa back then.
Luckily the travel company appreciated all my efforts and energy, eventually offering me a job as an Ambassador and Partner which was a turning point.
I worked with them for 12 years, we became the first bespoke travel company in Hong Kong specialized in Africa and eventually adding Latin America and Antarctica.
What made you want to found your own company?
I left because I felt the need to find my own voice.
In 2016 I founded SPS Travel and I expanded to my offerings to destinations worldwide. It was difficult at first but it was the best decision - otherwise I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now! I am managing all the business on my own, even though I am very busy, I feel utterly fulfilled.
What the special ingredient in your job that gives you the purpose?
It is very simple: make my clients satisfied, indeed one of my hashtags is #happyclientshappyme.
If they are happy and satisfied, they come back. What I care about the most is keeping a relationship with them, to give them somebody to rely on while travelling. I don’t always lead or bring my clients on their journeys, this is why I have to rely on a dependable team of local people on the ground.
What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
The most difficult thing to predict or control is their reaction. When you design an itinerary, you can plan everything down to the last detail. But life can be unpredictable. I am aware of this, so I always manage my clients’ expectations and make them conscious about possible situations should they arise.
The market changed a lot and especially over the last decade, people organize more and more their travel by themselves. How this affects you and how you manage to keep you client coming?
The tourism industry is always evolving, and if you want to be successful you need to be flexible, learn fast, and be able to adapt quickly to the changes.
I read many things about how the travel industry is going to evolve; I recently found a very interesting article about blockchain, one of the newest technologies in the market, on how most every industry have sought to incorporate this service in some way, replacing the “middleman”.
These changes can affect me, but majority of these people who almost always rely on technology are not my target. I try to focus on the genuine personal and caring relationships, the authenticity of what I offer by tailoring truly enriching experiences and meeting or exceeding expectations.
This is how I can avoid becoming obsolete.
Usually, you are the one taking care of the planning, but this time you travelled with us and you were being guided to experience everything from the other perspective. How was it?
Experiencing Italy with Certa was amazing.
In a short time we were able to see many different realities and having locals guiding us through the journey in a very authentic way. I left with an open mind and heart, with absolutely no expectations so I could absorb all the positive energy to give it back.
Which are the things that impressed you the most?
It is just wonderful how every region in Italy is so different from one to another, each like a "micro continent". Every place has given me something special that I will always carry with me.
Sardinia is a world of its own, and such a rich folk history.
I was absolutely touched by their hospitality: they just hosted us without being so over the top, in a lovely and comfortable way. I definitely want to visit again, I feel there is so much to be discovered.
Sicily has something for everybody, its diversity is extraordinary and this is reflected on all the Tasca Estates we visited, each one so peculiar and different.
The one which struck me the most is Regaleali, I truly left my heart there.
This unique place at the heart of Sicily has an intangible quality - one cannot tell the difference between the employee and employer, all function as one entity with one mind set - to make all their guests happy.
Salina island is just a gem in the Mediterranean, not too staged or forced where Capofaro, is understated luxury at its finest.
Tascante in Etna - Now this was one an eye-opening experience. I Had no idea how diverse and rich the wine lands of the volcano were... I read you can ski and sail on the same day - November to March - mind blowing!
Sallier de la Tour, even if it is super close to Palermo, it is a totally different place, simple and genuine, a marriage of past and present - they make you feel right at home in this little slice of paradise.
Langhe with the landscape and heritage is just so picturesque.
What can I say about this utterly luxe and romantic place? Now I understand why my posh HK friends keep going back, year after year. Vastly different from the South, this place looks more like Switzerland than Italy. Well ordered, wealthy and efficient.
Ceretto hosted us with a very high level service and the whole stay was just so satisfying, topped off with a memorable stop at the three Michelin starred Piazza Duomo.
Castello di Ama
Tuscany, for me, is between Piedmont and Sicily, not only geographically speaking but also conceptually: it is not as posh as Piedmont and shabby-chic like Sicily (with emphasis on the chic).
The winding roads with all these tall cypresses, just like in a fairytale. Perched on a solitary hill you find the tiny adorable hamlet of Castello di Ama: the finest Chianti Classico wines with their impressive modern art collection just set it apart from the other estates.
Like the cherry on the proverbial cake, at the end of this wonderful trip, we indulged in the best biscotti, freshly baked in Prato by Antonio Mattei, hands down the finest in the world! The Pandolfini family is just larger than life and so proud of their heritage - and I was touched to see how this tradition went on over several generations of their family members supporting their unique trade.
pictures credits: @capsule48 / @certa