Hem Patel, owner and CEO of Bespoke Getaways, explains how moving abroad led to a new business in Southeast Asia.
I never imagined that my decision to pursue a retail career would take me around the world. I still remember when M&S asked me if I would consider working in Canada. I was packed and ready to catch the next flight the same day. In 1989, I lived in Henley-on-Thames with my wife and one-year-old daughter. At that time, having a child meant you couldn’t go anywhere; children were not welcome. In Canada, however, it was a different story. You could go everywhere, pubs and restaurants, cinemas, no place seemed to be out of bounds. At Disney, it was a supreme advantage. We could beat the queues, and Tally my daughter could have two turns!
As it turned out, Canada was just the start. Doors opened to Southeast Asia, first Singapore, then Thailand, followed by Malaysia and later to Vietnam. By this stage, there were five of us. Our three children had become seasoned travellers and benefitted from a wonderful education at one of the many amazing international schools in the region. The school they attended included students of 53 different nationalities, and ‘International Day’ celebrations at the school were like the UN.
From our base in Bangkok, we explored the region as a family. We all adored Bali, were captivated by Luang Prabang in Laos and fascinated by the temples of Angkor Wat. We had remarkable family holidays in Krabi, snorkelling and learning to dive, island hopping, rock climbing, and having fun on the glorious beaches, Oh and the food, especially the food. We received a warm welcome everywhere we went – they all adored the children. Asia became our second home and for the two boys, Bangkok WAS home.
Life wasn’t all about holidays and adventures; I also had a job to do. During this time, I worked for some world-class companies, helping to transform businesses and create sustainable and long term growth, while at the same time developing local talent and leaders of the future. Work also entailed traveling around the region, sourcing from China and India, and looking to Japan and South Korea for ideas and inspiration. It’s a big mistake to think of Asia as one monolithic entity.
Then Covid came, and everything changed. I found myself back in England and pondering my next move. It was obvious. I love new challenges. Take my passion for travel, culture, history, and photography and turn a hobby of organising group holidays into a business. Use my experience and skills of working in the retail and hospitality industries, listening to consumers and creating products, and exceeding expectations. Add the know-how and wisdom of living as an expat family in Asia for 20 years to the mix and create Bespoke Getaways.
Now I help others to explore the charms and beauty of Southeast Asia and its people, creating unforgettable memories just like my own. Many families may be interested in visiting Asia but find it daunting and don’t know how to start. I take all the stress out of the planning by helping them create the trip of a lifetime. I work with them to plan an itinerary specifically tailored for them. I take care of all the accommodation and transportation for their adventure, and I accompany them during their trip to ensure that they grow to love Asia as I have. My unique combination of skills and personal experience helps to differentiate Bespoke Getaways from other tour operators offering trips to Southeast Asia.