Interview with Sophie Mensdorff-Pouilly
So Me Travel Club
offers discerning and exclusive travel experiences that cover the three Cs: Culture, Castles and Classical Music. They open doors that are otherwise closed, offering authentic glimpses into European history and culture. Their motto, “by invitation only,” refers to places normally closed to the public. During their trip, their members will be welcomed exclusively as honored guests, privy to the experience of living in a castle, private viewings of family art collections in palaces, and going behind-the-scenes in world renown concerts.
Hi Sophie! Could you please introduce So Me Travel and what led to your founding the company back in 2015? What was the first official trip of the company?
So I had just moved to Shanghai and being Austrian and coming from a tourism background I was really surprised to see what a good image Austria has among Chinese, Every taxi driver knows Audi Li, knows that it's famous for classical music.
Many have seen the film The Sound of Music and the Sissi film. So I noticed anything a tourism product related to classical music and imperial history would work really well and my then Chinese business partner said but we have to have something else, something that nobody can have. And that's why I decided to use my network to open up private castles, private villas and do private invitations so that our guests feel like guests rather than tourists.
And then I was lucky to be approached in Hong Kong by an art club who was trying to get tickets for the Salzburg festival and they couldn't manage. And since I come from there, had worked there before I said that's something I can really do. And then I pitched to them why don't they do a whole trip for your members really exclusive for your club and it will include private invitations and also go to the best of Salzburg festival.
How did you grow the networks and partnerships necessary to make a tourism company like So Me Travel a success?
With a little bit of luck that I met my first client, so was this lady who was the chairman of the club.
The first group became really successful and then from there it was all word of mouth and these arts clubs and museum societies are a great niche they need to offer they're very discerning very educated and very well traveled members unique products and experiences that money can't buy, and this is where I deliver exactly what they want.
Who is the company's biggest client base - are they predominantly classical music fans, or simply those who want a more ornate and authentic travel experience?
50 percent of my clients are serious classical music fans and 50 percent are journalists because I do a lot of B2B trips for luxury car companies in China where I do their press trips when they launch a new car.
You're based in Hong Kong, but many of your trips take place in central Europe. How do you manage the trips from afar - what challenges does this pose?
Yes, that really was a challenge in the beginning. I did, at beginning all of the trips when I was organizing all myself from Hong Kong. Using very good resource persons from my contacts in Europe and working with very good tour guides, hotels, and transportation companies.
I had to build up this network myself and since a year I have a business partner, a colleague who is based in Vienna, and since then everything runs much more smoothly. He is in the same time zone and he can take care of all the bookings but also research, design and then try new tours and also accompany them, so since then, it feels like a real business.
What's next for your work with So Me Travel? What are the main clienteles, trips, and partnerships you'll be focusing on now that it's 2019?
Yes that's a good keyword: partnership. It's my big goal for 2019 to have more partnerships and more cooperations.
We have already done one with a music NGO in Hong Kong where we will bring a small group of their patrons to the Salzburg festival this year.
We will do more architectural tours. We have a new club we work with. We are celebrating 100 years of Baohaus of the architecture movement in Germany this year.
We will do our first kids fashion show for a Chinese designer in a Viennese palace.
We have designed new Romania tour castles in Romania and I will also try to build up my relationships with partners in China to do more small group trips for Chinese.
So hopefully a lot happening in 2019. We need to grow.
And if anyone has ideas about corporations in terms of exclusive travel by invitation only. Please let me know.