For travel connoisseur Shy Perez Sala, Hong Kong is paradise. It is where she’s built a home with her daughter and husband. The dynamic harbour city is also where she’s learned to fully enjoy leading a multi-faceted life. The Managing Director of curated tours at SPS Travel shares, “Living in such an efficient and walkable city enables me to run several errands… At the end of each day, I am (also) able to spend quality time with my husband and daughter.”
Africa is another destination that’s close to Shy’s heart. In 2003, she and her husband made their way to Botswana and Cape Town for their honeymoon. Soon, she found herself curating unforgettable African Safari tours for countless wanderers and adventure seekers. Her work has not only brought her abundance, experience, and the opportunity to see the world through fresh eyes. Shy intimates, “Thanks to this career, I’ve discovered my life's purpose: Enhancing Lives. I’ve helped countless people visit their dream destinations; and enabled them to open their hearts and minds through life changing-experiences curated by our team.”
This month’s Woman of Pearl reminds us to travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
- What keeps you busy these days?
In Hong Kong, every day is packed with various activities. Life is never dull. Living in such an efficient and walkable city enables me to run several errands a day: communicate with my clients, catch up with friends, focus on my health through regular hikes, tennis lessons, and strength training sessions. At the end of each day, I am able to spend quality time with my husband and daughter. I am grateful that I have a trusted helper who is an extension of me. She enables me to live a multi-faceted life outside of my home.
There are pros and cons to living in a densely packed city like HK– but more pros than cons! It’s easy to maintain a very rich social life. Friends can catch up at any time of the day, even at the very last minute. Road traffic is never an issue thanks to the MTR and the fact that HK is a walking city.
Entertaining at home is also a very popular option, and is a wonderful way to fully enjoy HK’s status as a tax-free wine hub. In this city, everyone gets to bring and share their favorite vintage. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
- How did you come to find your current career or life’s work?
This career was completely unplanned and literally fell on my lap. Back in 2003, only a handful considered Botswana and Cape Town as the honeymoon destination of choice. My husband and I were (and still are) very adventurous, open-minded, and wanted to visit a once-in-a-lifetime destination. We planned our trip with a travel company specializing in African Safaris.
“Once-in-a-lifetime” later became 20 African Safaris in the 12 years after I joined the company. This career helped me realize that in this type of business, you should not just sell. You need to curate and educate.
- What is it about your work or career that you enjoy most?
Thanks to this career, I’ve discovered my life’s purpose: Enhancing Lives. I’ve helped countless people visit their dream destinations; and enabled them to open their hearts and minds through life-changing experiences designed by our team. Even outside of our clientele, we’ve inspired travelers to consider destinations outside of their comfort zones. Today, they are fans of these special places.
- What do you consider to be “hazards of the job?”
The bespoke travel industry relies on several parties of (fallible) human beings — suppliers, operators, and agents. You’re only as strong as the weakest link on the chain. You have to ensure the message is reliably, consistently, and frequently communicated throughout every single one of these chains.
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts as an individual, things can still fall through the cracks. Be prepared to assume full responsibility when this happens. Avoid pointing fingers and shifting the blame. Sincerely apologize for these mistakes; make it up to the client in a meaningful way; and move on.
Moving on is the most crucial step. This is the only way you can turn obstacles into a learning experience.
- For people who aspire for similar careers, what would be your advice?
Always think like a client. Put yourself in their shoes. Always have their back and work with integrity, transparency, and dependability.
Empower your staff to think like you. Make them proud of their work.
Most of all, manage expectations. Don’t just sell. Curate and educate.
Don’t chase the numbers at the expense of your reputation. If you apply all these tried-and-tested principles, the numbers will follow through word of mouth and personal referrals.
Lastly, never be the smartest person in the room. Always aim to be with people way smarter than you so that you learn something new each day. Get out of our comfort zone. Life will be very boring otherwise!
- What are the career milestones that inspire you to break the glass or mold?
After 12 years at my previous travel company, my choice to branch out on my own in 2016 was the best decision I've ever made. It was tough because that meant I had to work even harder and rely on myself instead of a big team. I made several mistakes, stumbled, and fell along the way.
This only taught me how to get back on the saddle–achieved full control, and gained confidence over the way my business was run. I had full control of my working hours. Didn’t worry about overhead. Best of all, I had been freed from unnecessary hand-holding and politics of the usual corporate set up.
For me, if you don’t like the ceiling, you don’t have to break it. Just create your own safe space with no ceilings! There are no limits to your own potential.
- How do you balance work and family life? What are activities that enable you to bond with family?
I work from home so my time is more flexible than the average person’s. For me, it’s less about finding work-life-balance , and more about work-life integration.
I prioritize work emails, Viber and WhatsApp messages first thing in the morning. I return to them in the afternoon and evening. This is so travel suppliers and tour operators from other time zones can efficiently act on concerns. I’m mostly at home in the morning, late afternoons and most evenings. This allows me to attend to the needs of my family.
I bond with my daughter and husband during dinnertime over a home-cooked meal. We make it a point to eat together as much as possible. On the dinner table, digital devices are discouraged. That way everyone is truly present.
My physical and mental health is a top priority. Everyday, I squeeze in time for health between the working hours. I am a firm believer in this saying, “The best investment you can make is an investment in yourself.”
- How do you unwind or rewind? Any favorite spots in your current city that you consider as your me-time haven?
Hiking solo up to the Peak is the best way for me to rewind, refresh, "disconnect to reconnect." I love being outdoors and in nature. One of the great things about Hong Kong is that there are safe and secluded hiking trails literally right outside my doorstep!
- How would you describe your personal style? What are your wardrobe essentials?
My personal style is classic, colorful, and comfortable.
Three of my wardrobe essentials include: striking jewellery, a figure-hugging belt, well-made clutch bags. I pair them with vibrant tops and dresses. I also consider white sneakers as a wardrobe essential.
- What makes for a good investment piece? Kindly cite examples of pieces in your current wardrobe.
A great investment piece renders the most ROI on the “cost-per-wear.” These are the workhorses of my wardrobe. If I don’t repeat them enough then it’s time to “KonMari” them out of the closet.
My favorite investment pieces include a pair of 14k ARAO Liv earrings with blue Mabé pearls, a cross-body leather bags from Frenzlauer, off-shoulder dresses from Farm Rio, Sanibel playsuits from Black Halo, white leather sneakers from Anothersole, silver leather flats from Jimmy Choo, wedge heels from Castañer, and athleisure wear from Lululemon.
- What do pearls mean to you?
Pearls represent how I would like to live my life. They have the ability to create something beautiful in spite of all the challenges, unplanned changes, and setbacks. Pearls are also strong, resilient, and absolutely iridescent.
- What is everyday luxury for you?
Everyday luxury for me is when everything in a place or a moment just works. When all my needs are met — from the very basic to the sublime.