Selective Asia is built upon a genuine love for Asia, and the many life-changing experiences I've had in the region. I first set foot there in my teens, and found myself drawn back time and time again during my 20s, firmly of the opinion that my student loan was far better spent on flights & Lonely Planets than, you know, food. After my degree was miraculously awarded, I finally did the honourable thing and - um - made my way back to Asia!
Hair half way down my back, I co-founded the marginally famous Half Moon Parties on Kho Pha Ngan - note not the Full Moon Parties, which had already been going for decades by the time I got there! I lived on a beach for a year, in a wicker hut belonging to a Thai family, Thu and Ni. I helped them build a road to their fledgling business - a project which became necessary after Thu purchased a truck, and it was only when I pointed out that there wasn't a road that we started to build one. It wasn't all beach life however, I explored many far flung corners of Thailand, Indochina & India. Certainly travel in Cambodia little more than a decade since the fall of the Khmer Rouge is a very different experience to that of today.
Along with setting me firmly on the travel path, those travels also launched my passion for Asian food - a topic which, you may have noticed, features strongly throughout Selective Asia's narrative! When I arrived in the region I was something of a junk food addict. By the time I left, I was a Thai food junkie. Of all the world cuisines to get hooked on... it's a hard act to follow, and when I'm not in Thailand I'm always on a kind of quest, yearning for that remarkable balance of flavour.
A number of other countries followed, and my love for intrepid travel blossomed into a what was evidently a vocation. A career in travel became the obvious choice, and I worked first at one of the UK's more innovative independent travel agencies, before founding the first online round-the-world flight ticket specialist.
The growth of something great
I sold the flight start-up and started work on Selective Asia, with a clear vision for helping time-poor professionals and families enjoy meaningful travel experiences... ones that could be achieved with a range of budgets, instead of the purely five star holidays that were typically offered by tour operators at the time. I also wanted my company to be 'client first', and truly honest - to help people seeking legitimate unbiased expertise.
I booked the first Selective Asia trips in my home office* (*spare room), before being joined by Karl and Lionel in my first actual office. Now, decades later, we're enjoying the sea views from our Brighton HQ, along with our wonderful team. It's been quite a journey, at times both difficult and tiring. But it is also truly rewarding work, aided by ever-growing teams of passionate and committed colleagues in the UK, and inspiring and knowledgeable partners and friends throughout Asia. Above all, it's fun - an essential aspect of any business, in my opinion!
The reality of now, and where we are
A lot as happened since March 2020. We've said goodbye to many great colleagues and had to adjust to a period of no travel. We now number 14 and despite the obvious set backs, we've used the time well, taking this unique 'opportunity' to rediscover our selective, redefine our goals and reimagine the way we think travel should be.
The work started with ourselves, now dispersed at our homes instead of the office. We've unpicked all the knots and built ourselves back up as an adaptive organisation, more suited to future challenges than the hierarchal structure of before.
Having removed management and departments (yes, really), we're designing more flexible ways of working that benefit our clients as well as us. This in turn allows for far more autonomy and a greater spread of experience and passion throughout the business.
Once travel does return, we no longer aim to simply deliver unique travel experiences. Over the decades we've spent travelling and working in Asia, we've witnessed dramatic changes. Places we've loved have fallen victim to over-tourism, plastic pollution, habitat destruction, intensive agriculture, and increased air pollution. As a result, we've looked inwards, and improved our understanding of the real environmental and social impact of our holidays.
We now have a strong sustainability mission, and our aim is to deliver travel with a conscious positive impact. To hold ourselves accountable and minimise any negative impact to the local communities we visit, we're looking at every step of the journey, going far beyond just the carbon emissions that most of our clients will contribute to when flying to Asia (once in the country we encourage land-based travel wherever possible). You can find out more about our sustainability mission here.
We take great pride in discovering new experiences and regions within our destinations, working closely with our teams on the ground to stay true to our commitments: stay ahead of the pack, and hot on the heels of the most forward-thinking backpackers. And it must all be done with great sensitivity and consideration.
Like anywhere on the planet, many of our favourite destinations continue to modernise. Other well kept secrets stay serene, and seemingly untouched by the speed of development elsewhere. Our key aim is to move at each destination’s pace. There's no point in labouring around the highlights of yesteryear whilst ignoring the new world growing around them. We advocate introducing you to both; when you visit Hanoi with Selective Asia, you'll get to know a city beyond the Temple of Literature and the silk boutiques of the Old Quarter.
One of my greatest pleasures is receiving inspiring tales from a happy returning client, and working with a team of highly talented individuals. Whilst we'll have to wait a while longer for our clients' tales, and despite being spread across Brighton and beyond, I feel inspired about the path ahead. As a team we've become stronger and more imaginative and it feels great.
And next? Watch this space...
Nick Pulley, Founder