Ever wondered what it would be like to travel internationally or host events at luxury riads, palaces and hotels as part of your job? Want tips on maintaining your health, creativity and time for relaxation and what you enjoy while juggling tasks and splitting time between two countries? Curious to get top business tips from a woman who's been running a successful international company for years?
I interviewed Irish-born Rosena Charmoy, Founder of Boutique Souk recently to find out more. She founded the company 10 years ago and it's now the go-to luxury travel concierge agency for travel, events and weddings in Marrakech and Morocco.
MM: What’s the story, passion and motivation that lead to you founding Boutique Souk and living half of the year in Marrakech?
RC: It was a love story with Marrakech itself. In 1999, I’d been doing corporate business and fell in love with the place. I kept coming back regularly getting to know and meet people.
People kept asking, “Can you give me advice about where to travel in Morocco?” At the time, the place wasn’t really documented for a British audience. As this request for travel guidance became more frequent, I thought, “there must be a business in this”.
As I had been working on big plc’s and knew that there would not be that kind of job for me in Marrakech, I thought I would give my own travel business a go. I planned to give it a year and if it didn’t work out I would go back to my day job. Thankfully it did and I have stayed in Marrakech.
MM: It seems like there was a demand for you to create the business more than the desire to set up a Travel Agency. Would you have set up this type of business and lived partly in Marrakech, if you’d not been asked for travel advice from friends?
RC: I’m not a believer in luck. I’d done an MBA and could identify an opportunity in the market. Marrakech is a resort rather than a city in terms of how it operates; more like an outpost really. It’s definitely a tourism-led city.
In the beginning, I could identify what skills I didn’t have and did have, and where that fitted with the business opportunity. As a person, I’ve always been an organiser and explorer. I’ve always been the one to give the tips, to organise. I had that personality trait already. Boutique Souk is an extension of my personality from the insider track.
MM: What’s your concept of “work-life-balance” now since living and doing business in a culture like Morocco, yet your clients are global?
RC: There are few boundaries. The partners, people and clients I work with melded together; we are friends and we socialise together. That’s a reflection we enjoy what we do and who we work with.
It also reflects doing something you're passionate about that doesn’t feel like you’re punching a card or trying to climb a ladder to get there. Lots of people do that, especially when younger, and I can understand why, but here, I’m doing something that is an extension of what I enjoy myself.
Admittedly, there are long hours, not a lot of private time (I run a 24-hour business, 20-30 weekends a year), and it can be a challenge to find time to travel. But we know that travel is one of the most important things to keep us connected in our business, and personally.
MM: What do you feel this location offers your clients that they can’t get elsewhere?
RC: From Marrakech, it is easy to travel to Europe and beyond. It has the most exotic change of pace and culture in such a short pace of time.
The creativity of Marrakech appeals to everyone, especially creative women. If you’ve an interest in textiles, fashion, scent, food, spa rituals and hammam rituals, it’s nourishing. Every woman makes time for a hammam experience here. It’s time to be intimate together – a private time among women and girls, equal to our “girls night out".
MM: What’s it like being a woman starting up and doing business in Morocco?
RC: I’m asked this a lot. People don’t always realise, that the Mayor is a lady.
Fatima Zahra Mansouri has the power of the city and is a real role model for women in Morocco who don’t feel held back. There are women entrepreneurs and young women who have established their businesses in creativity and fashion here and they’re thriving.
MM: What helps them thrive there that they wouldn’t have access to anywhere else?
RC: Great partners and great people to work with, particularly if your business is around food, health, textiles, fashion, design. People are artisans here and are open. Morocco has been a trading city for centuries. It’s always been an open city because of the souks and markets, and it’s an open city to do business. It’s a trading city in the end which is part of the energy of it.
MM: Our retreat has the theme Relax, Reconnect and Reawaken Your Wild. What do you do to fit in time to relax and reconnect in your week?
RC: I make time to relax by getting out into nature. One of my interns we’re developing right now, is Australian, and as a culture, they love to get out of town and into nature. It really is easy to do in Marrakech.
You’re near the coast, Atlas mountains, the desert. It’s beautiful. It’s part of our job to travel around Morocco, but it’s also one of the best bits.So many disconnected places close to Marrakech and that’s one of the best ways to re-energise and reconnect, by forcing a digital detox.
MM: What keeps your creativity flowing when you’re juggling many business tasks?
RC: Travel in Morocco. When all gets on top of you, sometimes it can be quite tiring not being in your own comfort zone and environment, but travel here reminds me of why I do this job. This is an amazing country and why I want to share my insight of the country with people. It energises me.
International travel keeps me creative too. I want to research and explore events, musical acts, floral decoration, bars and restaurants, hotels, aesthetics. I want to spend more time doing that because it inspires me, and inspires the business too.
MM: What do you wish your younger self, or all women who have a dream to create their own business and travel with it, knew?
RC: We support a lot of young interns as they come through Morocco, who now work for us as Consultants, as they can use the skills they’ve learnt with us to develop their own business. What I tell them is:
Have enough savings and don’t compromise too much at first. Don’t let cash-flow concerns stop your dreams.
If you are going to be a sole trader and small business, don’t expose yourself to not being paid. Corporate people leaving employed jobs don’t often realise this challenge comes up when you start out. Stick to your payment terms and don’t compromise with that. We’ve had good local partners who were strict with that so it was good training.
Develop good local contacts and partnerships. Spend time with people. Find out who does what. Ask for referrals.
- Be generous with your suppliers, contacts and partnerships. Give them energy. Be careful as you need a lot from them but if you want everything from them, it’s not a 1-way street. Be sensitive to that. Have generosity and trust. Guests come and go through our business, but the suppliers stay. Without support from them the business wouldn’t happen. When I started I imagined I’d be in the UK and Morocco 50-50, but I’m actually spending more time here because my relationships with suppliers was more important.
Get under the skin of your clients and what they’re looking for. We run a bespoke business and every event or travel is a personalised experience which sets us apart.
Listen to people. Give them what they want not just what’s on the market.
MM: What marketing has worked the best for you over the years, to get your business in front of the people you want to work with?
RC: Word of mouth works best. We work with a lot of contacts. Let people experience your products. Get it into their hands. We host press trips and press relations and meet up with guests to give that personal contact. A lot of business comes from referral. For a high investment, personal investment and financial investment items, people want to have a personal referral before they invest that amount. It’s an element to foster. I encourage prospective clients to talk to previous clients if they haven’t already.
MM: Has your version or shape of your Wild Woman changed by living in Morocco, if so, how?
RC: Living internationally and travelling away, I find what’s good about Africa is you do drop out of the materialism of living in Europe. You get out of that cycle, where peers are buying houses, cars, brand-name bags, shoes and all of that. Yes, this is a trading shopping culture too, but it’s different, it’s individual here. I’ve embraced that since I came here and am not as affected by it as if I stayed in Europe.
If you’re going to set up business with a travel element, or you’re travelling, don’t expect to have the same lifestyle or experience as you had before, at home. Be open. You’ll experience richness in so many other ways.
Interview by Marie Milligan, Founder of Wild Women Do
EXCLUSIVE: Boutique Souk are offering an exclusive travel deal for guests of our Relax, Reconnect & Reawaken Your Wild Retreat in Marrakech.
Book 3 nights through them, receive a half-day private guide and personal shopper. Special rates available with their lead partner El Fenn if you want to extend your travel after the retreat.
Copyright: Please share quotes you love with a credit to Rosena Charmoy and share a link to this post too. Thank you.