Residence of the Ambassador of Portugal
No. 8 Sanlitun, Dong Wu Jie Beijing
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Sarah Keenlyside is the founder of the specialist travel agency Bespoke Travel, a thriving China-based business. But it’s a long way from her initial days in China. Arriving from the UK in 2005 on something of a whim, Keenlyside did everything to fit in to a sprawling, busy and sometimes bewildering city. Although pre-Olympics Beijing wasn’t always the easiest place to live, it was cheap, accessible and mostly easy-going. It also had an infectious atmosphere of growth and optimism. It was because of this that starting up her own business in China – the Bespoke Travel Company – didn’t seem too big a risk. It was cheap, and easy to find affordable space and assistants. For Keenlyside, it offered the opportunities that her home country lacked. But as an established entrepreneur, she’s also aware of the downsides of doing business in China - there is no business safety net and heavy-duty bureaucracy can sometimes hinder Bespoke’s team from doing their best job.
Over the years, as Sarah’s business has grown, so has China. She believes that its people are ever more impressive, its system more developed, and it continues to be fascinating. In the early days, Sarah was able to bring outsider benefits and experience to the nascent Chinese travel industry, and many companies and local partners benefited from her knowledge. Equally, she feels that Bespoke helps foreigners to engage with the amazing country in which we live, and is continuing to improve the image of travel in China. Join us to hear Keenlyside describe the ups and downs of building a business in China, and how her personal growth and company’s growth are mirrored in the growth of China itself.
Sarah Keenlyside began her professional career as a journalist in London before moving to China in 2005 to help set up Time Out. In early 2009, she had the idea to set up Bespoke Travel Company.
Initially a one-woman outfit, the business has grown to employ dozens of tour guides, experts, drivers and in-house tour planners. Nominated in the Greatest Innovation/Disruption category of the Travel+Leisure magazine-sponsored LE Miami awards in 2014, the company is widely recognized for its modern take on traditional touring and continues to create custom experiences for those looking for something more flexible, more tailored and more contemporary.
Bespoke’s clients include everyone from Matt Damon and Metallica, to corporates such as Apple, HP, LVMH and Warner Bros.
Passionate about entrepreneurship, women in the workplace and mental health issues, Sarah Keenlyside has given talks on all of these topics to a wide variety of groups. She was recently nominated for the Inspiring Woman Award by the British Chamber for their British Business Awards.
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