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Setting up a business overseas

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Zoë Watson is a successful international businesswoman whose personal search for freedom led her to set up Bliss Sanctuary for Women – a holistic haven of tranquillity for women in need of an escape from the everyday. Zoe is also an ambassador of The Venus Awards and encourages brilliant businesswomen to take time for themselves to refill their cup and make themselves a priority in order to be even more successful.

Why did you create Bliss Sanctuary for Women?
I started the business after a car accident that led me to become very unwell. I was utterly exhausted and had been ignoring my mental health for far too long. I spent a long time searching for holidays that could help me to rejuvenate but could only find regimented, structured yoga retreats, health retreats and other women’s retreats that expect you to better yourself somehow, but I was looking for freedom. I wanted to experience new cultures, new food, different ways of thinking and caring people. And of course, a pool, peace and space to reconnect. I didn’t want another task list or itinerary. No wellbeing holiday should feel like hard work, and that’s where the idea to create Bliss Sanctuary for Women came from.

On a return flight back from one of these trips I met another woman who had been seeking the same as me but had instead settled for a resort holiday. At this point, I knew I was on to something. I did my research and found nothing but retreats and I just had to do it.

What challenges did you face setting up Bliss Sanctuary for Women?
Where do I start? There were a huge number of stumbling blocks. Starting a business in a foreign country comes with its own challenges: language barriers, exotic wildlife that you never expect to have to deal with, legal issues and immigration, I could go on… When I was setting up eight years ago Indonesia had a different government which was more lenient when it came to starting businesses, but there was still a lot of research involved.

Despite all the logistical problems that I faced setting up the retreat, the main cost was my own blood, sweat and tears. I had to move away from everyone I knew to a brand-new country and culture, feeling the fear and ‘doing it anyway’ as they say!

espite the years it took to work out the teething problems and put everything together I loved the challenge and the thrill of creating something beautiful in a culture very different to my own. In the end, every hard time has laid the foundation for growth and I’ve learnt to view all the challenges as blessings.

As a woman setting up a business in a foreign country, were you presented with any challenges specific to this?
Being a woman opening a business in a different country is a unique experience, so I would advise anyone thinking of doing the same to educate themselves on each business environment and use it to your advantage. Whilst I faced many struggles setting up a business, I often found that being a woman allowed me opportunities and advantages that I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

I found that a lot of the businesspeople I dealt with when setting up were fascinated by me being on my own with no partner and no children. In fact, my translator would often overhear conversations where people mistakenly speculated that I must be very rich as I have no children, but for this reason, they all wanted to work with me!

I also found that many people really loved the business model and the fact that I am helping women and this led to them wanting to be involved. I had a funny experience when building my first sanctuary where I found that many of the builders would come and stand around me for ages once they had finished work. I once asked our general manager, Patma, why this was and she replied, “because they are fascinated by you Miss Zoe!” I didn’t believe her until I asked if they wanted a photo and every single phone came out. It ended up becoming a 15 minute photoshoot!

Why did you choose to make the retreat female only?
Working in a hectic marketing and media job I realised that all too often women give to the others in their lives, whether that be partners, bosses, children, family or friends, without taking the time out for themselves and I wanted to fix that. As someone who did a lot of networking and spent several years on the Asia Pacific Business Council for Women I came across many others who had similar experiences to me, looking for a self-nurturing solo holiday without a regimented programme or itinerary. Bliss is a solo retreat for those that are worn out and looking to put themselves first.

Over the years, we have built up a clientele of women from all different backgrounds, from CEOs of major international organisations, to working mothers, to celebrities.

How have you overcome the pressures and fears that people face when travelling solo?
The number one focus for Bliss is about creating an amazing experience where our guests feel comfortable and secure. We provide all our guests with a personal chauffer service for their entire stay who take them anywhere they want to go. This may seem like a small thing but it’s a huge and vitally important element of what we do. It gives you the freedom to come and go as you please and feel safe travelling around the island. We even give a mobile phone on arrival to each guest so they can easily contact us, their driver and their hostess at any time throughout the duration of their trip.

Often, travelling abroad can feel stressful with unknown, different languages, unchartered territories and travel itineraries. We want visiting Bliss to be a complete relaxation experience, so we do it all for them… I don’t want any of my guests to feel lonely or abandoned and this comes from my personal experience of feeling vulnerable when travelling solo.

You describe your retreat as ‘bliss on your terms’ – why is this?
We don’t try to change our clients or encourage them to go home a ‘better person’. Personally, I dislike all the messages of ‘you’re not good enough’ and the guilt that gets us to purchase new makeup, holidays and services that encourage us to ‘be better’ and change ourselves. I am all about celebrating you and your choices exactly as you are and that’s what I wanted to reflect with Bliss.

Bliss is a long way away from London to travel for a retreat. What makes it worth travelling so far?
I chose Bali as the location for my retreat after I travelled there on a solo holiday. It made so much sense to me. Indonesia is so rich with culture, incredible people, incredible food and beautiful scenery. Choosing Ubud as the location for our newest health retreat in Bali was a very conscious decision.

Bali offers an immersion into a culture completely different from the Western world and is truly an idyllic escape from the hustle and bustle of London. There is a magic in Bali that is hard to explain unless you visit.