Helping people find the luxury health and fitness retreats in the world

Dervla Louli Musgrave, founder of Compare Retreats

Dervla is on a mission to inspire and motivate people to travel in a way that improves their physical and mental wellbeing. Starting her career in a venture capital firm followed by start-up incubator Rocket Internet, she made a career jump into publishing where she worked her way up to from intern to editor at The Antithesis in Hong Kong where she worked on magazines for Peninsula, Swire and Intercontinental Hotels.

She then moved to Sassy Media Group as managing editor before being appointed digital editor at Hong Kong Tatler and director of integrated content at Edipresse Media Asia. She also contributed on a freelance basis to the fashion and wellness sections of South China Morning Post.

Founded in 2017 and based in Hong Kong, is the world’s first booking portal and community for Luxury wellness retreats and healthy holidays that have been tried and tested by qualified health and fitness professionals. It is a trusted platform where you can discover and book top-quality retreats around the globe.

The USP lies in the carefully curated selection that promises something for everyone, whether its detox, losing weight, getting fit fast, de-stress, reconnect or just chill out.

As the founder of Compare Retreats, the premier booking portal and online magazine dedicated to the best luxury wellness and fitness retreats in the world, Dervla also finds time to work on her passion – digital media solutions and content-marketing consulting for companies and brands to help them with their online content and platforms.

Here are some more intercepts from her exciting entrepreneurial journey, as shared with Team ABT.

Who is your greatest inspiration & Why?
Ariana Huffington used to be the first name that came to me whenever I was asked this question. The co-founder of the Huffington Post created something out of nothing when she launched the Huffington Post. She had a great idea, a strong team and the ability to execute her vision. Now, my inspiration comes from fellow entrepreneurs in my network. I have a reliable support system in the female start-up community of Hong Kong, and we are always helping each other out.

What led you to setup Compare Retreats? Tell us how did it all start?
Wellness retreats are expensive, so there’s a lot of research involved in booking one. You need expert insights, a friend who has been there before, or an in-depth review to make a decision. I couldn’t find everything I needed to make an informed decision in one place. Either the price wasn’t listed on the website, reviews completely contradicted one another, or programme outlines were vague.

While the general travel publications and forums were covering retreats, the people writing the reviews weren’t industry experts or qualified health and fitness professionals. This prompted me to create an ecosystem of expert reviews, founder interviews, and transparent listings including prices to help people find the best, luxury health and fitness retreats in the world. I had three researchers working on a database of all the wellness retreats in the world and stopped when we got to 15,000.

That’s when my editorial hat came on and I started editing down the list to only include the best ones from the data set. I started a blog called Healthy Holiday Hero and commissioned the top wellness retreat consultants in Asia to write reviews about the top 100 retreats they had already been to. Within six months the blog had become very popular, and that’s when the comparison and booking portal idea came to me, and Compare Retreats was born.

I was in my dream job at Tatler at the time, and I knew I had to make the move to Compare Retreats full time when a KPMG analyst at the Financial Times Luxury Summit told a room full of journalists that wellness and travel were the two fastest-growing markets for 2018.

Tell us more about the business model. Have you raised any funding?
Compare Retreats has been self-funded from day one. The initial investment in talent, tech, content and digital marketing meant that the costs, in the beginning, were quite high. But now it’s running like a well-oiled machine at a very sustainable price. My fixed costs are low and my variable costs are high which means I can allocate resources to different areas as I need to each month.

Not taking investors on too early was a critical element of Compare Retreat’s success as I was able to pivot fast when necessary and give the company time to grow organically. We’ve recently had interest from large English and Chinese booking engines, boutique travel agencies and travel publications looking to buy or invest in Compare Retreats. It’s an exciting time to be in the wellness, travel and tech space, especially because our business is in English and Chinese and based in Asia.

Do you recall your most cherished milestone?
The website had been live for 72 hours, and I received a desperate email from a client saying that they were depressed, unhappy and burnt out and that they urgently needed to go away on a retreat. They told us that they were so confused about what retreat to go on until they came across the highly curated collection on the Compare Retreats booking portal.

There are over 23,000 retreats in the world right now, and we only work with the top 100, our edit is everything, and it helps consumers make intelligent choices easily. Being able to help people navigate the confusing world of wellness retreats is hugely rewarding.

Do you face challenges as a Woman Entrepreneur? Tell us more.
Not at all, in fact being a female entrepreneur has opened up so many doors for me. My best friends, favourite bosses and important mentors in my life have coincidentally always been female, and I’m lucky that I have a close network and community of female friends who believe in raising each other up.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia, in a country where women have very few rights, but I have never felt weaker or at a disadvantage because of my sex. My parents brought me up to believe that I could do whatever I put my mind to and I have been lucky enough to work with men who never treated me different because I was female.

If you were to do any one thing differently, what would that be?
I don’t think Compare Retreats would be the success it is today if I hadn’t made the mistakes I made in the beginning. I had an excellent team working with me from day, so we were always able to fix any errors quickly by putting our heads together. Obstacles are opportunities in disguise.

What would you like to achieve in the coming years?
As wellness travel continues to become more popular and people realise that health is wealth we will be here to help people compare, book and educate themselves about the best wellness retreats in the world. Our numbers have grown organically month on month, and our forecast for the future is looking great.