Meet the Boss: Ash Sofat, Somak Holidays


Each week at 101 Holidays we meet one of the people behind the UK’s finest travel companies. This week we turn the spotlight on Ash Sofat, chief executive of Somak Holidays, the independent long-haul specialist.

Ash joined his father at Somak in 1989 and founded the holidays division. Today he has overall responsibility for every aspect of the business. He manages a team of 40 at the company’s HQ in Middlesex, and local offices worldwide. Ash lives in Northwood, Middlesex, with his wife Rohini and 16-year-old son Arjun.

· Where are you planning to go on holiday this year, and why?

I’ve just bought a Nikon D300S and will be going to Kenya to try it out on the endemic wildlife. I’ve spent so many holidays in Africa searching for game, and I never get bored of waiting for the occasional sighting of a leopard lazing in a tree, or a pride of lions prowling or scanning the horizon. I will stay once again at Ashnil properties in Samburu National Reserve, and Tsavo East National Park. Both are in prime positions to see game, even from the lodges themselves.

· What is your favourite bolthole in the UK, and why?

I take my wife to The Chequers Inn in Buckinghamshire. It was built in the 17th Century as a coaching inn, in one of the prettiest areas of England, in my opinion. It’s a family-run business and we enjoy really good food there. I particularly recommend their almond plum crumble and vanilla cheesecake! There’s a magnificent oak tree in the garden and sometimes we go for a summer barbecue, weather permitting.

· If you could spend a long weekend in any city abroad, which would you pick, and why?

I would choose Cape Town because although it’s long haul, there’s no jet lag to deal with. As long as we avoid July and August, the weather is sunny and warm. I like to try the new hotels there, such as the One&Only, and am looking forward to the new Taj opening this year. My wife enjoys the shopping, the winelands are not too far away, and the choice of evening entertainment and food is immense.

· Please tell us three items that are always found in your luggage.

A biography of a big character such as Barack Obama, or a business guru; my iPod loaded with all sorts of music; and a penknife, packed safely away in my suitcase.

· What one thing would most improve people’s overall holiday experience?

It’s all about the people that deliver the service you receive. Kenyans are just wonderful, spirited people who have a genuine interest in visitors. Elsewhere, hoteliers really need to invest hugely in training and developing staff to deliver personal service with a smile.

· What has been your worst holiday experience?

When I was a child I travelled with my younger brother Anil and our mother. Our flight was rerouted via Rome because of a problem with the aircraft. We had the most miserable stopover ever in a seedy, grotty Roman hotel. It was a hotel miles from the airport, I got bitten by who-knows-what all night, and we were not given any breakfast. No wonder I’ve always been a fan of luxury long haul travel.

· Tell us your favourite hotel: in the UK; in mainland Europe; in the rest of the world.

I like Blakes by Anouska Hempel, in South Kensington. It was one of the first boutique-style hotels and it exudes character and charm. It’s a little piece of home in the heart of London. In Europe, I really appreciated the hotel we stayed in for the ABTA convention in Marbella – the Puento Romano. Good attention to detail and good service.

My favourite hotel is Hemingways in Watamu, on the Kenyan Coast. I’ve even spent Christmas and New Year there with my family. It’s quite different to any other hotel. The surroundings are so picturesque with most of the action on the water, either snorkelling or diving or fishing. The food is amazing, but above all the service is personal. We’ve been friends with the owner for years.

· What is the most exciting project your company is working on right now?

We are about to launch a new brochure featuring weddings overseas. It’s a long time since I got married, but if I were to renew my vows I’d do it in Kenya. Eighteen staff, me included, have been out on the road seeing agents, and we intend to repeat that process in the autumn. It’s crucial to understand how we need to work with agents to make progress. Once again we’ll hold our very special Kenya evening in November.

· Thank you, Ash.

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