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Meet the Boss: Paul Irvine, Dehouche

Here at 101 Holidays, we like to get to know the people behind the world’s finest travel companies. This week we chat with Paul Irvine, co-founder of Dehouche, which specialises in luxury travel to South America.

Paul set up Dehouche in Rio de Janeiro in 2003 with an old school friend, Henry Madden. “We had been looking into starting a business together in Shanghai and Hong Kong but we took a trip to Brazil and got sidetracked hiring light aircraft and jeeps and found some amazing places, boutique hotels and luxury villas.

“We realised these were exactly the sort of places our friends and family back in the UK would die for. We had one of those Eureka! moments on Ipanema beach at the end of that trip – in retrospect helped on by a strong caipirinha and a fabulous sunset – and decided to chuck in our City jobs and start a bespoke travel company.”

After a year of research, Dehouche was operating trips from Colombia to Argentina. Paul returned to London in 2005, met Iman and persuaded her to leave her job as an investment banker and marry him. Iman is now general manager of Dehouche, running a team of 15 in Rio and Buenos Aires.

* Where did you go on holiday last summer, and why? Any plans for next summer?

“My wife and I tend to combine holidays with research trips which means they are not as relaxing as they might be with the constant notetaking and seeing everything in terms of whether a Dehouche client would enjoy it or not. We also tend to move hotels every night or two and eat starters and main courses in different restaurants.

“Last August we went skiing at Bariloche in Argentina which was great fun, wonderful powder snow and the town has a buzzing après scene too.

“Next trip away will probably be in Colombia. Cartagena is one of the most charming coastal cities in South America and quite possibly the world but I am keen to get a bit more off-track and head deep into the ‘coffee triangle’ which we started operating recently after Tom our Colombia specialist returned from a research trip there full of beans!”

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

“I tend not to go back to places but prefer to discover new ones. My wife and I are often back in the UK for meetings and seeing family and friends and if we have a night spare we hire a car and head into the countryside in search of a good pub with rooms. Next one I am dying to try out is the Hand & Flowers in Marlow where Tom and Beth Kerridge have created something rather special by all accounts.”

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

“Living in Rio, a very laid back city on a beach, I do love a long weekend in Sao Paulo for a bit of hustle and bustle. It’s on a par with Tokyo and New York for sheer wow factor in terms of size, cutting edge design and for fabulous restaurants, clubs and bars. I usually head straight to the rooftop bar of the Hotel Unique where the Sao Paulo skyline never fails to take your breath away.

“Sunday lunch is a long affair with steak and Brazilian wine and there is nowhere better than the Figueira Rubaiyat set in a courtyard under a vast fig tree the branches of which grow through the roof of the restaurant. The owners are so particular about their steak they own their own cattle ranch to ensure quality. There are hundreds of such places in Sao Paulo.”

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

“Earplugs (for a pleasant night’s sleep in the noisiest of environs), Berocca effervescent vitamin tablets (instant health!) and a Blackberry.”

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

“To not have the logistical running of their trip outsourced to third parties – this is where quality tends to slip. At Dehouche, being based here on the ground in our target region with offices in Rio and Buenos Aires we operate our own itineraries and never use a ground agent.

“This not only ensures our high standards are maintained through every facet of a client’s itinerary, it also makes it more cost effective than outsourcing, a saving we pass on to our clients – our competitors in London or New York have to pay a ground agent’s fees which are typically 10-15% of the total trip cost.”

* What has been your worst holiday experience?

“In Greece, island hopping in my early 20’s I rented a scooter and kitted it out like a pack horse with girlfriend of the time and rucksacks and extra bags, etc, which of course made it nearly impossible to ride and when a truck hurtled past us I wobbled off the tarmac and into a ditch!

“Thankfully, said girlfriend escaped unscathed, I cracked a rib and sustained a knee that resembled a plum crumble and by the time I left hospital that evening realized that we were without lodgings on a busy Saturday night and had to sleep outside – in the rain. This made me catch a cold which in turn made me cough and sneeze for the duration of the trip (not ideal with a cracked rib!). Still, it never crossed my mind to throw in the towel and head home – I was on holiday!”

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

“Claridges in London for its traditions, perfect location and Asprey shampoo. Hotel Splendido in Portofino to be a movie star ‘escaping the world’ on the Italian Riviera. Hotel Fasano in Sao Paulo for a level of refined service and attention to detail that’s second to none.”

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

“We’re just finalizing our new office in Buenos Aires which is very exciting as it means anyone in the Rio office can choose to work there for some of the year. Another great excitement at the moment is some consulting work we are doing in Bahia for an international hotel brand set to enter Brazil for the first time. The resort they are planning will redefine luxury in South America.”

* Thank you, Paul. Visit the Dehouche website.

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