It's fair to say that Melissa Matthews has had an eclectic travel career. Her role has taken her to the rugged coastline of British Columbia, the ranches and plains of western USA, myriad beautiful islands of the Maldives and, in particular, the fascinating nations that comprise Southeast Asia. She is blessed with a strong sense of fun and adventure and is a founding member of the Red Savannah team.
How long have you worked in travel?
28 years. I've always had a passion for travel which started at the age of 17 when I spent a year working my way around the USA and then going on to the obligatory chalet girl season in Meribel. However, it became my life when I stumbled into a role as Personal Assistant to a Director of a well-known tour operator in London and then discovered my love of sales which involves talking to lovely clients all day about our shared passion.
What do you never travel without?
My Krama – the traditional scarf worn in Cambodia. It was given to me by my lovely guide, Polrith, back in 2015 and it now goes everywhere with me. It packs into nothing and can be used as a towel, beach blanket and for covering up when entering a religious building.
What would you wish you had with you if you were stranded on a desert island for six months and why? You can choose a luxury and something practical.
I couldn’t be without music so I'd take my Walkman (my kids say I'm so old fashioned!) and a good supply of batteries. Music transports you to places once visited and brings back happy memories, so you never feel alone. Can I also take a case or two of Champagne?
If you could travel with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
It would need to be somebody with a brilliant sense of humour, great storyteller and also somebody who would enjoy a few cocktails at happy hour. I think it would have to be Keith Floyd, if he were alive today. We could conjure up a few delicious jungle meals with flambéed insects in Cambodia! If I can't choose a dead person, then it would be Stephen Fry as there would never be a dull moment and I would come back feeling very knowledgeable.
What is your most memorable travel moment?
Attending a funeral of a member of the Toraja tribe in Sulawesi. The moment they slaughtered the buffalo right in front of me was something I'll never forget. I just hope that the buffalo's spirit did its job and took the soul to Nirvana. I have to say, though, the buffalo stew was out of this world!
What was your worst travel disaster?
Not realising that you shouldn't put your flippers on until you get to the water's edge during my first inspection trip in The Maldives when I was very green behind the ears. I walked from the door of my villa, down the beach to the lagoon looking like a member of Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks! Lots of laughter could be heard from the balcony of the beach restaurant. I've never been so embarrassed, nor so determined to get to the water!
What's your secret hidden gem (such as a little bookshop, restaurant, café, little-known museum/gallery, artisan shop)?
Tha Om in Hue, Vietnam. It's a tiny restaurant hidden in a labyrinth of back streets and you'd never find it unless you knew it was there. It is an ancient, traditional house which has been passed down through four generations of one family and Mr Vinh and his wife welcome just a few diners each lunch time and evening; he proudly shows you around their home while she conjures up magical Vietnamese dishes in her kitchen. The food is out of this world and they write the menu on a fan which you can take home with you. Just lovely.
What's the most unusual client request you've received and were you able to fulfil it?
I'm not sure I can say as it was quite kinky! However, another that springs to mind was when I was asked to come up with a unique way to present a piece of jewellery to my client's wife while they were on holiday in Dubai. I arranged for their guide to buy a Cartier bracelet on their behalf and give it to the Manager of the Nathan Outlaw restaurant in the Burj Al Arab where they were due to dine that evening. The plan was that we would create a distraction while the restaurant manager placed the jewellery box and some flowers on the table in front of her. What better distraction than a diver swimming up to the glass in the Aquarium beside their table with a message from Red Savannah! It worked a treat.
Have you won any awards or been recognised for a specific achievement?
Yes, I've been recognised as one of Condé Nast's Travel Specialists for my expertise in Indonesia, consecutively since 2016.
If you hadn't worked in travel what would you have liked to have done?
Party planning without a doubt. I still love organising and hosting parties and often wonder what life could have been like if I'd gone down this route.
If you could retire to anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
India. A very colourful place to spend our winter months where the cost of living is low and medical practices are excellent and affordable. I could easily picture my husband and I enjoying gin & tonics on our roof terrace each evening listening to the distant craziness. I'd need to work on my core though if I';m going to be in a Sari! Then for the summer months we'd have a home in Cornwall which is where my heart is.
Favourite book(s) and why?
Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. I read it on my honeymoon and have never forgotten it. It is so beautifully written that I could envisage the smells of the island of Cephalonia and have always wanted to go there as a result. The book is a wonderful mix of tragedy and humour and I couldn't put it down.