Emily Olsen, AVP Luxury – Questions and Answers
January 29, 2021
What is your backstory?
My backstory is very much travel based, hence my unwavering love of working in the industry. Norwegian on my father’s side and Canadian on my mother’s, I was born in Jakarta before living in the Philippines. My family moved to West Africa when I was about five and we lived in a remote part of Sierra Leone called Mobimbi. This was a very happy part of my childhood – our very small bungalow was surrounded by dense, loud, sticky jungle and I had the sort of oblivious bravery that only little children seem to possess. I’d see enormous yellow fruit bats hanging from branches, my lunchbox would be invaded almost daily by peculiar looking creatures and I would open my eyes most mornings to see which giant bugs had landed on my mosquito net during the night. It didn’t even faze me that, to scare away the snakes, I would have to clap loudly, sing and stomp my feet on the way to catch the school bus each morning, and my parents love to tell the story of when I picked up a giant rat and ran around with it on a golf course. I’m feeling itchy just thinking about it, and I have no idea how I have now turned into someone who can’t even pick up a daddy long legs. Sadly the civil war in Sierra Leone forced an early return to London, but my early childhood in Asia and West Africa will always feel like huge chunks of my soul and I have no doubt that those experiences bred my determination to have a career in travel. After summers spent in Greece, Bali and Nova Scotia, when I left school, I travelled at every possible opportunity. I studied English and American literature and lived in both Sydney and San Francisco as part of my degree. I always wanted to be a travel writer, but following my four year literature course I fell into PR and worked predominantly in luxury travel (with a brief stint in beauty, restaurant and lifestyle). This was an utterly mind-blowing move for someone who lived off potato smileys and shared a flat in Tooting with several uninvited mice and a few mushrooms growing on the walls. But suddenly I was part of a whole new world – and I rode mustangs in Nevada, took etiquette classes in Tokyo, and hosted very glossy meetings in Cannes. I’ve been with FINN Travel UK for about four years now and I’ve climbed from Senior Account Executive to Associate Vice President – Luxury. I’ve milked a few goats in Gozo, seen the Northern Lights three times in Iceland, watched feeding time at an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo and spent days hopping between vineyards in New South Wales, and between all of that, I’ve had the privilege to work with the talented team at FINN: a group of empowering and inspiring women who all share a commitment to doing the very best they can for this industry.
What brings you joy?
There are very few things that I love more than jumping in the sea. I’ve always been a bit of water baby and there is something about swimming as far out into the water as possible that feels like a total mind and body reset. I was one of the lucky ones that got to travel during 2020, spending ten days in Antigua on a project for the tourism authority. The feeling of being back in the sea was so overwhelming when I first jumped in that I couldn’t tell what was sea water and what were my happy salty tears. I must have looked completely insane – a very pale Londoner smiling and crying in the water. But I think the past year has truly revealed what we actually love about travel – whatever that might be. It could be simply jumping in the ocean, crowded bars loud with languages you don’t understand, staring out the window on a road trip, or maybe those plastic menus with faded pictures of food. Travel is a real privilege, which most of us probably haven’t realised until now, and it’s taken a global industry shake up to reveal the little things, we would have never noticed before, that really and truly bring us the purest type of joy.
What does your new role involve?
I’m Associate Vice President – Luxury. I don’t think my 18 year old self would believe I’d ever have a job title like that – particularly as my accommodation of choice at that age started and stopped at questionable hostels. FINN has an astounding portfolio of destinations and properties, and my job is to carve out new and exciting ways to showcase the agency’s luxury elements. I have always naturally devoured content from luxury magazines, content creators and writers, and so part of my role is keeping my finger on the pulse of what’s next for luxury travel. A major trait for us Libras is the love of being surrounded by beauty – and luxury travel has and always will be unapologetically beautiful. And on that note, I’m also the lead on FINN Travel’s Instagram, a must follow if you want daily doses of very beautiful travel inspiration.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
I never thought I would say this – but I couldn’t more excited about working in an office again. The audacity of wearing elasticated waist bands for the past 11 months is officially old and tiresome and I long for high heels, a cup of coffee in one hand and the Metro tucked under my arm. I miss crowded tubes, being bored of the vegetarian options at Pret, going for after work drinks and being annoyed at the lack of free tables. But mostly, I miss those moments where you pop out for a meeting and you look around and suddenly remember that you work in one of the most exciting cities in the entire world.
What trends should we keep an eye on?
The past year has really shown which brands have kindness and love at the very core of what they do. The informalities of working from home, following rules for the health and wellbeing of complete strangers, and the genuine care and support that brands and businesses have shown for their local communities and front line workers has broken down so many barriers across a host of industries, not just travel. Immaculate service will always be a huge element of luxury travel, but I think what we are seeing now is a generous dose of compassion and personality within the luxury sector. Whether community focused or prioritising sustainability and eco-conscious travel, I think travellers are going to learn so much more about the personalities, the teams and the genuine passions, behind the world’s most impeccable brands. This week, for example, I learnt about a GM at one of the UK’s most stunning five star hotels who is also the property’s on site bee keeper. A passion for luxury and a lifelong goal of saving the bees, what’s not to love about that?