Scandinavia may be weathering our economic winter with its customary hardiness but its HNWs aren’t yet quite used to the privilege and exacting standards their wealth can bring
by Josh Spero
Scandinavia may be weathering our economic winter with its customary hardiness – Norway, with its oil and shipping, has never been richer – but its HNWs aren’t yet quite used to the privilege and exacting standards their wealth can bring. Take travel, for example. Leija Graf, founder of Select Collection, the first Nordic luxury travel agency now celebrating its twentieth anniversary, says that while ‘travellers here in the UK are more advanced,’ wanting better and more detailed service, ‘in Scandinavia they’re still learning’ to be demanding.
These local high standards explain the Select Collection store on South Audley Street – Graf says ‘face-to-face’ contact is key for the Brits wanting to book their holiday to Chile, Oman or New Zealand. The space avoids Swedish modern (read: IKEA) for a blanched minimalism, colour accents coming from the jars of sand from Select Collection resorts: black flecked with grey from Bali, pale white from Thailand, rough biscuit from Spain. There are also objets for sale picked up from Graf’s travels (although no tan).
Graf, who says that people thought she was crazy for starting a luxury business in a deep recession, realised that a recession is exactly when luxury goods – first-class flights, five-star suites – can be obtained more cheaply. Well, apart from our current recession, of course: the top hotels are oversubscribed at peak times and few places want to lower their prestige by lowering their prices.
It is not recessions, however, which have been the biggest challenges for her business. ‘The worst one was 9/11. For three months the phone didn’t ring — and if it did, it was a cancellation. In a recession you can predict some things but this was the fact that everyone was scared to go on planes.’ The Boxing Day Tsunami was terrifying for her because she had 800 people in or en route to Thailand. Graf did her best to re-route them, so one ended up on safari in Kenya within days — having only prepared for a beach holiday.
So what is her top tip for luxury travellers? Use an experienced travel agency, of course! Booking your own holiday in the internet has the potential to go wrong in so many ways, she says. Who in their right minds would go to Bali at Christmas, when it’s hot and rainy and sticky? Without experts, it seems, we are doomed to disappointing holidays.
62 South Audley Street, W1