Emily Carlsson is the owner and founder of Carlsson Portfolio, a private travel and leisure consulting agency specialising in the most exclusive properties and experiences in the Greek and Southern African travel markets.
Meet Emily Carlsson, the exotic business entrepreneur that offers jewels of opulence through her exclusive Carlsson Portfolio. She traverses Africa and Greece seeking out the most unique travel destinations to create tailor-made experiences for her discerning clientele. As Emily sits on the terrace of a luxu- rious private villa facing Santorini island and gazes out at the Aegean Sea, she discloses with an air of confidence, “I offer only the rarest gems.”
What led you to this unique career?
I guess I could say it’s the path my life took. As a child growing up in a small town in Zimbabwe I always had the dream to travel and discover the world. My pa- rents traveled a lot and their stories and photographs inspired me. I couldn’t wait for my turn. It finally came when I left Zimbabwe to study in the US. I started tra- velling extensively and after I finished university I went on to live in France and Switzerland. When I graduated I spent my first summer in Greece and fell in love with its beauty, culture, crystal clear waters and incredible cui- sine. A few years after my visit to Greece, a friend from university contacted me asking if I could help set up his villa for rental. At that time this was a new and innovative concept in Greece. It seemed like a great opportu- nity so I accepted the management of the property. I discovered how passionate I was about this line of work and how easily it came to me. A few years later I moved onto working for one of the leading rental companies in the world as a manager of the Greek portfolio. In 2009, I ventured out and started my own business. What I do is my passion and it lets me combine my entrepreneurial spirit, studies, love of travel and of people. It also allows me to go home and reunite with my family often which helps keep my life in balance. After 11 years in this field I still love my work!
What sets you apart from the competition?
Well, I like to call myself a pioneer of sorts in the way that I have combined the frontiers of travel in the African and Greek markets. And I do this with insider knowledge be- cause I was born in Zimbabwe and have lived in Greece for over 15 years. This intimate relationship with both destina- tions has helped me find the finest safaris in Zimbabwe and Botswana, exclusive villas on the African islands of Mozam- bique, and private residences and yachts in Greece. Second- ly, I handpick each residence. They must move me person- ally, be distinctive and pass a rigorous evaluation process to be accepted in my portfolio. That is why I call them “gems.” My guests can relax and feel confident as I have taken the time to experience each one. But the most important part is undoubtedly my relationship with guests. I guarantee trust, rapport and a personal touch. This is possible because I have a one-on-one approach with guests that allows me to understand them and meet their needs. One of the key requirements at this level is discreetness and privacy, so the only modern marketing technique I employ is my website that I fill with vivid photographs. Mainly I operate through personal recommendations, and clients will only talk to me throughout the booking process. I am able to accomplish this by focusing on quality over quantity. Taking the extra time really makes a difference in the long-run. My 24-hour attention is required and I gladly provide it.
Who was your biggest influence?
My family. My parents raised me in a multicultural environ- ment and taught me to work hard, to have integrity, and to never give up. They made me strong and adaptable. My grandfather has also been a big influence. He was a great entrepreneur in Zimbabwe and started successful busi- nesses in gold mining, farming and transportation. He motivated me to take risks and be innovative. And last, my grandmother influences my outlook in life. She started life riding a cow-pulled cart and is now traveling around the world in first class. She is always positive, determined to live life to the fullest and she never forgets to do things for others. Charity work is a big part of her everyday life.
Tell me about your most vivid travel experience.
Oh, I still get butterflies thinking of this story. I was on a site inspection in Zimbabwe, examining luxury tents that we now use as a base for safaris. They are really exquisite with plunge pools and comfortable furnishings, but be- cause your walls are canvass and roll up, they provide a very authentic, up close and personal experience of the bush. Well, the owner informed me when I arrived that they had an orphaned cheetah and that they would arrange for me to see him at some point. After a few days it slipped my mind. Then late one afternoon I was sitting on the main deck watching the spray of the ‘Mosi oa Tunya’ [the smoke that thunders], which is the local name for Victoria Falls, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something mo- ving. I turned in the direction and it was the cheetah! I had seen them at a distance before, but never up close. It was beautiful, and graceful. I never realized how large cheetahs were until I was standing face-to-face with one. Touching him made me feel vulnerable, but so alive, because he was a wild animal!
What is the most challenging part of your work?
It’s what I call the gem procurement process. I visit each site to make sure that they are in exclusive locations, have elegant furnishings, provide top quality facilities, are safe, and have outstanding service. There are many beautiful villas around the world, however, there are few as prestigious as the ones I select for my portfolio. The accommodations must also retain the traditional culture and beauty of their countries of origin. Because I am based in Greece, examining the African market is a time-in- tensive process. The last major hurdle I face when I find a property worthy of the portfolio is convin- cing owners to rent out their private homes.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I love sharing my happy experiences with others. Sometimes it is hard for my guests to disconnect from work but once their smartphones and laptops get tucked away they start to connect with their new surroundings. It is priceless to see them achieve a state of peace and tranquility, and I am satisfied knowing I have done a good job. I find it fulfilling to know that my work helps bring money to communities where it is needed most. The business I bring supports jobs at a local level and basic development needs. I also donate a portion of the profits from my bookings to local charities in Zimbabwe and Greece.
So your job sounds very demanding. When you aren’t in the office, what are you doing to unwind?
I enjoy scuba diving, exploring new countries, doing yoga and Zumba, and photography. I spend a lot of time doing charity work, mainly with the Make-a-Wish Foundation in Greece. Mainland Greece has some of the most amazing places and I really enjoy getting to travel around a country so full of such history and unspoiled beauty, not to mention the joy of discovering new islands. But one of my greatest pleasures is returning to Zimbabwe which is still the most beautiful country I have ever seen with its abundant nature and wildlife. The most relaxing place for me is our farm in Zimbabwe. I sit back on my favorite lounge chair in our gar- den and take in the most magnificent sunset in the world.
What do you have your sights set on next?
I am continually looking to find unique experiences and des- tinations. My clientele are well-traveled and are always inte- rested in something new. I recently introduced train journeys in Africa to my portfolio. They redefine luxurious travel with their wood-paneled dining cars, tables set with white linen and crystal glasses, and Victorian style suites with separate baths and showers. It is like traveling back in time to a more elegant age. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, especially for the African portion of the portfolio. In 2013, Victoria Falls will host the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization event which is expected to bring the region further into the spotlight. There are still many gems to be discovered, but I’ll keep them a secret for now.