Where travel used to be about switching off, in recent years, the goal has moved towards switching on: Switching on to the landscape you’re visiting, the cultures you’re experiencing and, most notably, the environmental impact of the trips you’re taking.
One travel organization that has seamlessly tapped into this mindset shift is Up Norway, a luxury travel curator offering one-of-a-kind journeys across the Scandinavian country. Self-described as the “antithesis of stock tourist travel”, Up Norway’s itineraries are considered, with everything from the places you visit to the people you meet carefully scrutinized to ensure both a limited environmental impact and a maximized social impact.
Founder Torunn Tronsvang’s background is in hospitality management, with her career taking her to the likes of Dubai, Thailand and the Maldives. It was in Bhutan working with Aman, though, that she realized where she wanted to head, as well as the tourism opportunities back in her home country.
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“I’d interact with guests and realized many of them were interested in traveling to Norway but they had no idea how to get there, what they should do, where to book,” she explains. “At the time, Norway had very few travel companies and a small destination marketing budget. There was a gap in the market.
“I tried to find someone else to do it, but no one would. So, I just thought ‘Fine, I’ll do it myself.’”
Armed with an idea and an entrepreneurial hat, in 2014 Tronsvang enrolled in a Business Administration Master’s degree at the Norwegian School of Economics, using the concept of Up Norway as her thesis idea. Her realization that the country needed a business like this was quickly reinforced and she was awarded a start-up investment sum of one million Norwegian krone (which roughly converted to around $120,00 at the time) by the Norwegian Research Council.
With the backing of that vital first insert of cash under her belt, Tronsvang’s starting concept was simple. She knew Norway had the potential to be a world-leading tourism destination but was lacking the organization to get there. “I knew we really need someone who can pick up all the fragmented amazing experiences that are all over the country and put them together to create a concept and sell it to international travelers,” she says.
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Fast-forward to present day (with a few rocky Covid-19 years in between), and Trosvang’s hunch has proven true. Up Norway now employs a team of 12, who deploy their expert knowledge both of the wider travel industry and of the country itself to create a virtually limitless range of trips, from the pre-made itineraries to the fully bespoke excursions.
Tronsvang eyes light up at being asked which her favorite itinerary is – it’s the ten-day ‘Tracing Norway’s Super Women’ tour, she says. “It takes travelers on a geographical and historical journey through Norway with a focus on equality and how Norway has worked to achieve equality among sexes.”
The trip starts in Oslo, where guests will learn about the equality efforts going on in the Norwegian capital both present day and yesteryear. From here, the itinerary moves north to the Varanger Peninsula, a wild portion of the country home to the densest population of Sami – Norway’s native people – who guests will be able to meet over an intimate dinner.
Other highlights include a discovery of Norway’s ancient witching culture, as well as a visit to the Freddie Ocean Distillery on Fredje Island. Owned entirely by women, Freddie Ocean’s mission was to encourage more female investment, as well as pioneer the first Norwegian single malt whisky.
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It’s the kind of trip that without Up Norway’s insider knowledge, you’d never even dream of let alone be able to experience. “It’s an awesome journey,” Tronsvang says.
For its fully bespoke offering, Up Norway works closely with clients to create the perfect vacation, with everything from luxury trains to the Arctic Circle to gourmet discovery journeys. The team knows each hotel, restaurant, operator and its owners personally, creating an added level of intimacy.
“Most people want to see the Northern Lights, but we also have people coming to rediscover their Norwegian heritage, others have come for business research, and we’ve even had someone wanting inspiration for their first book,” Tronsvang says.
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What each trip has in common, however, is purpose. Every journey offered relates to at least one of the UN sustainability goals, with the benefits and impact clearly communicated to each traveler.
“We don’t tell guests that we want to transform them, but it’s a huge priority for us that each itinerary is built to inspire positive change,” she adds.
Up Norway’s efforts to position itself as one of the leading sustainable Scandi travel organizers has paid off, and at the end of 2021, the business joined over 6,000 other eco-minded companies to achieve B-Corp certification.
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But, while Up Norway might be promoting luxury travel in one of its most sustainable forms, the industry as a whole hasn’t quite caught up.
“We can all see we’re heading in the wrong direction,” says Tronvang. “We need to change – we can’t do it overnight, but we can ask the critical questions and we can get people to think.”
For her and the rest of the team, achieving conscious luxury travel is about changing mindsets. Yes, we know that more people are interested in adopting more eco-friendly habits, but how do we actually make it a reality?
“I think it’s about knowing that luxury is about spending your time right,” Tronsvang offers. “It’s not just about material extravagance, it’s about creating a purpose behind everything you do. I hope this will become a natural part of how we all behave.”
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