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Meet Dominique Callimanopulos of Elevate Destinations in Cambridge

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dominique Callimanopulos.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I founded Elevate Destinations in 2005 to create travel that gives back to destination communities around the world. We are an eco-luxury tour operator, providing customized travel for groups, families, and individuals who care about global issues and want to make a difference while they travel, all while staying in premier eco-hotels and lodges.

About half of our business is organizing donor travel for A-list international non-profits and the other half is bespoke travel for clients who care about engaging with conservation and community initiatives when they travel. We organize travel to Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia.

Having traveled extensively as a child, I was always aware of the discrepancy between travelers and local destinations. While the gap in material resources is often striking, I also observed the human wealth of the communities I visited. Wealth is not equal to mental health, and I was drawn to the generosity and joy I observed in many developing nation destinations.

In college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, I studied the impact of tourism in the Seychelles Islands. After graduation, I worked with Cultural Survival, an organization that defends the human rights of indigenous people. I went to graduate school in psychology but continued to work internationally with many different non-profits. It became apparent that seeing issues in the field first hand is transformative for donors and travelers, which is what led to my founding Elevate Destinations.

An all-women team, we have grown very organically. Business is up every year. We are known for our thought leadership in the industry and won the Gold Award for World Responsible Tourism in the category of innovation last year. Our collective women’s intuition, emotional intelligence, and integrity been among my company’s greatest strengths and drivers of growth. We design trips that are purposeful, educational and fun.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Being positioned in the international travel industry is both exhilarating and challenging. The sector has really transformed since I started Elevate, as many premier travel companies have become more conscious of their impact on destinations and have put responsible practices in place.

In addition to the struggles any start-up company has in the beginning–those of establishing a brand, finding a niche in a very competitive marketplace, etc. we have needed to keep being creative to remain distinctive. Happily, we are very collegial, in addition to being competitive, and use the many improvements in the industry’s responsible tourism practices to benefit everyone’s bottom line.

As we were founded in 2005, we began to hit our stride just as the recession hit. Fortunately, our brand message of giving back and traveling “green” resonated strongly with consumers during the Obama years, as conspicuous consumption gave way to altruism.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Elevate Destinations – what should we know?
We design trips for families, organizations, and individuals, that permit them to explore and assist with the global issues they care about. Nothing is more educational than visiting local communities and projects when you travel internationally, all while enjoying all the recreational benefits of a well thought out journey.

Organizations look to us to design a flawless learning journey. Families wanting to introduce their kids to cross-cultural exchange trust us to design a vacation that is long in both meaning and fun. After a dozen years of developing partnerships worldwide, we are well positioned to customize travel for any client’s altruistic interests.

Recently we developed our own (award-winning) innovative signature philanthropic platform: Buy A Trip, Give A Trip, wherein we sponsor excursions for local youth in the destinations we serve to get to see the sights usually reserved for tourists.

We are a small attentive team that delivers really personalized service to our clients. No assembly line trips here!

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
We have worked with a vast network of non-profit organizations addressing pressing global issues, both as clients and partners. This win/win collaboration has really worked.

Our team is first-rate: hard-working, smart and personable. They make the company.

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