Since 2005, the all-female team at Elevate Destinations has been creating meaningful high-end travel experiences for families and private groups who care about a positive travel footprint. In recent years, they’ve won several awards, including Conde Nast Travellers 50 Tours of a Lifetime and Worth’s Top Philanthropic Adventures.
Elevate Destinations operates in over 20 countries worldwide, with specialties in African safaris and volunteer travel. The company also designs customised group travel for foundations and nonprofits as well as unique travel experiences for families and individuals that support conservation and local communities without skimping on comfort.
For this interview, which is the first in a series with all the finalists for this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Dominique Callimanopulos, Founder and President of Elevate Destinations.
Anula: How do you communicate your efforts towards sustainable tourism to your guests?
Dominique: We promote our practices on our website – not just buried on a ‘sustainability’ page, but throughout. Sustainability and positive impact is in the DNA of Elevate, so the messaging shines through in our biographies, in our ‘Global Stories’ page (which documents the Buy a Trip, Give a Trip excursions), and baked into the trip designs themselves.We also provide information about our practices verbally to clients and as part of their pre-trip preparation.
Anula: What’s your biggest challenge in communicating sustainability?
Dominique: Educating clients. Most don’t understand the nuances and intricacies of sustainability so we try to keep it simple. We communicate that we carbon offset all our trips, select lodges and hotels with sound environmental and community practices and sponsor excursions for local youth through our Buy A Trip, Give A Trip program.
Rather than sustainability as a feel-good abstraction, the challenge is presenting it as an ingredient of a great trip – it’s what makes for a more unique and high-quality travel experience.
Anula: How do you engage local community in what you do?
Dominique: Our trips are usually built around community engagement, so the local community is key to our product. We work with local communities, projects and NGOs to create experiences that are rich in cultural exchange and authentic community engagement. That often means putting our travelers to work for a few days, so they can assist with projects that are responsive to community needs. We work to educate our guests on the fact that travel is a two-way exchange, meaning that we as visitors have a lot to learn from different communities and the cultures where we travel.
“Rather than sustainability as a feel-good abstraction, the challenge is presenting it as an ingredient of a great trip – it’s what makes for a more unique and high-quality travel experience.”
We also sponsor trips for local youth to get to see sights usually reserved for tourists through our Buy A Trip, Give A Trip program. This sends an important message about ownership of local resources and iconic sites and that these are just not for affluent travellers.
Anula: How do you engage your suppliers in what you do?
Dominique: Our suppliers are key to identifying and communicating with local communities and curating the kinds of experiences our travelers are looking for. We are careful to craft these experiences so that they are authentic expressions of the community and not just put on for show for tourists. Suppliers often join us in making in-kind donations to our Buy A Trip Give A Trip program, by providing transportation for these excursions, for instance. We prefer to work with suppliers who are aligned with our values around sustainability and giving back to communities.
Anula: What is unique or innovative about your marketing and communication approach?
Dominique: Our ‘Global Stories’ blog turns the convention of a tour operator blog upside down. Rather than documenting details about the client travel experience, we look at the lives and experiences of the local people at our destinations – particularly the kids who are benefitting from Buy a Trip, Give a Trip. We look at travel through their eyes. The result is a collection of really heartwarming stories that serve the dual purpose of illustrating our Buy a Trip, Give a Trip model while highlighting our destinations at the same time.
Anula: What marketing and distribution channels work best for you?
Dominique: Great word-of-mouth from clients is the most powerful tool in an industry widely influenced by recommendations and reviews. Another channel that has worked particularly well is Google Adwords which has been a steady lead generator for some time, particularly when focusing on specific destinations as opposed to a more generic branding approach.
Anula: What motivated you to apply for World Responsible Tourism Awards?
Dominique: We believe our Buy A Trip Give A Trip program is a wonderful initiative that sends a powerful message around expanding the travel horizon for all. We would like to inspire others in the travel industry to follow suit. We love being part of the responsible travel sector and providing thought leadership in this field.
Anula: What expectations do you have if you win?
Dominique: We hope our win will accelerate and inspire innovation that benefits local communities and will lead to new partners interested in similar programs. We have been approached by some companies that would like to adopt the B1G1 model, so we are already looking at ways to scale this up! We hope to further contribute to positive momentum of travel that has concrete and immediate benefits for local communities.
This article is the first in the interview series with the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in marketing and sustainable tourism communications. The rest will be published between now and the opening of World Travel Market on November 7th.