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Elevate Destinations gives travelers the opportunity to better understand the communities they visit. Photos courtesy of Elevate Destinations.Elevate Destinations gives travelers the opportunity to better understand the communities they visit. Photos courtesy of Elevate Destinations.

Living Large and Giving Large: Promoting 'High-End' Travel Philanthropy

While some people's idea of a great vacation is a beach chair and a cold drink, many travelers want to explore and understand the cultures of the places they visit, and to give something back to the communities that have welcomed them.

More and more tour companies have established foundations in order to allocate a share of their resources to community development and conservation of wildlife and natural resources.

The increasing popularity of travel philanthropy has meant health care, jobs, education, clean water and protection of the environment in countries all over the world.

And it's not just individuals. Led by industry leaders with strong environmental and social values, corporations are finding that helping local communities as part of their travel programs is a good way to increase customer loyalty and differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Once-in-a-Lifetime Adventures

Elevate Destinations of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a tour company aimed at the high end of the philanthropy travel market, which caters to "luxury-oriented travelers seeking once-in-a-lifetime adventures to exotic destinations where they also have an opportunity to better understand the places they visit."

The Widlife Conservation Network's 'Save the Elephants' program is one of the non-profit groups supported by Elevate Destinations.The Widlife Conservation Network's 'Save the Elephants' program is one of the non-profit groups supported by Elevate Destinations.

Elevate Destinations offers group and customized tours and retreats to Africa, Brazil and Southeast Asia and strategic travel planning for international non-profits.

The company was founded by Dominique Callimanopulos, a lifelong traveler who has always been conscious of the inequities between most Western travelers and the people of the countries they visit.

Grassroots Community Efforts

Callimanopulos wrote her thesis at Wesleyan about the impact of tourism in the Seychelle Islands and became acquainted with the workings of international travel firms, philanthropists and non-profit organizations. Now she aims to put her travel expertise to work to make life better for people in developing countries and protect the environment.

She and all the members of the organization are committed to this vision. “Tourism that doesn’t give back doesn’t make any sense to me,” she says.

ED offers adventures that go far beyond the ordinary tourist experience. ED offers adventures that go far beyond the ordinary tourist experience.

“I like to describe our service as ‘ecoluxury,’” Callimanopulos says. “Travel and tourism dollars are an important revenue stream for many impoverished countries.

"What we do at Elevate Destinations is ensure a percentage of each trip is given directly to local non-profit organizations to sustain grassroots community efforts and make a bigger impact.”

In an article about Callimanopulos in Boston Magazine, Sascha de Gersdorff called it "living large and giving large."

"This was no mere tourist experience," says Terry Gamble-Boyer of her trip with ED. "It was a life-changing opportunity that touched my husband, myself, and our teenaged children way beyond the beautiful vistas and fabulous wildlife; it touched our hearts. We left Africa wiser, humbler, and more enriched."

Donor Travel

Elevate Destinations offers customized individual, group and family trips, and a growing share of their business is organizing donor trips for non-profit organizations to give donors a firsthand view of the programs they are supporting.

ED field associates are chosen based on service, security, and values. ED field associates are chosen based on service, security, and values.

They also specialize in "corporate donor travel" to provide executives and board members with firsthand experience of their companies' efforts in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

"We know that the profitable growth of our company depends on the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of our communities across the world," writes Travis Egan, CEO of Alcan. "And we know it is in our best interests to contribute to the sustainability of those communities."

Field Associates

ED's network of "on-the-ground field associates" enables them to design one-of-a-kind trips to nearly any destination, always with a flair for the unusual, whether it is a staying in a palace in India, taking a helicopter safari over Kenya, horseback riding, hot-air ballooning or taking a family safari in the jungles of Tanzania.

Callimanopulos says associates are chosen based on "service, security and values congruent to Elevate Destinations."

The Fabric of Life Foundation provides loans to small-scale entrepreneurs.The Fabric of Life Foundation provides loans to small-scale entrepreneurs.

"We work through a rich network of trusted partners," she says, "some of whom we are referred to, some of whom seek us out. All are excited to be working with a company that takes such an interest in local welfare and projects."

Impact and Sustainability

The organizations that benefit from ED programs offer a vast range of services to communities, including environmental and wildlife protection, economic development, education, health care, social services, literacy, and a host of others.

ED donations help preserve cheetahs, elephants, snow leopards and many other endangered forms of wildlife throughout the world; bring medical supplies to clinics; preserve coral reefs; provide potable water; help the terminally ill; and even free children sold into slavery.

The non-profit groups they support are chosen based on measurable positive impacts, cost effectiveness, and sustainability. They also give priority to projects that can be replicated elsewhere to produce more widespread benefits.

Innovative Technologies
KickStart develops new technologies for small-scale entrepreneurs in Africa.KickStart develops new technologies for small-scale entrepreneurs in Africa.

Elevate Destinations has also teamed with affiliate groups to offer tours that highlight their efforts. In 2007, they set up a 10-day donor safari in Kenya for KickStart International, a 7-day journey to Kenya and Uganda for Direct Relief International, and a 10-day tour of Ethiopia for WaterPartners International.

KickStart develops new technologies for small-scale entrepreneurs in Africa to promote sustainable economic growth and employment. These innovative technologies are used to create commercial enterprises in agriculture, contruction, food processing and other areas.

Some examples include a two-man press that makes concrete bricks, small-scale irrigation pumps, and presses for extracting cooking oil from different kinds of seeds.

Elevate Destinations worked with KickStart on a tour of many of the projects started by KickStart, combined with an exciting one-of-a-kind safari.

Direct Relief International provides crtically needed medicines and supplies to healthcare providers around the world. They are responsible for supplying more $200 million in medical aid to 23.8 million people in 56 countries!

Elevate Destinations organized an excursion to many of the DRI projects in Kenya and Uganda which also visited several different landmarks, reserves, and villages.

Water Partners International is a program that works with communities and donors to provide clean drinking water in developing countries. Started in 1990, Water Partners has helped communities in Guatemala, El Salvador, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya.

ED arranged a tour in Ethiopia for WPI highlighting programs to improve the quality of drinking water and to promote improved sanitation. As with the other tours, visitors also had a chance to do some sightseeing and take a tour of the country.

For more information on "living large and giving large," visit the Elevate Destinations website.

Stephen Hartshorne

Stephen Hartshorne is the associate editor of He writes a blog called Armchair Travel about books he finds at flea markets and rummage sales.


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Tags: storySection: Helps
author: Stephen Hartshorne
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