DESTINATION MASTER
Fly Me To The Moon
A story by Kaya Jay

Pure Existence in Greece

Greece is a good place to look at the moon, isn’t it? - Leonard Cohen, ‘Days Of Kindness’ poem.
Ah Greece! The cradle of Western civilization, where tanned skin compliments turquoise seas, and every experience has a glowing mythical aura. Its stunning landscapes, archaeological treasures, 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and crystal-clear water make Greece a rejuvenating and inspiring destination for natives and visitors alike.

A place of historical discovery, and eternal re-discovery. This quest for knowledge that would bring the world Western democracy, scientific principles, astronomy, mathematics, architecture, and the Olympics. The countless unique imprints left in the Greek soil as philosophers, scientists and conquerors pondered life, existence, and community.

Elena Papanicolaou started her destination management agency ‘Fly Me to The Moon’ in 2014. She was drawn back to this land of her ancestors after completing an odyssey of her own. 

                      
As a daughter to Greek expats, she was raised abroad with little time to settle down. Although her family had left Greece generations ago, she did spend some of her younger years there, and this was enough to grow a profound alliance. While those early voyages with her parents gave her a multicultural understanding of the world and a passion for traveland discovery, she was always connected to her motherland.

‘I always felt that my roots were in Greece and that I belonged here, but I really discovered a lot more when I grew older. I read quite a bit of history and delved into the culture and traditions. All the pieces fell into place; I realized why Greeks are the way they are and why European civilization was born here.
There is something pure and primitive about Greece. The soul of the country - the vibe - is what makes it unique. You can absorb that essence, especially in more unexplored places. If you just breathe and close your eyes or look up at the sky, you feel like you’re a part of the millennia, that are speaking to you. You can sense the very essence of human existence.

This is what we strive to give to our guests. To guide them to this different soul that this country has.’


With centuries of wisdom forever permeating its unforgettable and untamed scenery, Greece has a lot of soul alright. It evokes powerful images and compelling characters, both real and imagined. Just think of Zeus flashing across the skies in an epic mythical battle, Archimedes running naked through the streets shouting ‘Eureka!’ when he received a bolt of inspiration while in his bathtub, Claudius Ptolemy mapping the stars into constellations that we still use today, the impossible conquests of Alexander the Great, and you will get the idea. 

                                               

One can’t help but wonder; where did these old Greeks get the inspiration to dream so big? And how wondrous must it be to perceive the world through the eyes of unlimited pioneering?

History develops according to the environment. I think the Greek landscape, including the Aegean and Ionian Sea, developed this intricate history in unity with the incredible light. The sky is quite different and much brighter here in Athens than other places. When there's a lot of light, people tend to go out more and explore more. From there, people started adding philosophy and gastronomy and so on, and all these elements contributed to the history of the country, the culture, the mythology, and sciences. There is a correlation between climate and landscape and the energy.
Hospitality and generosity are in all Greek hearts. It’s totally different from other people. And again, I think it's because of the climate and the history.’

Upon returning to Athens after her postgraduate in Economics in London, Elena initially held a top position in a billion-dollar chemicals company focused beyond the borders of Greece. A job that required a lot of business travel, on a limited time schedule. This meant Elena could continue to enjoy her passion for globetrotting while maturing an increasingly sophisticated taste.

‘I was always combining half a day of sightseeing or visiting a museum between meetings. I was a demanding traveller. When I was told that several things were organized, I wanted to really understand the essence of the locations I visited. Where am I going? What is different over there? What is special that I need to see? How can I go back feeling enriched and having my mind opened by this trip?
So, when I decided that part of my life was over, it came naturally. I was organizing trips anyway, but I was doing it for myself and for my friends.
I knew what people like me want when they travel. To have someone open your horizons, intrigue you, tease you to see things you never even knew existed, and do all the planning to offer a seamless trip, this was what I wanted when I travelled. I felt that I could give this back.
With that vision for the DNA of my company, I completely changed sector and founded ‘Fly Me to The Moon’.’


‘Fly Me to The Moon’ was born from understanding excellent service and quality experience. As with all things, however, an understanding of client experience alone is not enough to create a successful business. Elena had left the familiar shores of her professional life and stepped into the new world of hospitality, which created many challenges.

The organizational part and the business part I’d mastered in my previous position, which was in a difficult sector as well. The methodologies and operations, making sure that we have contracts or insurances, the project management, all of that was quite easy for me.
The other part, specific to this sector, came with very hard work. I had to work diligently to understand what is going on in the sector. I spent quite some time setting a base up and making sure I knew what I was talking about. I must admit that I was overconfident. It took much longer than I initially expected to see results. It was a bit of a challenge, to be honest.
With time and work, I built a substantial client base that could start introducing and referring me, because they had tried my services and I had delivered what I promised.’


Elena did not choose the easy route when she decided to change sector and focus on luxury hospitality. Not only was she a newcomer, who approached the service in a different way, Greece is an abundant source of activities and experiences, and every aspect needs to be personally handpicked and quality approved.

We offer services over the whole of Greece, so it's endless. I’ve scouted the whole country, but there are still many places that I haven't covered or not in the way I want to. More importantly, it's ever changing. There are new places in different locations. Some things become better, and some things become worse… it's never ending. You can’t say, I've done this and finished. I will have to look at it again.
Our definition of luxury is a meaningful luxury, a harmonized luxury. When the company was set up, the vision was specifically high end combined with the traditional, the authentic. The essential things that Greece offers in a stylish and luxurious way.
We show our clients everything that is at its best when they are at their location in Greece; accommodation, transfers, guides, a festival that is taking place, or a special new restaurant opening. Anything that is happening at the right time at the right place that we feel is special enough to showcase.
Initially I aimed for clients that were more mature in travel, looking for a second or third stage of experience. This gave me the chance to offer those more special and unknown locations that I was searching for.
But after a while, I realized that both experienced and less experienced travellers are interesting and challenging. Travellers who don't know Greece also encourage you to work with imagination. You can invite them to see some destinations that are popular combined with destinations that they don't know exist. You can show them a well-known destination in a way that goes deeper than the surface. So, I can't say that I prefer any kind of traveller now that I'm experienced. I see every case as a challenge to provide this ‘extra’ that we want to give to our guests.


Fortunately, the specific kind of luxury travel that ‘Fly Me to The Moon’ offers is in high demand, and Elena was right to see the opportunity and jump into this adventure headfirst.

Since its conception, the agency has evolved into a trusted quality label and the travel industry itself geared towards high end travel experience.

The hospitality sector is changing. The all-inclusive and cheap packages are losing ground. The focus is increasingly on the higher end. A lot of new four- and five-star properties are coming to the market. We now have more young people who are well-travelled and have realized the precious value of all Greece has to offer.
At one point we were a bit snobbish about it. We preferred hamburgers to the traditional Mediterranean diet, for example. But now locals are going back to the villages of their grandparents and setting up wonderful experiences in tradition, culture, and nature. It is a realization of sustainability, highlighting the more authentic things. We're seeing it everywhere and Greece is following this trend.
Despite the initial speedbumps in recent months with the situation in the world, we do see people still feeling this huge need to escape and reconnect. I believe that it will be an extremely busy summer in Greece.


If there is anything one learns while wandering this big, beautiful planet, it could be summarised as a deep understanding that there is always more to learn and discover. There is always room to grow, always a deeper level. Elena knows this like no other, and she remains diligent and discerning about choosing quality over quantity.

I started from scratch without knowing the rules and the frameworks of the industry, and I still work like that. We're not a traditional travel designer. I still don’t know all the mechanics, but I’m not that interested in following those anyway. I think an out-of-the-box kind of service is the main difference with more traditional agencies. We are a matured, curious traveller, and that’s how we design our trips.
I like learning, I think that's the trick. I'm always interested in gathering new knowledge, reading, visiting new places. I always like to be provoked and challenged. That’s just my character.
I want to keep this very personal and special aspect of our business. This means, by definition, that we don't want to grow too big because you lose part of that. Yes, we will continue to grow, but only up to the point that we are able to deliver this kind of service. We must remain able to experience what we offer to clients ourselves.
We are not limited to the structure that one is expecting. We love working together with specialists to create something novel, cooperating with people who want to set something up. We want to make sure that we are always up-to-speed with what is happening, discovering elements that are interesting for people to see and experience, and to always keep this open mind.
Having this kind of mindset can lead anywhere.
In that sense, I can’t be specific about the future. All I can say is that I'm consistently exploring and discovering new things so we at ‘Fly Me to The Moon’ will always have the perfect material to keep on intriguing people.’


Elena chose the path that leads to the heart of Greece. A task that may never be fully completed in one lifetime. Her story echoes the plight of many of her Greek ancestors; to continually explore its essence of pure human existence and bring that greatness to the world.
Kaya Jay
                          
Kaya is a creative storyteller at heart, with almost two decades of experience in media
directing, story editing and interviewing. Raised between her native country of Belgium and oriental Malaysia, she is a global citizen with a profound love for travel, different cultures and unifying human stories. She has divided her time between Europe, Asia and South America, and currently resides on the beautiful island of Mallorca in Spain.
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