DESTINATION MASTERS
Fly Me To The Moon, Mastering Greece
An interview by Yvan Vermeesch

The XO Private Founder, Yvan Vermeesch, sits down for the exclusive interview series with Elena Papanicolaou. Elena left behind a corporate career in the chemical sector, to unleash her passion and is now the proud Founder of Fly Me To The Moon

Fly Me To The Moon is a Greek DMC, specialising in meaningful luxury experiences for both private and business customers, and has grown exclusively through word of mouth, investing in local expertise and exclusive network of contacts, human touch and meticulous organizing. Motivating people in power to embrace tolerance, sustainability, individuality which ultimately produce ethical business success; Connecting the past with the present, Greece with the world, the body with the mind.

A

Starting a specialist destination management company is quite a career change from your high-profile corporate background. What inspired you to start Fly Me To The Moon?

I was fortunate to have travelled since a very early age with my family and this may have contributed to my developing a passion for collecting beautiful images of landscapes and viewpoints, discovering cultures and traditions, connecting with people, enriching my taste palette i.e. developing a passion for travel.

During my corporate career in the chemical sector, I was travelling a lot for business and for leisure and most of the times I was combining the two. In 2013, I felt that it was time to capitalize on my business and travel experience and unleash my passion for Greece. My inspiration is to offer a different kind of luxury travel, in the way I like to travel and host my personal guests – authentic and stylish, immersive, mindful and mind-opening.

What were the major challenges and/or hurdles you came across when you were developing your new, exciting adventure?

As most services, we offer “a promise” that demands trust. We promise to deliver an imaginative, authentic, life changing, impeccable experience for well-travelled, discerning, culturally curious people incorporating a lot of different elements, that include accommodation, transfers, activities, gastronomy, art, customs and happenings.

This necessarily takes time to develop into a loyal critical base. So, the challenge was, essentially, sticking to our objectives and being patient!

It was clear from the start that you wanted the company to be different, to stand out from the others in the marketplace. So, how would you describe the DNA of Fly Me To The Moon?


We believe in the transformative power of travel. We are passionate about showcasing the unique, authentic side of Greece that captivates body and soul. We offer our knowledge and understanding, extensive local network, physical presence on the ground, inherent hospitality and meticulous vetting of collaborators to craft holistic, tailored experiences that are memorable and stylish, meaningful and respectful to local societies and nature.

Our passion goes to extend of becoming certified in wine tasting, in order to introduce our guests to the unique up and coming Greek wines and indigenous grape varieties. It’s travel that takes you further.

As a result of this specific focus and passionate dedication, how would you describe your preferred guests? Which are the main geographical markets they originate from at the moment?


Our aim is to unlock our clients’ expectations and reveal those rare, hidden, unexplored elements over and above the obvious beauties of Greece. There are those that are looking for exactly that. The challenge is to get through those that don’t know what is on offer. We simply don’t want our guests to miss out because we know, it’s not that people don’t want to experience more while they travel, they simply don’t know what to ask for. The USA and west-central Europe are currently our main geographical markets, but we also have good clients from Israel and the UAE.
Elena Papanicolaou, the proud Founder of "Fly Me To The Moon"
"“Experiential” is the essence of what we do."
What does the word 'experiential' mean to you and which role does it play in your overall business?

“Experiential” is the essence of what we do. A “post card” kind of travel is not what we offer. We want to challenge, awake, provoke, plant a seed for more discoveries, human connections and tolerance, rejuvenation of body and soul, happiness and fulfillment. And all that with imagination, authenticity and style.

How do you see Fly Me To The Moon develop over the next five to ten years? Do you have any specific plans or direction that you wish to take with the company?

We want to pass on our message for meaningful luxury, sustainable and slow travel, to as many people as possible and contribute to the upgrade of tourism in Greece.

Having a profound knowledge of the country and being an economist and an experienced business person, I am constantly thinking of ideas that will widen our services even further!

Could you please share a couple of your favourite 'off the grid' accommodation gems that perfectly reflect the Fly Me To The Moon vision?

Naming a specific accommodation would be unfair to the many villas and hotels we like. More importantly, it would not characterize us, as the choice of accommodation is only one of the pieces that make up our holistic experience and it is chosen so that it blends and complements with the profile of the client and all other elements comprising the trip. We love stylish places that are harmonized with the environment and offer genuine hospitality. 
There's no doubt you have a most inspiring or hilarious anecdote to share that you experienced in recent years?

I will always remember a young couple from the US for whom we arranged a holiday in the unexplored region of Mani on the Peloponnese peninsula. In our Address Book, we had included a café where time seems to have stood still (kafeneion) and where locals sip their Greek coffee or ouzo for hours, play backgammon and solve all the problems of the world! As usual, when the young couple sat down, they were offered ouzo with meze from the table across, coffee with sweets from the table behind and in a short while, they all became one large company (parea) with locals dying to hear about their whereabouts. Apparently, the young man had a great-great-grandfather who originated from Greece but he never bothered to learn more about it. Question after question, they found out that the family was actually from the area and an old man present knew the whole story of their clan. We received a call from our clients who were excited and overwhelmed with emotion and agreed to plan an ancestry trip for them in the year ahead. We found their living relatives, the story of the family, even the old family house and this turned into an incredible reunion of the families and in fact into a “milestone” event for the whole village.

What would be your best advice for someone wishing to set-up a destination management company like you did?

My advice would be to set up a company that caters to a niche that doesn’t already exist or at least not in the same way. Definitely avoid creating another DMC offering more or less the same services as so many others. Focus on the human touch that is becoming a rarity but is and always will be so precious.

Last but definitely not least, where does the name 'Fly Me To The Moon' come from? No doubt there is an interesting story behind that ...

“Fly Me to the moon” has been my ring tone for the last 15 years – albeit interchanging between Frank Sinatra, Julie London and Astrud Gilbero. During my extremely demanding corporate career in a male-dominated, complex industry involving commodities, hedging and advanced science, the ringing of my phone was like “a breath of fresh air”!

It flew me away from the heavy business climate and elevated me to lighter, brighter, colourful horizons, making me dream of beautiful landscapes, pristine beaches, boutique wineries, rugged century-old hiking paths, stylish accommodations, good-hearted people, vibrant festivals. And it didn’t work only for me – all my colleagues stopped for a while when my phone was ringing. Every time I rushed to turn it off, they begged me to leave it for a moment to lighten up the atmosphere in the room! This elevating feeling is what we aim to offer our guests and, for me, there could be no other name to describe it best.
"This elevating feeling is what we aim to offer our guests"
"We love stylish places that are harmonised with the environment and offer genuine hospitality." "
Yvan Vermeesch
                          
A Belgian by birth, Yvan Vermeesch grew up across Africa before heading to the Caribbean followed by the stunning city of Prague before calling the Mediterranean island of Mallorca home. Always looking to innovate across the board and with a clear penchant for everything experiential in travel, Yvan Vermeesch takes great pride in connecting the finest players in bespoke travel around the globe.
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