Cally Papas is the President and sole proprietor of Cloud Tours Inc, a tour operator specializing in travel to Europe and the Middle East for over 47 years. Cally’s parents immigrated from Greece to New York City, where she grew up and has lived all her life. She graduated from Queen’s College with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature, and from New York University with a Master’s Degree in Teaching English As A Second Language. She never visited Greece until she was a young adult, and once she did her life was never the same! In Greece she fell in love with the country and its people, and discovered a deep passion for travel. Upon returning from her trip, she decided to pursue a career in travel and landed a job at Olympic Airways. Cally began her career with Olympic as a receptionist and ended in the executive position of National Marketing and Sales, the third highest US position in the company. Cloud Tours was one of her accounts, and when the previous owner wanted to retire, Cally seized the opportunity to run her own business and create something new in the world of travel.
Over the last two decades, under her direction and management, Cloud Tours has grown to become a leader in customized travel, both independent and group, to Greece, Italy, Croatia, Turkey, Israel, Spain, Portugal, and Cyprus. Within the first few years of her ownership, Cally was selected by Travel Agent Magazine as a Top 100 Woman In Travel for several consecutive years due to her unique approach in crafting itineraries for Greece, reflecting the culture and history of the country in ways not previously available. Cally views travel agents as an essential partner in the industry, and as such has steered her company away from the direct consumer market. Her top priority is offering a high level of service and expertise knowledge on Cloud Tours’ destinations to travel agents to create unforgettable experiences, from the planning stage to the end of their clients’ trip. Her aim is not to expand the company as a one-stop shop for all of Europe, but to cultivate specialty markets for Cloud Tours. For 2017, Cloud Tours will take a big leap into the Croatia market, aiming to offer customized tours in line with what they offer for Greece.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Tell us about your day-to-day role at Cloud Tours.
Cally Papas (CP): I am very active in the company on a day to day basis, from management to operations and even to the sales end! I feel this is important to maintain a high quality of service to our clients – the travel agent in the USA – and to our mutual clients when they are overseas. I am always available to any agent whose very special client is traveling to one of our destinations and needs further consultation. As many of our repeat travel agents know, I stand by our product 100%! This may sound a little old-fashioned in today’s business environment of mega giant tour operators, but to me hands-on guarantees a quality product and success in a demanding travel industry.
TRO: You’ve sculpted Cloud Tours into the industry standard for customized travel tours. What was the thought process behind moving towards a custom-itinerary format?
CP: I am a strong believer in our clients “experiencing” a destination the way they want to!
If someone is interested in wine tasting, cooking, hiking, or biking, what better way is there for them to learn and enjoy a country than through what they love doing? We want clients to enjoy their vacation their way! Some clients want to spend less on a city hotel where they will be touring a lot and go all out on a hotel on an island where they will be relaxing. Why not create a vacation for someone based on what they love doing and within their budget? We can customize the trip accordingly to enable travelers to get what they want out of the vacation. A key factor in the successfully planning of any vacation is the clients’ expectation and budget. A European vacation is an investment and the client should be able to get an excellent return!
In today’s internet world and internet-savvy clientele, cookie cutter packages and tours are easy for a client to duplicate by booking on-line, and many times at lower costs. Customizing a vacation for a client within their budget and desires, and at an affordable and competitive rate, leaves the agent in a win-win situation. This experience is not as easy to duplicate online.
In addition, an important part of the success in sculpting Cloud Tours into the industry standard is that I believe strongly in the education of our staff. Every travel consultant at Cloud is sent to experience and inspect a destination and its hotels annually. In this way, our consultants are knowledgeable on the destination and can offer recommendations to our travel agents according to their clients budget and expectations!
TRO: Cloud Tours offers both escorted and independent tours. Why offer both instead of focusing exclusively on one or the other like many other companies?
CP: The only semi-escorted tours we offer are our Small Group Departures in Italy. All the other tours are independent. Our Small Group Departures in Italy are guaranteed, are in English, and are a max of 16 people. Even these Small Group Departures are customized to allow the traveler to experience Italy in his or her way. We have included the main highlights of a city with the “skip the line” feature, where applicable, and a day at leisure so the client can decide what they want to do! We also offer independent extensions to different areas in Italy to enable the client to do his or her own thing after the Small Group Tour. Our FIT clients for Italy can also select “small group daily tours” in most major Italian cities, i.e. the Vatican or Colosseum in Rome, the Accademia in Florence, wine and food tours in Tuscany, etc. Our small group tours have a max of 12, 18, or 25 people depending on the tour – no 50-seater motorcoach tours.
TRO: Cloud Tours has a collection of Special Interest Tours. Can you tell us more about those offerings?
CP: At present, our independent Special Interest Tours are culinary tours to Greece, Italy, and Croatia. We plan to expand in 2017 to include some other special interest options such as hiking, walking, or biking. For example, the Samaria Gorge in Crete is the largest gorge in Europe. So why not offer hiker lovers a tour in Greece which would include Crete and the fabulous Gorge! Croatia is full of national parks that are under UNESCO’s protection. Between Zagreb and Split not far from Zadar, we have the famous Plitvice Lakes, one of the most beautiful natural parks in the world known for is luscious greenery and gorgeous waterfalls. Also not far from Split is Krka National Park where one can swim in the waterfalls! We are also considering combining countries like Greece and Croatia with the common thread a special interest.
TRO: Destination weddings in the Mediterranean and along the Dalmatian coast are becoming increasingly popular. How is Cloud Tours accommodating the romance travel sector and the rising demand for destination weddings in these locations?
CP: One of our specialty markets is the Honeymoon market! We currently offer destination weddings in Greece, Italy, and Croatia! We were the first tour operator to produce a Greece honeymoon brochure which was later expanded into a European Honeymoon brochure. Particularly in Greece, most of our hotels offer honeymoon amenities which include wine, upgrades, dinners, and spa treatments. For 2017, we will offer the same in Croatia. Many of our hotels in Italy also offer similar amenities! We can assist with all the formalities in obtaining the proper documents and translations so that a couple can get legally married. With our expertise knowledge of these countries and our local offices on the ground in different cities and islands, there is someone there to help with the details needed to organize the wedding for the couple and the guests.
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
CP: Very hard question! Each country offers something unique and beautiful to discover and enjoy! I love them all and that’s why we sell them!
TRO: What is on the horizon in the upcoming year for Cloud Tours?
CP: We plan to expand further into Croatia! I just got back from spending close to a week in Split to obtain in depth knowledge on the destination and the hotels. We will be increasing our product line for Croatia to create independent tours, which will be similar to the Greek Island Hopping packages we have successfully created throughout the years! This will include special honeymoon amenities at the hotels for Cloud clients. In addition, as indicated before, we want to expand our Specialty Tours.
For more information on Cally and Cloud Tours, visit them online at www.cloudtours.com.