Perillo Tours spun off its Learning Journeys division, which will now go forward independently under the direction of its founder Carol Dimopoulos.
The separation was effective Nov. 1. As a newly independent business, Learning Journeys will lose its affiliation with the U.S. Tour Operators Association and will no longer be a participant in the association’s $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program.
Perillo Tours has been a member since 2014 and continues its membership now. Dimopoulos says she intends to re-join USTOA next year as Learning Journeys. Tour operators who join USTOA as an active member must post a $1 million bond, which is in effect the collateral behind the USTOA $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program.
Learning Journeys was launched, under the umbrella of Perillo Tours, in 2012. At the time, under its third-generation owner Stephen Perillo, Perillo was looking for ways to diversify after the financial collapse of 2008.
“When I went to Steve it was all about, ‘Hey I have some great ideas, let’s work together,’” she said. “And that’s what we did for a long time. But it was always our intention to get Learning Journeys to a point where it could take on its own sea legs. Steve’s been incredibly supportive during the time I’ve been with Perillo. And now is the perfect time to really create. So, we figure there’s no time like the present to spin off Learning Journeys.”
Perillo nurtured Learning Journeys for eight years while it developed into a significantly profitable company, and has now sold the company to its founder and conceptualizer.
“Steve’s been incredibly supportive,” said Carol. “He supported me every which way. He gave me the start and now we’re really able to take it to the next level, which was always his intention.”
While Learning Journeys is now owned and operated independently from Perillo Tours, Carol Dimopoulos and Stephen Perillo remain friends and colleagues.
A Fusion of Elements
Dimopoulos has been developing the concept of Learning Journeys for 15 years. It was a natural outgrowth of her inclination to draw connections between the two fields that have dominated her life: academia and the travel business.
The travel business is, itself, a hybrid of two components: travel and business. They are distinct, but never completely separate. So, in that sense, Learning Journeys is an intersection of three fields: travel, education and business.
Dimopoulos first started putting together educational group tours when she worked as vice president of sales and marketing of Celtic Tours, where she worked for 10 years.
She earned an MBA in international business from Sage Graduate Schools in Troy, N.Y., 14 years ago. And just this past summer, she completed her doctorate in the field of education at The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.
As an expert on niche market development and transformative travel, she has taught as an adjunct faculty member at SUNY Empire State College for the past 11 years.
Not surprisingly, she does not define her work in the conventional categories of the travel industry. As a long-time travel professional and participant in USTOA, she sees herself as a tour operator, but not just that. She sees Learning Journeys as a distinct category.
“It’s not a travel company,” she said. “It’s more like a traveling classroom. I like to say we are an educational organization that offers global learning experiences.”
For Carol Dimopoulos, as for all true lovers of travel, there is no clear separation between travel and education.
Education in Motion
“The premise of Perillo’s Learning Journeys is to learn something beyond the travel experience itself,” said Carol Dimopoulos, president of the brand. “It targets interests rather than the destination.”
The company’s Live Like a Local programs give guests opportunities to experience life as a local resident in an unfamiliar culture, or to experience a career path such as running a bookstore, working as a photographer, model, fashion designer, artist or chef.
Dimopoulos describes the Living Like a Local series as “a unique collection of customized travel experiences designed to combine cultural immersions with hands-on learning.”
The programs are defined as transformational journeys built primarily around special interests and secondarily on destinations. They take place in destinations around the world such as Costa Rica, Botswana, Italy, India, Greece, France, Spain, Vietnam, Cambodia, Namibia and Ethiopia.
They cater to a wide range of interests: birding wildlife, art, photography, yoga, knitting, quilting, belly dancing, spiritual renewal, culinary arts, language, science, and history.
The brand offers a choice of styles of travel, including Custom Journeys, Women’s Journeys, Travel with Professors, Faith Journeys, Family Adventures, and Health and Wellness Journeys.
Passion for Travel
Growing up in Astoria, Queens, Carol could see the Manhattan skyline from her window.
New York City is an international experience, especially if your father is the bell captain at the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel on Central Park South.
Besides being one of New York City’s most prestigious hotels, enthroned on the supreme strip of real estate along Central Park, the Barbizon was known as a residence center for music and art.
It housed three concert halls for concerts, recitals, and dramatic performances. There were many artist studios and exhibition salons. It was a happening place for a young girl to spend time.
When Carol sat in the lobby of the Barbizon, she saw the constant bustle of travelers coming and going, but the ones that most caught her eye were the flight attendants.
“That’s why I wanted to be a flight attendant,” she said. “As a child my mother would take me into New York and we would to go historic places like The Plaza Hotel and have tea in the Palm Court. She told me, ‘You can do anything if you have the education.’ She sparked that interest in me.”
Dimopoulos’s first international travel experiences were through some modeling work she did as a teenager. Later she worked as a flight attendant, first for Arrow Airlines, a charter operator, and later for Continental Airlines.
“Oh my God, that was so fun!” she said. “So unpredictable. It’s a perfect job for someone who’s an adventurer and really young. You’re on reserve and they call you and suddenly you’re going to Japan.”
She worked two years for Arrow, then moved on to Continental for another five or six years. She learned a lot about the world in that career that came in handy when she started working for Celtic Tours.
A Good Time for It
The spinoff comes at a time when the travel industry is still largely sitting in idle because of the COVID pandemic, and few tour operators are doing much. Perillo suspended its tours through 2020.
Travel is likely to look different after COVID than before. The pandemic seems to have given a push to the growing interest in sustainable travel. It’s a major pillar in the business model of Learning Journeys.
Dimopoulos’s doctoral dissertation was titled Women Empowered: The Purkal Project- Weaving the Fibers of Transformation Through Education and Entrepreneurship in Rural Northern India. It’s about an example of the kind of socially empowering give-back programs that are part of the mission of Learning Journeys.
As the world struggles to pull itself out of the COVID disaster and starts to rebuild on a new platform, hopefully Carol Dimopoulos is right and 2021 will be a good time to create.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.