Travel entrepreneur Ilana Den was spurred into starting her latest venture, ‘Celebration Journeys,’ when attending her nephew’s bar mitzvah inIsraeltwo years ago. “Though my sister spoke the language and knew the culture, a lot had been lost in translation between Australia and Israel,” Ilana recalls.
“I realised that, after so many years working in this industry, I have the skills and contacts worldwide to be able to help people in Australia who want to celebrate a life milestone overseas, bring that idea based around Australian culture to full fruition in another country,” she explains. Ilana and her business partner, David Dymmott, launched Celebration Journeys in August last year and they have been busy turning dreams into reality ever since.
The two have both spent over twenty years in the hospitality and travel industry, and for sixteen years have operated a corporate events company, CC Conferences and Corporate Events.
When we speak, Ilana has just come back from organising a bar mitzvah inIsrael.
Around a hundred guests flew intoIsraelfor the event. The bar mitzvah ceremony (a Jewish religious ritual performed when a boy turns 13) was held at sunrise in the ancient synagogue on the mountaintop Judean desert fortress of Masada, recently restored from the ruins of one of the world’s oldest synagogues.
“The service was so beautiful, it was almost unbelievable, and then we had a party for all the guests in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert.”
Though most of the guests travelled from Australia, some came from other countries, including South Africa,Hungary, the UKand the USA. Ilana helped co-ordinate arrivals, accommodation and several tours that the attending families could enjoy during their week-long stay. Happily, the event was achieved with a similar budget to a large function held in a five-star Sydney hotel.
“Celebration is something that excites me personally because I love travelling and I love helping people realise their own dreams,” Ilana said. Trained as a schoolteacher, Ilana first worked in the hospitality industry as a part-time hotel employee while she was at university. “I had an epiphany pretty early on, and realised that I loved my part-time student job far more than my chosen career as a teacher.”
Leaving the schoolroom for the hotel industry, she worked her way up into senior roles and then into commercial travel, always on the business development side, before joining David in their corporate event company. “Working in hotels and organising corporate travel and events has given me very good background for the business I’m running now, because I understand how things work behind the scenes,” Ilana explains.
Ilana and David believe they are tapping into a growing trend for group holidays designed to celebrate personal occasions such as significant birthdays and wedding anniversaries and big cross-generational family reunions.
“We’ve organised celebrations in Australia too; it doesn’t have to be overseas. But most people think, well if we are going to go somewhere to celebrate, let’s take out our passports and have one of those unbelievable, pinch-yourself experiences together.”
Some of their early clients have been those for whom corporate events were previously organised, she says, and they now want a special 50th or 60th birthday with family and friends.
“Wedding-vow renewal is very big at the moment, with many people renewing their vows in a beautiful location, surrounded by their children and grandchildren, passing on a special memory for future generations.”
Family reunions are also really popular, especially where families are scattered around the world, so they all travel to one place to meet up. Surprise events are also fun; a registration website for each journey allows guests to register online, and log their individual requirements.
Ilana believes that having an understanding and appreciation of different cultures and knowing how to get the concept that you have in your head, to translate into reality, is her greatest strength.
“Our core business is organising the celebration itself.” “We deal with florists, entertainment, even companies that can provide fireworks. However much the client wants to put into it, we can arrange.” Many events become a big logistical operation— transferring 100 people in a location where they’re unsure without a guide is challenging.
“You have to be supremely well-organised. But understanding how things work in a different culture is a very big part of it. People who try to do everything themselves often enounter barriers, and that was what motivated me to start the celebration.”
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