For years now, as a company we have been trying to do things a little bit differently. Against all odds most days it seems as things in Italy in numerous locations for local communities have seemed to become progressively out of control and uncomfortable for visitors to Italy and us ‘locals’ too.
We are a group of writers, photospheres, film-makers, artists and guides who live in Italy. You can read about our story and how things started for us here.
If you have seen recent news reports about Venice, it is not a great situation, but it’s not just Venice and the ironic thing is, its not tourists who are to blame. In fact we think tourists to Italy could actually help improve the situation in Italy and contribute to a better world and a much more healthy and transparent economy in Italy. In this article we outline how.
Firstly, it’s important to state that the situation has evolved to the point in Italy where it is now, because the vast majority of travelers are simply unconscious and so unknowingly tourists to Italy are contributing to the problem yet there is a solution and some pretty easy ones for those that care to take the time to learn the reality of the situation in Italy before buying into the same old tourist traps.
The sad reality is that cities like Venice, Florence and Rome’s historical centers seem to have become little more than an extension of the profit-driven hotels and in areas like Capri, Sorrento, Positano and Cinque Terre see so very many tourists the entire cultures of many of these areas have been completely annihilated and employment in sectors not pertaining to tourism activities no longer exist and so working in tourism offers young people very little alternative opportunities in many of these areas.
‘Well that’s great for the local economy, isn’t it?’ you might ask ‘Isn’t that great for jobs and local business’?
It would be if it were sustainable, which it isn’t and if were in fact good for the local economy, which it isn’t.
The only people mass tourism is good for, where it’s a win-win situation are the super rich multi-national hotel chains. If you want to feed into that mechanism, that’s wonderful, yet you and yours are probably missing out on Italy.
All the while….. you may very well want to reconsider all those beautiful photos of Venice and other places you might be seeing all over Instagram and start to question where and why you might be seeing image after beautiful image of Italy.
The fact of the matter is that mass media outlets and the tourist areas themselves want to keep the crazy tourist wheel spinning until it bleeds itself to death to keep the profits coming and in the process obliterate culture which has withstood not only the fall of the Roman empire, but numerous historical defeats for millennia.
The profit-driven mass tourism game is all profit driven and it’s globalized Italy and the tourist states to such a point where it is now difficult to find an Italian waiter in a restaurant in Florence or Venice. The majority of staff in the bulk of the hotels and restaurants in these areas and others are now from the Philippines, India, Egypt or other countries and it’s not because they are trying to help the ‘immigrants’ new to Italy. No way. The staff is brought in, with existing skills in English and hospitality management, but they ask less in terms of wages and so the restaurant can pay them less than they would a salaried Italian waiter.
Not only this, now the vast majority of locals have been pushed so far out to the peripheries of their city’s, with the rise of Air B&B which allows locals to rent out their homes to tourists for profit, what’s the point to stay in they city any more when they can make money?
‘Tourist states’ in Italy are driven by sheer profit, by both local business owners and publicly traded companies where foreign investment and the constant drive to please shareholders are now the driving force behind Italy’s overall globalization and it’s not stopping any time soon until travelers to Italy choose to do things a little bit differently than they currently are.
It’s a situation which is completely out of control to the point where it’s no longer even good for the tourist themselves coming, never mind the locals but in a way, all the superficiality is leaving everyone half-satiated unless they can get off the hop-on-hop-off bus and somehow find interaction with the community.
Driving Factors in Mass Tourism, Image Jesse Andrews, 2018
Top 10 Contributing Factors to Mass Tourism in Italy & How to Save your Next Trip
Pay close attention to Hotel Booking Engines
Know the reality of what it means to book with Big Booking Engines Like Booking.Com, Expedia, Viatour, Travel Bound and other on-line sources.
Pay extreme attention to where and who you are booking with, for most of the big booking engines are based in California, Silicone Valley and the engineers who run them wave carrots in front of property owners who simply want to rent their rooms. No doubt you can rent any room anywhere…. but if you are doing it with a booking engine, you are no longer contributing nor even engaging with the local economy. You are engaging with California.
Meanwhile, Italy is getting obliterated and we try to explain below how it works:.
In order to work with the big booking engines like Expedia, or any of the big networks – the hotels must provide what is called ‘Allotment’, i.e. a certain fixed rooms that Expedia essentially owns for a lower cost than the hotel would provide to you directly or even a travel agency.
Hotels in Italy now often do this with a variety of booking engines, meaning that you might not be able to book the hotel through the hotel’s website itself, but rather through a third booking engine and this means, that for small groups of friends, finding accommodation together at a hotel through the hotel direct is getting more and more complicated.
What this meas for you:
- You are no longer dealing with the hotel directly
- Hotels prefer to go through multi-national big conglomerates
To summarize modern day hotel booking practices:
In fact, you are no longer dealing with the hotel in Italy per-se with regards to your reservation, but rather a multi-national tech company. Sadly, this is taking the personalization and hospitality out of travel in Italy and it’s putting Italy’s hospitality industry into major international for profit corporations that are driving Italy’s local culture towards collapse.
The travel industry, particularly major travel agent conglomerates & consortiums who get more commission kick-backs from larger multi-national tour operators usually backed by international investors
Make no mistake about it, most travel agents at least in the USA work for major agency consortiums like KHM, Travel Leaders, Signature Vacations, American Express or other big conglomerate companies that are doing billions of dollars in business. These companies essentially dictate to the agents who they have to book with, so that in addition to getting a percentage of the travel agent’s commission, they are also getting major kick-backs every year from deals they have with the local Italian tour operators.
Take for example, the multi-national investor backed American Express Travel Group who has multi-million dollar driven deals with the big names like Trafalgar tours or Globus Tours in Italy, the agent will be told that their preferred supplier is GLOBUS tours and to book as many tours to Italy as possible with those ‘preferred companies’ , getting a commission not only by way of the travel agent, but above and beyond in terms of kick-backs.
Consider this: You go to a travel agent and you ask for a holiday. The agent sets you up, most of the time unknowingly on a big-bus tour, they think will be just perfect for your family. It may be a ‘Disney Vacation to Italy’ or a Globus tour. Undoubtedly, the package holiday will cost anywhere from 2000 – 20,000,00 EURO, depending and you are aware that the travel agent selling the holiday will get a commission. What most people, including the agent never knows is that the company they are working for at the end of the year will also get a huge commission on however many agents they have booking under them. Tae American Express has had say 2000 agents book 200,000 trips with Globus at say a rate of 20% to the agent per trip, in addition to this travel agency commission, American Express will also get by way of contract a kick-back of anywhere from 5% to 15% depending on the nature of their business arrangement.
For the big companies, dealing with tens of millions of euro in business for trips to Italy, a kick back of say 5% on ten million is no small lump of change. Be wise.
See our list below for how to interview your travel agent and important questions to ask.
- Social Media & Mass Media
Social media and mass media often give this picture-perfect post-card image, which is of course what they want, the pictures do not reflect what is beneath their surface image, which is in fact not such a pretty picture and in almost all instances, completely in authentic, for Italian hotels and tourist establishments have adopted a ‘get them in – get the out’ type of mentality.
Not only this, but the rise of the ‘blogging industry’ is also significant for the dispersement of a lot of articles that go viral about Italy, because bloggers too are advertisers, they want to be paid, are often paid to travel and get free perks and many are paid by the hotel industry for the dispersement of their message.
- Lack of education about the reality of the situation – When you don’t know better, you can’t do better. Like drinking and driving or smoking was not considered a real danger decades ago, The vast majority of travelers to Italy don’t know that mass tourism is a real danger to Italy and are not aware the reality of the situation in Italy and would probably be choosing to travel differently if they were made aware in advance. The issue is mostly the dissemination of information, the lack of knowledge and accessibility of easily accessible viable alternatives.
WHEN WE KNOW BETTER, WE CAN DO BETTER
How Not to Fall Pray to Mass Tourism in Italy
1) Read & Educate Yourself before you go.
There are no shortage of resources on-line or inprint or on You Tube. You can and you should learn about other areas in Italy that you might not have heard about other than the touristy places. You can easily find out on the Internet, explore all the regions and destinations we cover on our website, or go on You Tube or other mediums to discover alternatives.
2) Interview Your Travel Agent & Find out about their backing company, Experience in Italy & if they work with Locals in Italy
Travel agents, good ones, are incredible resources and we love all the travel agents we work with all over the world, yet we feel it is important for the general consumer to understand that in hiring a travel agent, just as you would a lawyer, doctor or any other professional you ask questions about their background.
It is important when coming to Italy, you make sure to interview your travel agent and find out what associations they may belong to and if they use Travel Bound, this is a particularly dangerous company for mass tourism that over 80% of agencies in North America and Australia use to book tours to Italy. This booking engine caters mostly to travel agents who can gain a huge commission off of the bookings they make here and they have made it very easy and commission friendly for agents who book with them, meaning for the end-use however you are getting the same-old-same-old.
Make sure to Interview your travel agent to find out if they have the right knowledge to help you planning and the level of education / associations they may belong to and if they use Travel Bound. Once you know that, you know a lot!
Important Questions to ask your Travel Agent:
- What company your agent is affiliated with, i.e. conglomerate like Signature or other host agencies which many home based travel agents are part of.
- What education about Italy they have had other than the major touristic areas
- How many times to Italy they have have been in the past two years
- What types of feedback they have had from travellers to Italy in the past two years
- If they have done any educational fam or other types of resource training in Italy where they have learned about the various regions in Italy
3) Stay Longer than You Think in One Place & Don’t Try to See Italy in One Single Trip
Plan to stay longer in one place and don’t plan to visit cities like Venice for less than 3 nights/4 days, because if you are only going for 1-2 nights per location, you have no time to get to know it in the first place.
- Plan a trip a local winery, restaurant or travel group might be planning with a local in Italy
- Use local drivers and guides and do private tours rather than big bus, hop-on-hop-off tours, which are never a good idea anyway.
Use local drivers to do sightseeing en-route from location to location so you don’t have to back-track into say Tuscany from Florence. Your train will be going through Tuscany, so use a driver to take you into Tuscany on your way from either Florence or Rome.
5) Go in the off-season
Winter is one of the very best times to come to Italy. Less crowds, lower prices, happier service staff. The off-season is not the ‘low’ season anymore in Italy. It’s the happy time.
Italy is busy all year round, yet the winter in so many places remains so much more relaxed and wonderful in so many ways.
Experience wonderful Winter in Italy.
- Stay in an Agriturismo or use private villas in the countryside as a base and stay close to towns where you can have interaction with the local communities and farmers
- Get away from towns and cities only accessible by train where most of the masses are staying.
- Don’t stay in the big chain or multi-national owned hotels like Mariott or internationally owned conglomerates
- Seek out alternative programs and tours that are focused on health, wellness and local producers.
- Follow industry leaders who promote sustainable tourism initiatives and are not promoting the same old things on a variety of circuits
- Use caution and question social media. When following social media assume that if you are seeing a picture of one place on Instagram that millions of other are too and they are all going there.
- Use eco-friendly properties that may cost a little bit less, but have a way less damaging impact on the environment and usually their in-house staff is treated much better.
- Consider cycling or walking tours.
- Don’t do excursions from your cruise ships into Florence or Rome. Get into the countryside or go up the coast where your cruise ship docks. Get into nearby gardens, visit the local towns and wine or cheese producers. Don’t get suckered into an excursion into the major tourists cities. Use a local driver guide who can show you the local territory.
- Consider the top 10 most touristy places in Italy and seek alternatives.
From north to south, here are the most touristic places in Italy:
BELLAGIO, LAKE COMO
SORRENTO, AMALFI COAST
POSITANO, AMALFI COAST
Consider alternatives to these areas of which there are so many of us, we couldn’t create a list. You can even access the major touristic sites, but also have access to real culture, lower priced restaurants and usually friendly and authentic services!
Consider these as equally beautiful yet way less touristic:
Heading to Venice? Consider staying on the Brenta Riviera which is a beautiful area in the Veneto, only about 30 minutes from Venice. In fact, this is where all the Venetians use to have their summer residences and it’s absolutely beautiful.
Thinking Verona, consider the Valpolicella wine district or Lake Garda
Thinking Amalfi Coast? Think the Cilento Coast or the Coast of Maratea
Rome – Consider the Castellin Romani, Lake Bracciano, Fregene or Ladispoli on the coast of Rome
Thinking Taormina, you may want to stay in one of the towns in the valley between Taormina and
Thinking Florence and Tuscany? Think Piedmont
Thinking Cinque Terre, you might want to consider Monte Argentario in Tuscany or the Aeolian Islands in Sicly
17) Get in touch with us or have your travel agent reach out to learn about our sustainable and healthy tourism initiatives and itineraries which take you off the beaten tourist trap routes where we engage you in the local community and making you a part of the solution!
We are one of many tour operators in Italy dedicated to providing authentic and community driven experiences. Our team of ecologically conscious travel experts is expanding, attracting and facilitating co-creative experiences with local community members, because we ourselves are a part of the community here in Italy.
We believe that many travelers want alternatives to the vicious circle in which so many get caught up in when traveling to Italy and it all starts with education, hence the creation of the Italy Education Center where we educate travel professionals and visitors about the dangerous trends in the tourism industry here in Italy.
When you work with us, we make you a part of our green family!
Email anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jesse Caitlin Andrews, October 31, 2018
About the author
Jesse Andrews is the owner of World View Consultants group of companies which include the Italy Vacation Specialists, Wine Tours Italia & Italy Education Center. Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, Canada with strong ties to the community & environmental initiatives in British Columbia, Jesse is a two-time graduate of McGill University.
Jesse’s passions and studies include Environmental Sciences, English literature and Humanistic Studies and for most of her life she studied to become an Environmental Lawyer. She holds a joint honors in English Literature and Humanistic Studies as well as Masters in Communications. In 2003, Jesse moved from Montreal to Praia a Mare, Calabria, Italy where she has lived for sixteen years leading, guiding and designing travel experiences in Italy for tens of thousands of people.