06 May 2009

What do Slow Travel, the physicist F. David Peat’s theory of “Gentle Action” and eco-tourism have to do with each other? Find out why “Gentle tourism” is the way to go and why it has to be slow, sustainable and local.

“Gentle Travel” is the way to go!

Today, my source of inspiration was a chat I had with Giulia of the beautiful Locanda della Valle Nuova (Le Marche) about an interesting article about ecotourism that she posted on Twitter.

The author, Len Cordiner, CEO of whl.travel, discusses the problem of the certification of accommodations and tours as “eco-friendly”, a matter that I will leave aside here. But the interesting point he makes is that he believes that something did not quite work as planned, as many people tend to equate

green vacation with doing it tough – hard beds and tasteless food. Green or sustainable holidays were perceived as something only tree huggers would do, not at all fun or enjoyable.

For this reason, he says, we need a new thinking and his proposal is to engage

“travellers with a coherent and inviting new vision of what ‘eco’ (now perhaps better known as responsible or sustainable or even slow) tourism is really about.

This done, travellers will need to be engaged in driving change throughout the supply chain by giving feedback to other travellers, much in the same way they are prompting evolution in the hotel industry (including new brands) with their feedback on services. I imagine a slow tourism version of Trip Advisor being what it looks like.”

I read this and I thought: “this is not a new way of thinking, this is what we have been doing for a while”. And indeed Slow Tourism is a well-established reality, as the lively community participating in the Slow Travel Forum and contributing to the site evidences clearly.

There are many professionals in Italy that adhere to the slow travel philosophy, and abroad as well (think about the Slow Travel Tours). We organizied a Get Together in Italy both last year (we hosted the first Italian Slow Travel Inn Keepers in our village in 2008) and this year Megan of Bella Vita Italia organized the get-together in Lerici, Liguria.

Nothing new about using travellers’ feedback either: Slow Travel has been posting slow travellers’ reviews for years.

So what’s new then? Giulia rightly pointed out that Mr. Cordiner brings into the mix the idea of ecotourism and sustainability. He actually writes “even slow“, as if “slow travel” was one of the possible ways to make tourism sustainable. I do agree on this: slow travel may and should indeed be sustainable.

People from different areas of expertise though should not work separately to defining the new paradigms of tourism research and practice. Tourists, practitioners and researchers should all work together.

I started wondering about why, in a time in which travelling slow seems to be getting quite popular (at least according to this article), I still felt that there is more to it than just pace and greenness…

I have been talking about this with 4 dear friends, with whom I feel I have much in common both from a human and professional point of view and with whom I have often discussed tourism-related matters. We share some fundamental views about both travelling and welcoming people: one is Giulia of La Locanda della Valle Nuova, near Urbino in Le Marche, and the others are Letizia of La Madonna del Piatto, near Assisi in Umbria, Diana of Baur B&B, near Acqui Terme in Piedmont, and Megan of La Bella Vita Italia, in Lerici in Liguria.

The article also reminded me of David Peat‘s work on Gentle Action (he’s a physicist and philosopher…, but that’s not the point, if you are curious to see what he’s up to in his small hilltop hamlet in Tuscany you can check the site of the cultural center he has created). He has similar ideas on social and economic issues. He says something important, I believe. He speaks of

“actions which begin from within the system in question and emerge in creative ways.. These may range from projects on an international scale to a simple action by an individual. Such actions generally flow from what Peat has termed “creative suspension” – that temporary pause when we listen and learn what the system has to teach us before taking action”.

This got me thinking, and I realized that this is exactly what defines my attitude to travel and tourism and this is what I think I share with Giulia, Letizia, Diana and Megan.

We believe in travelling slow, so that we can properly enjoy what is local, and actually learn from it. We do all we can to offer our guests this very same experience when we are the hosts rather than the travellers: we believe in offering a true and authentic local experience, in allowing people to see Italy and our life as it really is by helping them to take advantage of what the areas in which we are located has to offer.

I believe in promoting a type of travel experience which does not change the area in which I operate, but rather touches the people who come here. I don’t want to exploit, but to enrich, both my homeland and the travelers who come see it.

I have understood that I believe not only in Slow Travel and Slow Tourism, but in a true Gentle Travel, in Gentle Tourism and by this I mean a type of tourism experience which is sustainable, which promotes what’s truly local, the way it is, without adjusting it to please the traveler, and which for this reason allows him or her to truly experience everyday life in its most authentic aspects.

And at the same time it allows the locals to be able to show what they have to offer. This is why I have contacted the local wineries to organize wine tastings rather than sending people to a more famous  area farther away. I have found local farmers who can show their olive groves, or take people out for a ride with their horses. I have found a local bike shop whose owners are happy to take people out for a bike tour. I have found local people willing to teach family cooking. I invite people to shop at the local stores, so that they can truly experience the local way of life. I try to show what the system has to give.

I believe that travellers should get in contact with the local communities, enrich them and learn from them, looking at them with an open mind.

I hope I’ll be able to promote this idea by helping people to travel in a gentle way to Tuscany and at the same time by helping locals to bring out all the amazing things that I know for a fact this area has to offer.

I really hope I’ll be able to help my area speak for itself and help people to listen to it.


  1. Thank you for a thought provoking blog post, and for the introduction to whl.travel. I think a lot of people are beginning to think about how they can travel lighter (gentler) on this earth …

  2. Thank you Colleen! I would really love for people to discuss these matters a bit more.

  3. An interesting article on cross-cultural communication and tourism.

    Sydneysider Kerry Lorimer runs a business promoting sustainable travelling, which she says covers “authentic and respectful cultural interaction”.

    Also, on sustainable tourism: The ultimate guide to sustainable travel.

  4. Dear Gloria,

    A very nice article. You have touched on the essence of what travel should be and I think can be. My hunch is that these views are widely held, but that it will take some time still till we can create real traction globally.
    I look forward to working closely with people like you to make this happen.

    Kind Regards………. Len

  5. Dear Len,

    thank you for your comment! I am really glad to read your opinion. I agree, it will take a long time, and I think it won’t probably ever be a globally-endorsed idea. And that probably wouldn’t even be feasible and it would produce the same oxymoron as eco-tourism…

    I heard an interview (sorry I didn’t catch the name of the interviewee) on the radio, and this person was saying that tourism is the largest and most “destructive” industry of all and that we should move towards a type of tourism that does not leave any trace in the places that it hits.

    This is IMPOSSIBLE and I think it’s not even right. Contact between people has always left something and produced interesting cultural developments. The “road we should travel”, instead, is a gentle, non-imperialistic type of tourism contact.

    Change, however, whatever it is, should come from within. Also as a result of tourism, why not. It would be impossible to stop change. The only important thing is that whatever change tourism produces it should not be enough to transform and disfigure what’s local. And it should first and foremost allow the local community to develop along a path that’s true to its nature, history and culture.

    This is a value we should promote first and foremost among travelers. It will probably never be a global value, but it doesn’t matter. Like all important and difficult things we need to start somewhere. Also in just a tiny place like our home and village.

  6. Personally, I don’t think the definitions matter. There’s enough ‘long tail’ appeal for the substance — locals and visitors coming together in a mutually beneficial fashion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Slow Travel and the Slow Travel Guides to Melbourne and Sydney are among my favorites. That said, I enjoy your argument I really like the term ‘gentle travel.’ Fact is, when it’s all good, it’s all good.

    Reading Les’ essay, I find myself in agreement that the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria misses the point. Travelers have been left out and the conversation has mostly taken place behind closed doors. This is no way to win public approval, no matter what you call it.

    A tech note – I’d like to keep track of the lessons you’re sharing and will add the RSS feed for this blog to the Italy page on our wiki.

    Cheers, Ron Mader

  7. It’s really nice article

    Thanks Gloria

    Cheers, T.A

  8. Dear Ron and Vuanh, thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your comments!

    As to RSS Feed, there is some technical stuff that makes the blog behave somewhat oddly. Apparently you need to put the entire feed address http://www.athomeintuscany.org/feed/ rather than just the url.

    I have just posted a new article about “local travel” commenting on Stephen Chapman’s article Another new local travel knowledge site. I hope you will let me have your feedback. Thank you!


  9. A great article about shopping in local markets.

    (The cow faces in Florence are quite something…)

    Thank you Palma (Slow Travel Tours)!

  10. First webinar on Responsible Tourism on June 4th:

  11. The recording and transcript of the webinar held on Thursday 4 June at 13:00 BST is available on the Make Travel Fair site.

    “The audio begins about 30 seconds into the video, and although the host’s voice (Sally Broom, Your Safe Planet) is unfortunately out of sync with presenters in this recording it should be possible to hear most of what was discussed.” A full summary of what was said is also available on the site.

    On the whl.travel blog, you can find comments on the Global Leaders of Responsible Tourism Webinar.

  12. I am sure most of the people who read my blog already know of the Home-Away – Gran Tourismo project.
    “Travel writers Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, in partnership with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals, trade hotel rooms for holiday homes as they embark on a contemporary grand tour of the globe. They are be travelling slowly, living like locals, doing and learning things, and giving something back at each destination they visit. Their mission is to explore more enriching and authentic ways of travelling, and make travel more meaningful and more memorable.”

    They have just started a monthly travel blogging competition. This is from the competition announcement:

    “We’re inviting you to create an inspiring blog post, consisting of a 500-word piece of evocative travel writing and one compelling photograph that motivates people to:

    – explore more authentic and enriching ways to travel
    – get beneath sthe skin of a place when they travel
    – learn to live like locals
    – travel more slowly and more sustainably, and/or
    – give something back to the places they visit.”

    Here is the link to the Gran Tourismo blog.

  13. Ciao Gloria

    Thank you so much for sharing our blog and contest with people here. It’s much appreciated.

    Don’t you feel like there is a real backlash against mass tourism and a real move towards ‘going local’ and more sustainable travel? Love it!


  14. I think so, yes! And it’s great! Thank you for your comment!

  15. Hi Gloria,

    I appreciate very much your words about enhancing the local culture especially for those little villages and cities that are off the beaten roads.

    I’m totally with you and your friends Giulia, Letizia, Diana, Megan, when you say you’re working to “offer your guests the very same experience when we are the hosts rather than traveller…in allowing people to see Italy and our life as it is really by helping them to take advantage of what the area in which we are located has to offer”

    I leave in a small village between Pisa and Lucca and managing since short time a small B&B in my family property, I’m trying to involve very local “suppliers” to give travellers the chance to enjoy smaller and local events: nature excursions, cooking lessons or smaller festival, in addition to well known art cities.

    On the other hand I’m currently investigating on my property history tracking what our predecessors did hundred of years ago; it’s amazing how many documents are still recorded in the public archives describing life facts to be shared with guests just to involve them and really let them know about the place the are temporary living.

    It’s nice to see that you and other people are working to “help my area speak for itself and help people to listen to it”

    I’d like to share experiences, please get in touch with me whenever you may think it would be helpful.

    have a nice day

  16. That’s nice! Where are you exactly Marco?

  17. Gloria, I’m in Avane between Pisa and Lucca, just along the Serchio river!

  18. I know where that is! It’s a beautiful area! We should come say hi once! We live in Pisa during the week and we are back in my home village at the weekend.

  19. Good, you’ll be welcome! just let me know; we’ll share experiences on welcoming people and “gentle travel” 🙂


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