06 Feb 2010

10 reasons why, in my opinion, a country that has so much is so bad in promoting it, with very few exceptions.

10 things I don’t like about Italian tourism promotion

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Every time I go to the UK or North America I come back thinking that, even if they don’t have a fraction of the tourist attractions we have in Italy, the difference is not so evident in the end, because they know how to make the best out of what they have. Tourism promotion and infrastructure in those countries is simply exceptional. The materials, the campaigns, the museums: everything is for the common people, and all the tourism businesses are equally promoted and enhanced.

For a discussion on the more democratic and less élitist attitude towards museums and culture in general, see this article on Tuscany Arts, the blog about art in Tuscany by the region tourism promotion team. Actually, I should say that the Regione Toscana represents a noticeable exception in the sad panorama of Italian tourism promotion: Tuscany is trying to fully exploit the visibility given by social networks through its “Voglio Vivere Così Social Media Team” and All Thing Tuscany.

But since I feel a bit grumpy today, and a brief Twitter exchange with two very interesting people, Andy Hayes (@andrewghayes) and Flip Florence (@FlipFlorence), inspired me, I’ll just list a few things I don’t like about Italian tourism promotion.

  1. I don’t like most official websites. I don’t find them attractive at all and they are rarely suitable to perform the function a tourism-related website should perform, i.e. attract the traveler, make him or her dream of the location, convey the spirit of the place. They are often very plain, graphically unappealing, too “crowded“, often old and dated in their look. Often, they work fine in Explorer but not in Firefox or Safari. They are usually not suitable to be browsed on mobile phones.
  2. Most recent articles on official tourism websites are only in Italian. Many sites don’t even bother having all the textual content translated. Therefore, it often happens that the most interesting and recent stuff on the home page does not have a corresponding version in the other languages of the website, which makes it impossible to use the information unless you want to take the time to translate it yourself. Some of the translations are really bad, clearly not done by professionals. I’ll never forget the title on the cover of the official Pisa tourism magazine that we distributed to over 200 participants in an important conference we had spent a year planning: it promoted the “51th Regatta” (Bad English 101).
  3. I find it upsetting and unacceptable that most official sites, including the national ENIT ITALIA one, do not include regularly-licensed self-catering accommodations: Case Vacanza. We pay the same taxes as hotels and other “strutture turistico-alberghiere”, and we go through the same amount of trouble to comply with all the safety and hospitality regulations and yet, vacation rentals are not even a category in the accommodation search on the website (whose navigation, by the way, is made up of two dreadful buttons named accommodation and accommodation 2).
  4. The promotional material is often useless. I remember the book that the Maremma tourism promotion distributed last year and which was full of completely useless stuff for the tourist and it was more suitable as a phone book than as a resource that accommodation facilities could make available to their guests. And it looked expensive too, in glossy paper, with a hard cover binder. Basically wasted money. The publications are often wordy, and boring. Guides to museums and monuments, or cities sound like lectures rather than entertainment, which is what tourism is for most people. The graphics once again are plain. I think the country lacks real communication professionals specifically trained for tourism communication.
  5. There is no coordination between the different entities in tourism promotion, and this results in a general confusion in which much energy is wasted to attain very poor results. The regional site and council has nothing (as far as I can see) to do with the local tourism councils (e.g. Terre di Siena – just redesigned, Maremma tourism council, Pisa Unica Terra, etc.), and with the “consorzi” (another Italian mystery… basically associations of private business owners who can get public money…), and the local tourism associations (associazioni turistico-culturali or ricreative) and pro-loco associations (village and town associations). The result is that there is no central database of events. There is no sharing of resources. If you want to know what’s going on in Tuscany you need to check 30 different sites, and most of the time you’ll have no idea of what’s going on, because the page is only in Italian.
  6. At the local level, which is what is most relevant for local tourism businesses, events are almost always planned at the very last minute, which is of absolutely no use if you work with foreign guests and want to use the events as a means to promote the area. We need the events planned and published at least 6 months in advance. And we need stuff that is good for both Italians and foreigners.
  7. Most of the promotion is always focused on the major “pull factors” of an area, that is on the most popular stuff. The stuff everybody already knows about. Even if I understand that you need the “hot spots” to attract people, you also need to promote the lesser-known destinations that are off-the-beaten-path for no good reason than not having been promoted well before. I remember Montalcino °before Brunello was Brunello”: the town was just as beautiful, the wine was just as good, but the marketing and advertising campaigns had not been nearly as effective. There are many other places that are just as beautiful as Montalcino or Cortona, just as well located, but which have not had that massive amount of money poured into promoting them, or a rich American writer who bought a house there and wrote 2 novels about it, or vampires saving mortal girls in their main squares. It should be the tourism councils’  job to promote the territory, and not the local Castello Banfi’s.
  8. Most of the initiatives promoted by local tourism councils involve some larger private business, which in the end is after its own profit. Consorzi are like that most of the time: they usually involve a bunch of desperate accommodation facility owners and a travel agency that manages their promotion and reservations. The larger the consorzio the smaller the visibility of the individual properties, yet the profits of the travel agency remain the same. Every year the local tourism council organizes seminars for the tourism business owners and every year the same large web agency gives a presentation, offers a free evaluation of your website and pours a bunch of professionally sounding words into non-web-savvy people’s ears (web 2.0, viral marketing, social networks, open websites, etc) and then tries to sell their services. Nobody needs to spend money for what they offer. The council should teach people how to do it themselves. Then, if they want, they can choose to pay someone to do it for them, but not without first knowing how easy it is. And ultimately I don’t understand how a public institution selects a private business to give it such overwhelming visibility. It doesn’t seem fair to all the other similar agencies, the local ones, that pour their money into the area and are never contacted to give presentations or offer suggestions. Another Italian mystery.
  9. I know that in international fairs some tourism promotion agencies offer free holidays and other free stuff. How do they decide who is to offer the free stuff (and hence to get all that publicity)? I’ve never been contacted once.
  10. The Italian government now offers “holiday vouchers” to low-income families. That is a good idea, because it creates opportunities for the tourism businesses and it improves the economy. I admit the first time I took a look at the website I was upset because it was not possible to sign up to be one of the places where you can spend the vouchers, and yet there were so many commercials about it, etc. Now they have reopened the subscriptions again, so that problem is solved. What’s not solved or fair is that if you accept holiday vouchers, in order to cash them you have to go to one of the branches of Banca San Paolo, you get reimbursed 45-60 days later and you have to pay 4% + VAT as a processing fee… Now, why in the world should I pay 4% + IVA for accepting vouchers?! If the State wants to give that money to Banca San Paolo it should come out of their pockets, not ours! Another Italian mystery.


  1. I could not agree more!
    There are many other points I could add. For example the new law (in Umbria) that guests have to wear ‘cuffie’ (bathing caps) in the swimming pool. Many people will go elsewhere.
    Another big issue is licensing. As a holiday rental agent I can not officially be licenced. Agenzia immobiliare does not fit what I do and I can not become a tour operator because the exams have been closed since many many years. This makes it almost impossible to work here.

    Trying to organise some folders for guests is very time consuming and they make it (again) impossible. You can get a few folders, but I would need at least 100 at a time and that is very difficult.

    Italy is having more and more problems attracting tourists and the government is making it harder and harder for us to work here. A real shame!

  2. I know that the new minister wanted to liberalize some professions, e.g. tourist guides, but there are real lobbies (travel agencies, real estate agencies, etc.). I agree. The regulations are crazy and too restrictive. Especially because most of the people who work in the field are not as good as some of those who could work in the field and do well, but are not licenced. Do you know that you can take the exam to become a direttore tecnico di agenzia anywhere in Italy and then move it to your location? Lucca has three or 4 sessions every year at regular intervals, but I know that they fail everybody asking impossible questions.

  3. On the other hand…

    The lack of attractive, efficient, and informative official websites in Italy has created a void that has spawned a plethora of websites that are highly informative–like yours. I don’t find these kinds of sites for Germany or Portugal. Trying to find info on Portugal in English is far more difficult.

    Just sayin’…


  4. Hi James, thank you for your comment. If I am not mistaken you had an article about the new Voglio Vivere Così campaign on your site, but I cannot seem to find the link now.

    I suppose that’s the positive side of it, still I would probably write anyway, because I enjoy it. It would be easier if I could get some more up-to-date information on the official websites.

    Thank you for your kind words! Much appreciated! :o)

  5. As always, a brilliant observation on the state of the world…
    You see, Gloria, they’re just trying to make it CHALLENGING for you! Otherwise where would be the fun in trying to run a business ;-)!
    Thank you for the compliments about the Voglio Vivere Cosi social media team and campaign. We do indeed try to promote the more hidden gems in Tuscany, we write in English, and we try to provide information that is really _informative_, including links to external sites to make things easier on people planning a trip.

  6. Dear Alexandra! You are doing an excellent job with the Voglio Vivere Così Social Media Team. I only wish that the Tuscany Events Blog was activated soon!

    Also, if I may, I think the people responsible for the various aspects should follow as many people tweeting about Tuscany from Tuscany as they can and help them gain visibility and spread their word. That would be another way to help the people who work here, and to promote all areas of the region.

    I also think that there should be more collaboration with the universities. What do you think?

  7. I’m not a fan of those expensive, slick, artsy-fartsy ad campaigns. Tuscany is a compelling enough place on its own, so you should be able to tell the story straight. Here’s the link: I so Don’t Want to Live Like This.


  8. Thank you James!

  9. Where does one begin.

    First of all, I live in a tourism backwater. Piemonte is beautiful and there are lots, lots of people making individual efforts, only to get frustrated.

    In Acqui Terme, there is a B&B Association which I did not join. I could not see spending 100 euro when my marketing budget is limited to begin with. Their big claim to fame is that they get the local clinic to refer family members of patients for one night stays. Anyway, the Tourism office in AT wanted to force the B&B’s to publish their info in German and English (we are less than 2 hours from the Swiss border, hence the German). This accomplishes nothing, because the owners still don’t speak a foreign language, but OK, it was well intended. The Association reacted rabidly, stating that there is no Swiss or German tourist base in Acqui Terme, how could they force this rule on the poor, empty B&Bs? Well, since 50% of my base is Swiss and German and I have to turn them DOWN because I get so many requests and have no where to turn, I see that the B&B Assoc. has not got a clue to what the tourism story in Piemonte is. But now the lines are drawn and no one is listening any more. The statistics from the Tourism Office here bear out the fact that we are loaded with Swiss in AT. But they goofed in implementing the communication, so now it’s a standoff.

    I won’t send my propsective guests to the other B&B’s because the other B&B’s don’t try to understand the cultural requirements (minimal, in my opinion) of foreign guests.

    We have a long way to go, but since there is a general acceptance of beureaucratic thinking which pervades tourism here (this is just a tiny example) on all sides, I have no choice but to just stick it out on my own.

  10. Thank you for your insightful comment Diana! I totally agree, you know that.

    I think one of the problems is that the people who manage the tourism councils and promotion organisms have no direct contact with the people who work well in tourism. Have you ever been contacted by anybody to know what you do to be more successful than the majority of your fellow “aquesi”? Have you every been contacted to ask you what you don’t like?

    I haven’t.

  11. Gloria

    I just LOVE it when you write about something that is bugging you: you do it so honestly and your posts never disapppoint. Don’t stop!


  12. Thank you Donna! I take you agree… For the readers: Donna has a great website about Maremma (so she the other “maremmana” here!) called Maremma Travel Guide.
    And I guess she faces the same challenge as we do, living in this beautiful region full of mysteries… ;o)

  13. I completely agree with any one of your points, Gloria, and many thanks for having quoted Voglio Vivere Così Social Media Team of which I am part 🙂

  14. Ciao Gloria. I agree 100% with your “10 things”. I can tell you that the promo that Umbria APT does is ..no comment. I think that we, private, are doing the job that the local goverment should do. For ex. I spent many pages on my website (and money for the translation done by mothertogue speakers also for English, even if more or less I am able to do it, I prefer a professional, as the language has to be perfect!) to introduce Umbria (because there isn’t an appropriate website). Immagine that I have a lot of visit from Japan because my website is one of the few in Japanese about Umbria in general. I could write a poem about the difficulties that I had since I’ve been starting my company caused by burocracy and so on, but it will be too long.
    On the other end I have a different opinion about licenses, “autorizzazioni”. I worked a lot to have all the licence to become a tour operator and I studied a lot to pass the exam of Direttore Tecnico (in Lucca ^_^ that you say that it’s very hard and it is!). We pay taxes and professional insurance, INPS and so on. So you can imagine that we are not so happy when other people (and there are a lot!!) do our job without any license. Sometimes I think that I am the “fessa”, the stupid of the village.
    Another important problem that you can add to your list is that the Goverment asks us to be regular, but they don’t do anything against the irregulars…who go on as nothing happens, especially in this period of crise when we have to pay a lot of taxes and fees and they nothing, as they don’t exist at all for Guardia di Finanza!!Concerning the lobbies that you mentioned, there are for sure..especially the “amici degli amici” lobby, which, as you know is the stronger in our country in every field.
    Sorry for this long post. Thank you.

  15. Ciao Alessandra,
    I have nothing against the fact that people should attend courses and be in lists of autorised direttori tecnici, guide, etc, pay inps, taxes, have insurances. I agree on all of that. I think it should not be so difficult, because for instance, I cannot organize wine tours for my guests or book a table for them at a restaurant. But I don’t care, and I don’t want to sell air tickets or holiday packages, etc. I don’t want to be a travel agency, I want to offer more services for my guests.

    The other thing is that the professions are incompatible with any other work. I don’t want to have to give up teaching or researching to organize a couple of activities once a year.

    I think there should be a mandatory course and then you should be licenced, that’s all.

    And besides the irregulars, also the regulars who are just prestanome and never set their foot in the agency they are supposed to be running should be punished as well.

    I also want to thank all the other people who left comments. I am happy to see that I am not the only one who feels this way.

    Thank you also to the team of Voglio Vivere Così: they are doing a great job. The best job I’ve seen so far.

  16. Gloria I understand your point of view and I agree with the “prestanome” thing, which is incredible. The main problem, the mother of the problem is that there aren’t any controls by the authorities. This is the main problem in my opinion. Your idea of a mandatory course to be licensed for ex. to do a sort of part time/seasonal tourist activity is very good, but I guess that there will be some “furbetto” (foxy) that will use this license to organize it all year round as his/her main activity. Imagine that there would be a mandatory course to become a “seasonal” teacher and then this teacher then does your job like you that studied a lot, passed exams and so on, Imagine.Do you know the problem of the so called “cultural associations”which acts as tour operators? There are several here inn Umbria.It’s a shame.
    I was a teacher (private school) before. I left, deciding to guess everything on this activity..maybe I am crazy, somethimes I think to be crazy…

  17. Amy

    I find using the Italian tourism sites very frustrating. They seem to rarely be updated, so that even finding the upcoming date for an event that’s a yearly happening may be impossible. There doesn’t seem to be any mechanism on most of them for getting info as it comes available–through a mailing list, a Twitter or Facebook following, or even getting a response via e-mail to your question. It’s as if someone has thrown up a page (rarely finished!), and left it there without actually using it as a vehicle for information. It seems like the organization has paid someone to produce a website, but there’s no followup by either the webmaster or the organization staff to actually use it!

    I’ve had good results from the town tourism offices when I’ve visited in person—helpful staff, good materials and maps. It would be great to see this local info online!

  18. Thank you Amy!

    Alessandra, it’s probably more a matter of “sentire” than reason. I admire you for going through all the fuss. I have all the books looking at me from a shelf but just can’t get around to studying most of that stuff.

    Because I don’t NEED it. I don’t think that to organize stuff like the stuff I would like to organize, 3 time a year or a 100, you need more than to be regular (be in some sort of list, have a vat number and use it) and to have an insurance. Sorry. I don’t need biglietteria aerea, I would need a lawyer and an accountant anyway, I don’t want to know the Amazon’s geography to send people on a wine tour in the Chianti area.

    To be a teacher you study what you need and take an exam (and yet most people who teach in schools are not “abilitati”) but on the stuff you actually NEED: your subject and some general pedagogical stuff.

    I think a course with mandatory attendance would be more than enough for most stuff people needs to do. Checking the “furbi”, that is not our responsibility. But the fear of the furbi should not damage everybody. That’s what I think, my very personal opinion.

    Clearly the state thinks differently because instead of liberalizing they create always new restrictions.

    And once again I would like to underline that I totally respect and admire the people who, like you, take the time and effort (an enormous one) to study and take the exam. Maybe sooner or later I’ll do the same! 🙂

  19. Thank you Gloria! I understand when you talk about biglietteria aerea and so on. Even if we are an incoming tour operator I had to study all the other stuff because there isn’t a licence only for incoming….this is another point to add to your list.. In any case, I am sure that you have all the chances to pass the exam and if you need some tips I am happy to help you.

  20. Hi Alessandra, I might ask you stuff!!!

    I would like to leave a link to all the interesting comments that the participants in the Slow Travel Forum left on the topic discussed in my article.

    Thank you all!

  21. Gloria, I just had a brief look at your post and I’ll sit down later and read it properly and write something, in the meanwhile I just saw this on fb and I think that it can be an interesting read: http://firmiamo.it/lettera-aperta-brambilla
    It’s about the rates offered to professionals translating text for the italia.it website…

  22. I wonder if a Twitter exchange may have encouraged you to look into this Gloria.

    What is odd is that not many people are aware just how badly Italy promotes itself.

    Marco Ferrari of the newly set up Imagine Communications told me that there has has been no coordinated approach to tourism promotion in Italy for the last 15 years! Incredible, isn’t it?

    A student of mine at the business school where I work did a thesis on how France marketed itself -mainly because she could not understand why more people went to France than to Italy. Basically, France knows how to market itself, while Italy does not.

    Coordination helps, but Italy is not famous for this…

    Hope your post wakes a few people up. About time.


    Alex – I have also written a little on this subject: http://www.blogfromitaly.com/rusting-italian-tourism/

  23. Thank you Giulia and Alex. I have had this post in mind for quite a while… What you write makes me sad (not the form but the content!!! 🙂 )

    Besides, there are many other interesting comments on the Slow Travel forum. I hope who’s in charge will think about it.

  24. Gloria, when you need my “direttore tecnico” stuff, let me know.
    with pleasure.

  25. Many more interesting comments on the Slow Travel Forum.
    And a very interesting, and sad, report about Italy at the Los Angeles Convention Center Travel show.

    How bad is that?

  26. Ciao Gloria,

    ho trovato perfetto il post e ti chiedo la possibilità di proporlo sul mio blog di critica costruttiva al turismo, naturalmente a tuo nome.
    In attesa di una tua gradita approvazione, ti invio i miei migliori complimenti.
    Buona Pasqua

  27. @James Martin: I read your article on WanderingItaly, and I have to say I too was very puzzled when I first saw the spot ‘Voglio Vivere così’;

    it did not match my vision of Tuscany, and the kind of aesthetics I look for when I travel.

    Maybe they’ve got their reasons, they want to show ALSO a different view.


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