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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.