WOULD YOU PLEASE ACCOMPANY ME?
Would you please accompany me? This is the request of the guest visiting our area for the first time and asking for our cooperation to understand better who we are. Welcoming the request with professionalism is the authentic meaning of hospitality.
Talking about tourism in a country with a gigantic heritage is a complicated undertaking. Even more difficult is to talk about the evolution of tourism due to a diversity of concomitant factors.
Many years have passed since I graduated from high school as a Tourism Operator. At a time when the word marketing was almost a neologism, paper still prevailed over digital, and the web was far to come. In the meantime, tools, mindsets, travelers, and the idea of vacations, which used to be long and relegated to one month a year in the same place every summer, have changed.
Tourism is evolving, and just like wine changes as humans change. Although some basic assumptions and the curiosity that moves the world remain valid, we must rethink.
What do we start with?
Let’s start with people. The power of our information technology tools has made available an amount of information unimaginable until recently, by detail and by place in the world. This availability implies that people no longer hold the info; computer systems do. As they say, technically, it “has been disintermediated.” No problem, but what is the consequence of this?
Paradoxically, I can make an entire trip worldwide without ever exchanging a word with anyone. Tickets for the trip, information and access keys for the hotel, and menus in different restaurants are available online without interacting with anyone in any of the world’s languages. People have become extra to the simultaneous supply/demand relationship; we can return to the PC for any request. Then, a new question arises: is this the travel we want?
People at the center!
In this context, the demand for experiential tourism has exploded. What does that mean? It is no longer enough for me to see a place, a palace, or a museum; instead, I want to be the protagonist of a moment and take this feeling with me for as long as possible. What do I read into this demand? A hidden need for relationship, constantly ignored: “Human contact wanted. Please talk to me, I’ve traveled across the globe to see this place, but this is all meaningless if I can’t talk to you.”
Ironically, one hopes for the unexpected as long as one deals with a flesh-and-blood person who sees before them not just a customer but a human being in need of listening, smiling, confrontation, or comfort, as the case may be.
Empaths by profession
But which professionals can meet this demand? The truth is that we have yet to invent them. As conceived in the Italian law of 2000, the tourism professions require technical jobs to accompany a hypothetical traveler on a bus predominantly and a more cultural one for tour guides who lead visits inside churches, museums, residences, and historical-artistic circuits.
Since then, new professional figures have populated the world of tourism, particularly concerning environmental hiking guides and mountain operators. Still, there needs to be more adequately trained professionals, including from the human point of view. The result is that we offer an immense heritage at the source of a constantly growing demand. Still, only some people can tell about it and make it live on a human scale.
What I propose to my partners and guests
Let’s get in touch. Physical preferably. The best relationships with my partners are those where we meet personally and reason around a table or walk together on a trail, no matter the season. It matters the how and the spirit to do together and introduce you to a place, a way of being, and what you see.
Authentic, but quietly. Everyone wants to have “authentic” experiences. I handle it carefully, creating tailored, motivating, engaging activities while respecting the original context and the guest. Explaining the context and reasons why something happened in a specific place at a particular time is my role, along with connecting with the guest in our day.
We remain human. We travel to know, measure ourselves against the world we don’t know, and understand what is different from us and why. But let’s be honest, being a tourist is exhausting. Not knowing the roads, not knowing the customs of the society around us, and accepting diversity are all components that challenge us in every sense of the word. Even as a practitioner, it can be challenging to understand how and why we behave in a certain way. On this point, I am counting on my past in export sales; with a background of traveling, I have been “on the other side” and dealt with countless situations in the shoes of a business tourist.
Made in Italy, ring-shaped cakes!
I am Italian, which is often an advantage, but not automatically. I know that our country, undoubtedly beautiful, is not easy to enjoy and offer gracefully. I wouldn’t say I like discussions about cappuccino consumed after noon and spaghetti broken and eaten with the help of a spoon. First and foremost, food should be enjoyed and shared as much as possible. At my grandparents, ingredients from the pantry were constantly available to welcome visitors. Even though guests have always been impromptu in homes without telephones, this was never a limitation for being authentically welcoming.
Assertive, empathetic, and reliable are the adjectives with which I recognize myself because I care about people’s satisfaction before the customers. I care about the positive feedback from guests, for their gratification, and for the partners who entrust clients to me. I want them to turn out, in turn, to be competent and reliable.
I always want the trip to be an enjoyable experience, but sometimes only some things start on the right foot. Or as they say in food and wine Italian, “Not all donuts fall with the hole” In that case, I try to reconstruct the donut as much as I can, and if I really can’t recreate the perfect donut, I try that at least to the taste it turns out delightful. With the help of the perfect wine pairing!