Sometimes dreams come true: I am happy to share with you the story of how Italia Sweet Italia was born and how I turned my passions into a job, right in the place I love and close to my family and friends.
I like to think that everything I did was done with the clear “mission” to raise the quality of my life and social relations, at the same time giving hope to today’s children who might decide not to leave Abruzzo in the future and contribute to its sustainable development…
Where it all started: summer jobs, university training, consulting and research, self-entrepreneurship
<<“Fabbrì”, I just went to the ice cream shop and asked if they needed a waiter, they told me that you could start working at the beginning of July. If you want to learn something new and get some economic independence like your brothers, go talk to them in the next few days. They pay 10,000 lire per day (the equivalent of around 8 € – 9,5 US$ nowadays), from 8 to 13:30. Oh, I forgot, they need help every other day and offer you an ice cream every day>>.
<<Thanks “ma”, I think I’ll go talk to them>>.
This is how I started working in the world of hospitality and tourism, back in the summer of 1994 (I was 14)
I still remember the daily exercises – climbing the stairs of the store with a tray full of glasses of water – to get ready for the arrival of customers for the aperitif.
My grandmother Lucia used to tell me Impara l’arte e mettila da parte – Learn the art and put it aside, that means that everything we learn can have future use.
Like many of my friends who grew up in seaside towns (like Vasto), I spent my high school summers working in restaurants, pizzerias, playgrounds, ice cream shops and hotels. When I was able to wake up early, I loved to watch the sunrise over the calm Adriatic Sea from the balcony of my house listening to the silence of the morning broken only by a “concert” offered by the birds.
Every summer I became more and more passionate about the world of tourism and the older I got, the more I felt I wanted to work in this field. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but I just loved it. I was hoping I could somehow improve the culture of local hospitality like I saw it was happening in other destinations. Moreover, I couldn’t explain why with all the architectural, scenic, cultural beauty and tasty food, most of the tourists, who were 90% Italian, were concentrated between July and August and came only for beach vacations.
At the end of high school, it was natural for me to enroll in a degree program in Tourism Economics during which I had a life-changing Erasmus experience in Leeds, England. Over there, in addition to dealing with cultures from all over the world and cultivating international friendships that still last today, 19 years later, I really started loving more and more my homeland, with its culture, food and lifestyle. Of course I improved my English knowledge, an essential element for my current activity.
In a few words, Leeds is a fairly anonymous place but can count with an effective local marketing and communication strategy, together with an excellent organization and public-private cooperation; Vasto (and Abruzzo in general), is a beautiful place with great potential but without adequate strategies and organizational models.
At that time, after an internship at the tourism office of the Municipality of Vasto, I decided that one day I would like to contribute in some way to fill this gap, but first I would have to go out of the region to gain training and work experience and then return with some more practical and professional knowledge.
A couple of months after graduation, in September 2003, after hand delivering my curriculum vitae – in line with my philosophy of keeping human contacts – I moved to Bologna and began an internship at the Azienda di Promozione Turistica dell’Emilia Romagna, one of the best practices in Italian tourism and a model to follow for supply management and promotional marketing.
At the same time, during the weekends, I attended a Master in Local Tourism Development and Enhancement of Cultural Heritage that allowed me to integrate my studies with a much more professionally and practically oriented approach. In addition, I had the opportunity to expand and strengthen the network of professionals, experts and operators in the tourism and cultural sector that are still a fundamental part of my network.
I also had the opportunity to work as a consultant for a multinational company in Milan and to follow projects and feasibility studies in the world of tourism and culture. Later I started working at the Touring Club Italiano, the largest and oldest Italian association of travelers. For 5 years I edited the Yearbook of Tourism and Culture, the leading publication of the Study Center, with over 500 pages full of statistics, market analysis, external contributions and trends of the Italian and international tourism and the world of culture.
I was really doing a job that I liked a lot and that I wouldn’t have even dreamed of a few years before, but at a certain point it wasn’t enough for me anymore: it was still a matter of studying, theorizing, advising others on what to do, setting strategies and actions for other companies or public organizations.
I had the opportunity to share my knowledge through seminars and lectures, because I began to talk about it in several Italian universities and professional training courses, and it was amazing.
I lived in Milan, a city that gave me so much from a professional, cultural and human point of view, but…
There was a “but”: my heart was always in Abruzzo. Every time I went home, especially on Sundays during the summer, taking the midnight train to Milan, after a last dive into the Adriatic Sea while looking at the Maiella and Gran Sasso mountains, my heart broke.
This is why I decided to leave Milan to return to my homeland, but first I wanted and felt the need to gain international work experience. I chose a big city by the sea, in a country that had surpassed Italy in terms of organization and tourism promotion. At the end of August I moved to Barcelona. After a few jobs that had nothing to do with my career path but were very useful to learn Spanish quickly, I passed the selection process for a researcher position in the Center for International Tourism Studies at the University of Tarragona. At the same time I also started a PhD in tourism, but once again I was doing a good job that did not fully gratify me, it was not practical enough.
Then I turned 30 – I had always promised myself that until that age I would have worked around the world, but it was time for me to dedicate myself to supporting the sustainable tourism development of the Abruzzo region.
It was very difficult to find a job that I actually liked, so I decided that I would create it from scratch. But how? First of all, I talked to a local friend who is an expert in territorial marketing and tourism. The objective was to build something new, exciting and sustainable.
The birth of Italia Sweet Italia, an incoming tour operator specialized in experiential and enogastronomic tourism in Abruzzo
I spent seven months working on the business plan for this new activity, with the help of friends, former colleagues and work experts in different fields (graphics, photography and video, creative web marketing, interpreters).
I basically had 2 starting points:
- The state of the art of tourism in our area, its prospects and opportunities for growth.
- A trend I had highlighted in the Yearbook of Tourism and Culture a few years earlier: “Wine & food tourism is undoubtedly a growing phenomenon in the landscape of cultural tourism. Tourists who travel for this kind of reasons are in fact progressively increasing in the last few years and, among them, there is an increase in requests for specific services and products, such as the opportunity to participate in cooking classes that allow them to learn how to prepare typical dishes of the local tradition. An activity of this kind has a double value: on one hand it facilitates the process of integration and knowledge of local culture and traditions, on the other hand it represents a unique experience, contributing to the development of the so called “experiential” tourism.
Some aspects of the business plan I developed, after more than ten years, are still the pillars of all the Italia Sweet Italia activities.
To promote, at fair prices, the knowledge of the off-the-beaten-tracks Italy and the Italian spirit through the personalization of services, authentic human relations, passion and love for their land, like the one of a mother for her children, with an eye on sustainable development and slow pace of life.
Our customers are not tourists but travelers, explorers and friends. They won’t have a traditional vacation but they will have real experiences.
The basic concept is to relate to our customers as if they were our friends and make them feel at home.
It gives me great pleasure to see that these inputs have really become reality over the years as it can be seen from the Tripadvisor reviews, where we only get high ratings by customers who have returned several times.
The smiles and happiness of the travelers who join our tours are the greatest satisfaction for me and my staff, but we also received some recognition from media, trade associations, universities and students that we value a lot because they help us achieve our mission of promoting sustainable tourism and enhancement of our traditions and culture. Here are some examples:
- Participation in TV shows and mentions in international magazines such as, among others, BBC and The Wall Street Journal (click here to discover them all)
- Inclusion as case studies in several dissertations of young students in tourism and cultural enhancement of the territory
- Change Award (for the best most innovative companies) at national level by the CNA, one of the largest trade associations of Italian craftsmanship (click here to find out more)
Italia Sweet Italia for the new generations
In addition to generating small employment opportunities, one of the main objectives of the project is related to the social field, giving hope to today’s children and young people who, thanks to the systemic enhancement of cultural resources, landscape and food&wine, may have some more opportunities to stay or return to Abruzzo or southern Italy in the future, unlike the majority of my peers, who studied in northern Italy or abroad and in most cases have not returned to work and live in their land.
In recent years I have been invited to make several speeches at schools and universities, or conferences and seminars, focused on the development of the territory and self-employment.
At the bottom of my heart I hope my story may inspire other people to stay in our beautiful region and contribute to its growth.
And I hope to see you soon in Abruzzo and have the opportunity to introduce to you our culture, food, landscapes, traditions and people.
Ready to experience Abruzzo with me?
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 Source: L’Annuario del Turismo e della Cultura 2009, 12th edition. Centro Studi Touring Club Italiano, AA. VV.. Chapter 9: Travel meets culture: cultural tourism, paragraph 3.4: Food and wine tourism and culture.