Experiential tourism in Liguria. Interviewing tour operator Giada Marabotto

Umberto Curti (Ligucibario®) meets Giada Marabotto, owner of “Volver Viaggi”

1) Tourism in Liguria: which are the main strengths and weaknesses you face as you develop your incoming projects?
In my opinion, the strongest point for tourism linked to food and wine is precisely our territory and its conformation: a piece of land between sea and mountain, with unique characteristics.
Our region is scenic and suggestive, but somewhere impervious. We often deal with an excess of requests compared to the hospitality supply available in small villages and in the most famous places. Sometimes rates are extremely high, as a consequence of great demand.
Many opportunities can be glimpsed in food and wine tourism in our region. There are a myriad of tiny realities that blend together to make themselves more competitive and offer attractive touristic products. The pitfalls are linked to the competition of other Italian regions that try to promote their excellence, too. As we know, the Bel Paese has a lot to offer!

2) Though you are not Genoese, you have a long-established professional relationship with the Superba. Under this light, what is Genoa to you?
Genoa is a marvelous city, often underrated, which offers a unique city center and an unbreakable bond with a glorious past of stock exchange, port and historical shops.
I’ve lived in Genoa for many years and today it is the place where I work, I’ve seen tourism development and improvement, as well as my professionalism, closely linked to the city.

3) Experiential tourism. Most packages feature this “label” (sometimes undeservedly). As you know, in my “White Paper of Experiential Tourism in Liguria” (volume to be issued next Autumn) I will make my position against common places and superficiality clear. Which is your opinion on this issue, also in the light of the feedbacks provided by your customers?
I agree, "experiential" is a definition has been used a lot lately, to follow the trend of tourist demand. In my opinion it is appropriate to define precisely the package and the included activities. A tasting of focaccia from the baker’s can be considered an "experience" and can be a special moment for tourists, especially foreigners. Very different, however, from an activity that includes, in addition to the tasting of a typical product, a cultural analysis, especially if held by professionals with long experience as Umberto and Luisa. I believe that every package must be studied on the basis of the target reference, in order to offer the right audience the most appropriate experience.

4) Enogastronomy. Which are the pivotal elements in the planning of Volver’s food&wine catalogue?
First of all, the choice of partners, both as product quality and inclination for tourism and hospitality. Sometimes it happens that special products are not expressed in the right way and in the best context so they lose appeal. Considering that the tourist is not an expert, he will not be able to appreciate all the sensory features of the tastings, but he will certainly be fascinated by the intimate atmosphere and empathy of the staff.

5) Are there any areas of the Ligurian entroterra you would like to work on more?
Sticking to my origins, I wish an increase in tourism in the Savona inland areas. Beach tourism is certainly an important activity, but it is not the only possibility for the territory.
Reflecting on the problems related to the Ligurian hinterland, I would first of all highlight the practicability. The access roads to farmhouse and accommodation are often narrow and difficult, or even impossible, to travel by bus or otherwise inconvenient for people not used to that kind of roads. On rainy days the situation becomes even more complicated.
Moreover, figures are decisively small in terms of accommodation. We’ve recently organized a small group in the Badalucco, Apricale and Dolceacqua area and, despite the reduced number (just 12 people), it was necessary to divide guests in different hotels, quite far one from the other, planning evening trips so that everyone could reach the same place for dinner. Not all farmhouses provide for dinner, so it is mandatory to organize the meal.
Finally, to underline the line for improvement, in my opinion it would be appropriate to deepen the knowledge of English and the use of e-mails and social media tools in order for those who deal with tourism, in order to be able to keep fast and efficient contacts with agencies and tour operators. Customers, especially Americans and Canadians, require and expect quick answers, considering the time zone almost immediate.
As a tour operator it is hard work when we have to “chase” our suppliers so we always tend to propose the fastest way and to consolidate relationships so that we can count in advance on precise information.
That said, I also believe that being inaccessible, isolated and off the beaten tracks of mass tourism, encompasses the beauty and uniqueness of our villages in western Liguria. It would be interesting to find a sort of compromise between what the demand requires without distorting these small, almost uncontaminated places. Certainly the target will not be made of large numbers, but small groups of lovers of nature and this type of territory.

6) Deregulation in the travel industry – which began nearly 20 years ago – is alive and kicking, and who knows about its technological future. What’s next?
I believe that within ten years almost all flight + hotel bookings will be carried out online and the mediator role of travel agencies and tour operators will come down. The web user has access to a myriad of information and can easily book any service independently. The added value of organized tourism will be, more and more, advice and assistance for trips that include guided services, experiences and activities. In addition to trips of a certain economic importance, when customer does not "trust" online reservations, without having direct contact and certain guarantees. As far as our work in Liguria is concerned, individuals normally book hotels directly, while groups or guests who require personalized services rely on us. They are different segments, which are not mutually exclusive.

7) As you know, after careful customer surveys, Booking.com has identified eight main travel trends & predictions. In a global age everybody is involved: which is Liguria’s health condition?
From my point of view, Liguria is in good health but there are ample margins of improvement. A virtuous tourist entity, sometimes not yet ready for what the tourist requires. The traveler wants immediacy, asks to be able to find what he looks for online straight away and make a simple click to book, at the advertised cost. It is a complex process for the tiny realities that fill Liguria, especially the hinterland, which have no budget to invest on the web, in marketing and in customer care. However, the tourist is also in search of emotions and all our selected suppliers are unique: they offer engaging activities and experiences and travelers bring home beautiful memories.

8) As an Italian tour operator, which are the urgencies you would like to be dealt with by regional/national legislators?
I would be very happy if they started a serious fight against abusiveness, which is an important problem in tourism. As a small entrepreneur with employees and partners, I am particularly sensitive to this subject. And then, I would like tourism to be considered crucial by the institutions and therefore provide for greater investments in the promotion of the territory, in roads and eco-sustainable tourism with cycle paths and attention to parks and green areas, in addition to the use of renewable energy.

9) The trickiest question always comes last. What would you say to a freshly graduated young person wishing to follow your lead (and work in Liguria)?
I'm glad to send a positive message, there are opportunities in Liguria and in tourism! Surely it is necessary to roll up your sleeves and work hard, but ambition, originality and creativity of young people can find the right place in a growing tourist demand. I report my story with pride, leaving a permanent contract to open a tourist activity, in times of crisis. Over the years the company has grown and consolidated, today we are six people, all young women and the goal is always to look forward!
Many thanks, Giada. As you can imagine, Ligucibario® wishes you will share quality Genoese focaccia and chocolate experiences with crowds of tourists...

Interview by Umberto Curti 
Translated by Luisa Puppo


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