Being an independent traveller I do very seldom turn to travel agents to plan my trips, except as for those components that I feel safer to get from a professional and the services behind it’s shoulders. However it is undeniable that global tourism industry is at a full stalemate and an immense number of job post are at stake everywhere. As we are currently undergoing a second wave of the Covid outbreak globally, I felt it is good to allow a professional Travel Agent to speak it’s voice and let us know what we can all expect in the near future to happen, for all of us, big travellers. Last week I interviewed a local Travel Agent named Irene Ciccarelli, and these are the results of our talk.
Born and raised in the beautiful city of Torino, in Italy, Irene is a passionate traveller as well as an expert Travel Agent, Wedding Planner and Event Organizer, who works in the field since 1995. She takes extreme care of every detail of her travels and events proposals, tailoring her supply to the needs, the wishes and the budget of her customers. Irene own a small tour tour operator working both on the outgoing and the incoming segments, thus making her offer complete, which is why she is the perfect person to ask about the current and the future development of the travel industry, from a professional point of view.
2020 was a terrible year for all tourism operators. How did it go for the Italian tour operators?
2020 is definitely a year all of us won’t ever forget. As a tour operator who loves her job I have to admit we are facing a hard time. As far as outgoing operations are concerned, during the past 3 decades we went through a lot of difficult moments: 9/11, the eruption of the volcano in Iceland, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters, as well as wars and difficult political scenarios in several areas of the planet, which limited our daily job, from time to time. We also have been through previous epidemic, thankfully of smaller scales, such as Sars in China and the Middle East. However, I believe that never before Covid a similar total stalemate of the travel industry happened. As of January 2020 we sarted canceling trips to the East, both leisure and business and, gradually, up to the present date we had to cancel ALL the scheduled departures until the end of 2020. I believe the Covid crisis won’t be over by the end of the year. In the meantime we had to support the customers of ours who were out when the lockdown started, help repatriating them and refund many customers. Some trips have not been cancelled as law allowed us to turn registered payments into “vouchers” to be spent for future travels. Some customers of ours started using their vouchers already in summer 2020 for domestic travels, although most will be spent for the next summer season. If, from one side, such process prevented us from disbursements that might have led us to bankruptcy, on the other side the enormous number of vouchers which invaded the market will reduce our 2021 sales.
How do you think the approach to travel will change after the pandemic? Which components is tourism-planning focusing on? Is it true that extra-urban destinations will be more popular than large cities?
I believe the way we approach travelling has changed already, even though many of us have not yet realized it. Surely there will be many travel plans to revise and renovate. In my opinion there will be sort of a double direction as those who have felt too “isolated” during the lockdowns will most likely tend to seek group travels. In this case, it will be our responsibility to guarantee and secure more controls and quality. On the other side, there will be for sure many who will be scared to gather together with others and will look for extra-urban destinations and individual travels to those places that are artistically and historically rich and offer moments of “controlled” socialization, such as short tours to the so called cities of arts and outdoor events. For example overnight stays in the countryside, around large cities, which also offer food and wine experiences will play a major role. I am working already on several programmes relevant to this market segment, which also offer plenty of opportunities to customize the itinerary and the overall travelling experience.
Although you are based in Italy, you work all over the world. Do you think that from now on your incoming offer to Italy should be expanded? Do you think that operators abroad will do the same even after the pandemic?
I strongly believe that the total lockdown and stalemate has been an input for all of us to rediscover our local context and to foster domestic tourism (many of my colleagues think so, too). Personally, I love my Piedmontese land very much (Piedmont is a region at the North west of Italy), thus I am working hard to build travel proposals able to allow travellers “feel” the love for my beautiful city of Turin and its thereabouts. Past, present and future merge here and the marvellous countryside, most of which is listed by UNESCO as part of the world heritage, are good propellers for me to create new travel experiences in my own area. I hope the same will happen in all Countries of the world.
We have to lead the travel industry to a new 2.0 Renaissance and turn travelling into what we call “University of Life”, which basically means learning the leassons from the events of our lives.
Do you believe that after Covid prices will stay the same as in the past or the pandemic crisis will force operators to increase them (transportation, accommodation, ground services etecetera…)?
Prices will certainly undergo a tight cost/profit analysis and will most probably vary. In the event they will stay the same as in the past, same price will probably buy a lower standard and quality of the services. For example, at the moment it is not possible to occupy all the seats on a bus, however the costs haven’t changed, thus price for the final customer will most likely increased to cover the outstanding expenses caused by unoccupied seats. Perhaps, with the cut in jobs and aircrafts, Airlines will be able to keep their prices but on-board services will be reduced. In summer 2020 several hotels misbehaved: they kept the price the same as before covid but they served poor food and hired inexperienced staff. The price is therefore kept at the expense of quality. If you want to get reasonable and acceptable quality standards, be prepared to pay more, at least in the short and medium term.
One final question: why should a traveler choose Italy?
Italy offers everything any traveler could wish for. Culture is everywhere, in all its forms, open-air and indoor museums, many of which have been recently renovated and can be enjoyed thanks to very advanced technologies and architecture. Italy offer the best Local Guides in the world who can turn each visit into a memorable experience. We have wonderful beaches and the bluest sea, excellent food, generous hospitality, breathtaking views and an endless number of small hidden villages to be discovered.
We all have to treasure the lessons learnt by the current pandemic. There is still a lot to do but helping each other, also while planning our future trips, will make the difference.