Terra Tua runs walking, bicycle and horse-riding tours in the Italian countryside, taking its guests off the beaten track to discover a slice of authentic village life. Jeremy Smith spoke to the company’s manager and chief guide, Elena Riccioni about the challenges and rewards of running a responsible tourism business.
What inspired you to create your business?
It all began from the beauty and historical interest of our area and the realisation that visitors wanted to delve more deeply into it than from is possible on a typical tourist visit. Organising a responsible tourism tour was the long term dream, but the demand for it from visitors had to be created.
How does being responsible help your business attract potential customers?
A lot of our customers give considerable importance to the concept of responsible tourism. Our language is direct: we talk about the value of responsible tourism and the way it can add value to our guests’ experience. We talk to our guests about our local food specialties, how they are prepared and how they are grown and we take them to see the farms where they are produced. We explain to them how using local produce assists the local economy but at the same time adds value to the visitor’s stay with us by providing him or her with a unique culinary experience which is not open to the ordinary tourist.
How do you engage guests in your responsible tourism activities?
We talk directly about responsible tourism to our guests using practical examples of how we take account of it. A few weeks ago we took a group of visitors by train rather than by road to see museums and castles in our area. We encouraged them to buy local products on the way. We explained to them that their use of the train and purchase of local specialty products, food and other, promotes kilometre zero goods, thus protecting the environment and helps the local economy. Likewise, we tell our guests of our efforts, together with the enarby Martignano-Bracciano nature park, to organise English language courses with a responsible tourism element designed to sensitise local people to the art of welcome in a sustainable tourism environment. This the first time this sort of thing has been attempted in our area.. We endeavour to make guests more deeply aware of the area being visited and encourage them to make purchases of local products. We strive to incorporate responsible tourism principles in everything we do – the choice of the place to visit, promoting the local economy and setting standards of behaviour (such as care is waste disposal). We present the activities directly as being examples of responsible tourism rather than letting it be implied.
What responsible tourism initiative are most proud of?
We are very proud of our initiative to develop the local railway network, leaving the car at home and visiting the area by train. Part of this initiative was to revive an unused local railway station and bring life to it by making it a focal point for visitors. We have also been successful in involving other local businesses. In our area there is, regrettably, a tradition of looking after one’s business and not caring about the common good or the need to work with others to get the most out of activities and projects. We have been successful in encouraging the opposite: cooperation among various groups and individuals.
Another example is using horseback tourism to reopen old Roman routes that had been abandoned. One old Roman road is now open for 230 km from Rome to Grosseto – going through an area that is one of the most beautiful, most authentic and most agriculturally rich of Central Italy, full of history and archaeological interest.
What positive impacts does your tourism business have on the community/environment where you are based?
In Italy there are many specialised food festivals in summer – for example, the lake fish festival, held in the towns of Trevignano Romano and Anguillara Sabazia on lake Bracciano. We use the opportunity of these festivals to organise tours around the theme of the festival – eg the history of fishing in lake Bracciano. This helps to attract more visitors to the area. We use the food quality as an extremely important criteria in choosing places for visitors to stay. This helps promote the local economy by encouraging the production of top quality local foods and the wellbeing of the local people by consuming higher quality food. The visitor knows his visit has made a difference because he has the opportunity to meet personally the person who produced the food or the fisherman who caught it and is told by them that tourism of this sort positively benefits his activity.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
Perhaps the greatest challenge – which has not yet been met completely – is to raise awareness of the value of quality tourism and responsible tourism among politicians and local administrators. We try to use practical examples to let them see the added value. We endeavour to ensure that they do not only talk about responsible tourism as a marketing tool but are committed to putting it into practice. Another very great challenge has to been to participate in the organisation of the first Responsible Tourism Day in Italy, sponsored by WTM, on 2 June 2014 which is also Italy’s national day.
What advice would you give to any entrepreneur starting a responsible tourism business?
First of all ensure that you have a thorough knowledge of the area and the people who live there. The advice we would give is to be extremely careful in the choice of those people you are to work with. They have to be thoroughly convinced of the value of responsible tourism and able and willing to promote its values. Wrong choices can have very negative consequences.