Italy’s appeal — like Rome’s sobriquet — is eternal. But the country continues to evolve, as does the product available for agents. New packaged tours are a safe bet for first-time visitors.
“Italy is experiencing double-digit growth. Our top-selling Monograms package is Rome, Florence and Venice,” Jen Halboth, director of channel marketing for the Globus family of brands, tells Travel Agent.
“Italy is high on the list for our market,” said Phyllis Stoller, founder of The Womens Travel Group. Stoller’s niche, executive women in the 55-and- above age bracket, is a well-traveled one.
While traditional favorites such as Rome offer familiar comforts, Stoller’s clients are interested in more than ruins and religious sites. Modern art and trendy restaurants are in high demand, as are less-frequented areas.
“What we are doing with our upcoming ‘Ultra Italy’ tour this spring is allowing some time in the highlights and also in some less-visited areas. Places like Sicily, Puglia and Cinque Terre. All of our trips have a 'hook' and the Italy hook is its diversity, yet its ease,” said Stoller.
Ease of access is key for Lisa Byrne’s clientele. As the founder of ItalyPerfect.com, she specializes in apartment and villa rentals.
“The thing with Italy is that it’s different from a place like France,” said Byrne. “Paris itself is a destination. But when people think of Italy they decide that they want to see Rome, Florence, Venice and the Amalfi Coast,” said Byrne.
Byrne works with agents to help them hone clients’ wish lists.
“We spend a lot of time encouraging agents to get clients to slow down. They have to pick and choose if they don’t want to be exhausted throughout Italy. Also, if someone is going to stay in an apartment or a villa, it’s a more complex experience. It’s not the same as staying in a hotel. There’s a learning curve,” said Byrne.
Byrne said day trips by high-speed trains are an enticing option.
“You can get to Florence in 90 minutes from Rome. You can also get down to Pompeii. Since Rome is on top of most wish lists, it makes sense to use it as a base,” said Byrne.
Rome apartments are especially convenient for families.
“It’s hard to get side-by-side hotel rooms in Rome. And apartments make more sense nowadays when people are more interested in spending quality time together,” said Byrne.
Another possible base is Florence. Pisa, Luca and the major towns of Tuscany are doable day trips from there. And tours to Cinque Terre are popular as well.
Another burgeoning trend, said Byrne, is the prevalence of what she calls “urban tourism.”
“It used to be that everyone wanted the ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ experience. The notion of staying in a villa near Cortona and walking to the tiny local village had people hooked. That’s the traditional type of vision,” said Byrne.
But these days, everyone is listing properties on the Internet.
“When I started my company in 2003, there were approximately 300 listings in Rome. Now, there’s something like 6,000,” said Byrne.
Byrne has just returned from a month of inspecting properties between Rome and Florence. She carefully vets all properties she offers and makes sure owners understand what U.S. clients expect. She also prepares guests with a 20-page welcome packet filled with tourism ideas, restaurant recommendations and other tips about apartment life in Italy.
“A lot of people think that if they book something themselves they can save money. But the choices are overwhelming. And there’s a lot of potential for scams. A lot of properties don’t look anything like what you see on the Internet. Or the owners have forgotten to mention that it’s located over a bar. As someone who loves Italy, I hate for anyone to have a bad experience,” said Byrne.