#Voices of Travel: “Support local economies by hiring only authorised tour operators,” says Marco Scaglione

The travel and tourism industry worldwide is facing an unprecedented tragedy with the outbreak of COVID19. How are travel businesses reacting? In this series, hear it all from the people that matter. Marco Scaglione, Meet Piemonte, shares his story.

Marco with his colleague

Meet Piemonte is an Italian boutique tour operator that crafts personalised tours in the Piedmont region of Italy and in other nearby areas of interest such as Lake Como, Portofino, Cinque Terre and Milan. Before the outbreak, things were looking very good, we already had a significant amount of reservations over the winter for day trips in springtime as well as some longer tours fully confirmed. Last fall we attended some important travel shows in the US and in Europe. So we were excited to start running tours with the new business contacts we acquired this year. We were actually getting ready to expand a bit as we are in our third year of operation, but in a few days, everything has vanished.

We have received 100% cancellations until June and some for the fall. We really hope to save at least September and the fall (which in our area would be the peak season) but at this time nobody can really predict how long it will take to recover. We mostly rely on international customers coming from the US, Australia and Europe. So once the epidemic will be over in Italy, we will have to wait for the rest of the world to be and feel safe to travel again.

Despite our best efforts to convince customers to postpone their reservations, we have received 100% cancellation within the first 10 days of the emergency, back in February, for any tour scheduled up to mid of June. 

The saddest part is that we have been in contact with customers booked on a couple of 10-day tours in September, trying to prevent any sudden decision to cancel so in advance. Our cancellation policy allowed them to get a full refund up to 60 days before departure, which meant mid-July. All these efforts were not successful, everyone decided to postpone their travels to next year, without even waiting for the next few months and see how the situation would evolve.

We understand that most of our customers travel from the US (some from Australia!) which involves airfares and planning ahead of time so we remain in good relation with them and we are confident to welcome all of them in the near future.

We have already cut parts of our fixed costs wherever it was possible and we have suspended any marketing campaign and any budget for advertising. We are still very active on our social media, keeping an open window on our audience:  Our posts are meant to be an inspiration and maybe a suggestion for future travels, at a time when a third of people around the world is stuck in their homes.

We are in touch with all our employees and I have to say that this emergency brought us even closer than before. I think now everyone understands better how we are all connected and working as a team is a necessity.

I am optimistic about the way the epidemic is being controlled and treated by our Healthcare System. On the other side, I’m afraid that there will be a significant increase of taxes in the upcoming years and other negative consequences on the Italian economy which would make life even harder for small businesses like ours.

Let’s take this opportunity to support local economies by hiring only authorised tour operators who work with reliable local resources. More local partners you have, more taxes are paid in the destination and more chances to benefit from a safe and efficient place to sell to your customers. Maybe we realise only now how important is a destination once it becomes unavailable.