Interview: Irene from Tuscany on a Budget

In interviewing Irene from Tuscany on a Budget, she explains why she decided to focus on 18-35’s when she started her travel company.

1) How did you decide you wanted to start your own business in 2007?

I have a degree in foreign languages and after my degree I moved to London to improve my English. I was looking for a job when I was contacted by a tour operator who was seeking guides to work over the summer in Europe. During 2 years of moving around, I learned a lot about all the other cultures, traditions and mentalities. I had to deal with Aussies, Americans, Canadians, Kiwis and English people. I had a great time and I was happy to give them information about each destination where we were going to, especially when we were heading to my home land ; Italy. After 2 years I was home sick and I decided to move back to Florence. I realized at that point that no one in Florence was offering tours and activities for backpackers. It’s when I decided to create tours in Florence and day trips to Tuscany with the philosophy to offer an authentic experience for young independent travellers willing to learn, taste and see what the territory has to offer in a fun environment together with a young, lively, knowledgeable and most importantly local team.

2) Was a student based travel company something you planned and organized for years before implementing it in 2007?

No, I had no idea one day I was going to open my own tour operator.  I have always loved to travel and visit new places.  My dream job was to travel for a tour operator and check the new properties for them around the world or anything that would have required me to travel. Unfortunately I had never had the possibility to work in such a position.

3) What were some of the factors you decided on when gearing the company towards 18 – 35’s?

Mainly because I was coming from a similar experience and I was dealing with students the whole time. The second reason is that the tour operators already existing in Florence were offering tours for all ages with no personal touch or any emotion and I thought it would have been nice to create tours where the clients can meet other travelers of the same age and share the same travel experience.

4) Are your tours offered year-round?

At the moment I offer tours only in summer time because it’s when the majority of the people are traveling, however I am considering offering holiday packages during the festivities or maybe for the weekends for next year.

5) Do you offer the same set of tours year-round or do you continually add new tours each year to the company?

I am a very creative person and I get bored very easily. For this reason I like to create new products every year. The only problem is that it’s becoming hard to promote new budget activities when the general costs are increasing; the city permits, the buses, the wine cellars, the museums are becoming super expensive.

I see Florence like a small sea full of sharks and at the moment I feel like it is not important any more the quality of the tours offered but just how much commission you can give to the people selling your tours. I personally hate this system.

6) Do you plan to branch out from the Tuscany region with the company?

Maybe one day. I would love to offer backpacker tours everywhere in Italy.

7) Do you feel focusing on one region gives each traveler more of a local feel for the place they are visiting?

I am from the Chianti region, I grew up here and I am fully in love with Tuscany. That’s why when I guide my tours I try to pass the energy and the passion I have for this land. I tell stories about the locals, I teach the local expressions so that our passengers can experience Tuscany from a local point of view in a funny way. We are never boring on our tours and we are never too detailed in giving information about the history of a place or of a monument. I have a deep knowledge of my territory so that’s why I am focusing on Tuscany.

8 ) Do you go off the beaten path in Tuscany when travelers book any of your tours?

For example: In Florence, you may walk through narrow passageways and wind your way around the city to places that the average tourist may never get to see.

We try to. Florence is full of interesting places and corners and we love telling people the old stories about the families who reigned in Tuscany. Obviously we can’t avoid not to show them the famous masterpieces such as the Cathedral, the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio and the David.

9) How do you choose who will be leading your tours?

Our team is composed of locals guides and we all speak fluent English. We love sharing the passion for our home land, all the secrets, the traditions and the culture of Florence and Tuscany with our fellow travelers.

10) Does the person who sends in their CV to you need to have any type of tourism experience?

I often read CV of people with a great experience in tourism but when I meet them they are not what I look for. When I choose my staff, the first thing I look for is the enthusiasm. The guides have to be entertaining, funny, lively and fluent in English. It doesn’t matter to me if you have a master degree in tourism if at the end you cannot express your joy for your land or can’t interact with the other travelers.

11) What would you tell someone who wants to work for ‘Tuscany on a Budget’ but may be fresh out of high school and not have any experience required for the position they would like?

mmmm… this is pretty hard to answer because in my job I need people with a strong knowledge of English and unfortunately Italian high schools don’t often give the right preparation. I would recommend them to understand first what they would love to do in life and then study as much as possible to achieve it. I would be happy to offer interns and teach them what it means to work as a Tour Operator.

12) What sets your travel company apart from other companies in the area?

Tuscany on a Budget is different from all the other local tour operators because we put all ourselves in the tours. Our philosophy is “ Experience Tuscany from a local point of view” with interesting stories, fun facts and lots of laugh. Our passengers are all backpackers coming mainly from Australia, Canada, America, New Zealand and UK and during the tours they get to share their travel stories with the people of the same age having the same experience. No families, no kids, no older people.

13) What advice would you give someone who would like to start their own business in the tourism industry so they could work for themselves and not someone else?

Italy at the moment has a very high level of unemployment. If you are lucky to find a job, you stick with it even though you are not fully satisfied.

I had a good contract, a good position and when I told my friends I was leaving my job to open my own business, they told me I was crazy; only my family was supportive of me. Lot of companies are closing down at the moment in Italy and it’s hard to make money so why would I want to risk a comfort life for an uncertain future?

Well It took me almost 2 years to take this decision and I am happy about it. I have always believed in my products, in my ideas, in my abilities. I believe in life we have to take the risk sometimes especially when we are young. I feel alive now and I am excited to work for myself. The advice I can give…. Make sure you have some saving before you take this step!