As part of Virtuoso’s ongoing commitment to sustainable travel, we’re profiling the experts, trendsetters, and industry leaders making a difference in sustainable tourism today. Here, a conversation with Luca Perfetto, the co-founder and CEO of Florencetown, a Virtuoso on-site tour connection that works with Virtuoso travel advisors to craft custom trips to Tuscany for their clients.
For nearly 15 years, Florencetown – led by Luca Perfetto, Urbano Brini, and Patrizio Montevecchi – has been crafting custom experiences in Florence and Tuscany for discerning travelers, while always staying true to its original mission: preserve Italian culture by creating unforgettable memories. Whether it’s biking through the Tuscan countryside, going behind the scenes to see “The Birth of Venus” without the crowds at the Uffizi Gallery, or learning to make homemade pasta from scratch, the company strives to make travelers feel like friends from out of town rather than just tourists.
We recently caught up with Luca Perfetto, Florencetown’s co-founder and CEO, to chat about his take on sustainability, the negative impacts of overtourism in Italy, and his vision for a world focused on respect rather than profit.
What’s your personal stance on sustainable travel?
With tourism, I believe we’ve passed the phase where “sustainability” only means eco-friendly and organic. Now, I believe that our most important concern is protecting the local essence of destinations. Every aspect must be taken into account – artisans, traditions, gastronomy, natural elements.
How has overtourism negatively affected Florence, Venice, and other Italian cities?
The absence of regulations has allowed too many people to visit small city centers like Venice and Florence at once, which has transformed many travel experiences into less authentic and less enjoyable ones. Imagine being in a stadium watching a football match with twice as many people present than the natural capacity of the infrastructure allows: not enough seats, long lines, overpriced products, extra noise, and an inferior watching experience. That’s what being in a small Italian destination during high season has felt like. However, I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing mass tourism. I’m not criticizing cruise ships or large tour groups. I’m criticizing the absence of effective policies regarding the issues that they cause. And now, we as tour operators are asking for changes to be made.
How can those changes be successfully made – what’s the balance between welcoming tourists to a place and not losing the essence of that place?
As never before, changing the paradigm of overtourism is necessary. We now have the chance to rewrite our future more proficiently. We believe the government should give tourism back to the professionals. There are too many improvised operators and unregulated activity. Tourism needs to be conducted by true professionals.
We’re also calling for the design of efficient regulations and controls on the number of tourist flows into major attractions. Now’s the time to understand the fine line between living in a place and visiting it. The government can set quotas for the number of group visits in a destination per day while leaving spaces for independent travelers. Another idea is to create a system of dynamic ticketing for groups visiting city centers. This solution would not only enhance everyone’s overall experience but also direct the influx to more shoulder or low season times. The result is to spread the same number of tourists over a wider period of time, which would positively affect tourists and the local environment.
What is Florencetown doing to promote sustainability?
We were one of the first travel companies to believe that visitors should see the surroundings of crowded cities and not just the centers, and we’ve been trailblazers in the experience field, providing alternatives to major attractions, from cooking classes to Vespa tours of the countryside. Of course, those classic stops are extremely important, but there are other ways to discover tradition and culture. Now, we want to be key players to help facilitate this change related to overtourism. I recently wrote a pact on taking action to combat overtourism in Florence, and I’m currently promoting it through my work with the Local Visitors & Convention Bureau of Florence, where I’m on the Board of Directors as the representative of tour operators. We’re trying to make this pact for quality and sustainable tourism come true by the end of the year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to welcome our guests in a friendlier, more natural, and more authentic environment – whenever they can fly to Italy again!
Do you have a favorite Florencetown experience that involves sustainability?
Any and every activity that lets our clients discover our culture’s hidden gems. From a hiking tour in Chianti to a cooking course, we believe that any tour that places you right in the middle of our culture is sustainable. Creating unforgettable lasting memories for our travelers will help protect our culture in the future. I personally love biking on the rolling hills of Tuscany and stopping by my favorite wine cellar, Diadema, for a glass (at the end of the ride, of course!).
How has the Covid-19 crisis affected sustainable travel in Italy, and how will it continue to do so?
Whenever I look out my window – I’m lucky enough to live on the Arno River – I take in the fresh air as never before. Nature is taking back the world, but we must be careful because once we start moving again – that could end. We have to be aware that a new equilibrium is needed. We must begin to respect nature, our cities, our friends, our families, and ourselves much more. We should treat this world with white gloves, and it will treat us right too. We should also treat our clients with that same care, as we used to. Much of the world has been concentrated on profit rather than respect. It’s time to change. It’s time to be sustainable, for real.