They say that when passion becomes your job, it's no longer a job. And when you are passionate about your home country and your culture, there is no better way to show it than by highlighting its beauty to the world.
Today we have been speaking to Andrea Giardina, Director of WildSicily, to hear about his experience of building off-track adventure tours on the magnificent island of Sicily.
Giulia with TrekkSoft: Hi Andrea, thanks for being here with us today! To start with, how would you define WildSicily?
Andrea from WildSicily: WildSicily is a tour operator operating in the Sicily region that offers off-track tours for all the people who can't wait to meet the real Sicily, the unknown and mysterious side of it.
Our offer is for an international target market attracted to the idea of exploring new natural landscapes. It's for those who want to see the breathtaking panoramas of Italy.
Andrea Giardina - "Etna off the track" Volcano Tours
G: What makes your adventure tours so fascinating?
: The key is to go beyond the stereotypical idea that most of the people have about Sicily, that it's only interesting to a majority of tourists. WildSicily wants to show travelers the real Sicily, the Sicily made of people and its untouched landscapes, many of which not even local people know about yet.
Fishing has also had a great influence on my tours! It's a passion that my family passed on to me and which allows me to naturally show a deep relationship with the sea and nature, even in my tours (sometimes I even believe there's saltwater in my veins!)
Over time, I have gradually created a very specific experience for my guests, a unique selling proposition targeted to people who strive for exploring new remote places in the increasingly large tourism sector.
Here's an example: once I went fishing on my own and I accidentally discovered the ruins of an ancient labyrinth, probably built by ancient Romans. This is now part of my off-track tours and it always leaves travelers incredibly amazed.
This is the spirit that dominates WildSicily: the leap towards discovery, to new unknown places that are yet to be unveiled and are still mysterious in some way, in a landscape where the relationship between human and nature can still be incredibly strong.
Sicily travels - WildSicily Tours
G: How did WildSicily start?
A: WildSicily was born in 2008 during an evening in a university dorm, from the idea of a group of friends with a strong passion for outdoor adventures. We started as tour guides for a group of friends and then little by little (by promoting our service on Facebook) we increased our visibility and had the chance to gain experience in the field.
When we were at university, we reached the peak of Mount Etna. That was one of the first experiences where we learned the strengths and weaknesses of this business. We had the chance to really understand how to structure successful excursions and outdoor tours. For instance, we really believe in the added value of having a professional photographer and a volcanologist on our tours to the Etna volcano.
Visiting Sicily is such a limited concept. There is so much to see off-track that's still untouched by mass tourism.
Etna Volcano Tours - WildSicily Tours
G: Aren't you afraid that giving visibility to off-track paths will make them touristy as well?
A: We need to be a bit "humble" in this case. I always try not to promote the places where I bring my customers too much, nor share the coordinates online. The online sharing culture can ruin even the most protected places. I always kindly ask guests to turn internet and localization systems off and to limit pictures for this specific reason.
In addition to this, there are specific tracks where I organize tours with a maximum limit of four people. This way my customers can better enjoy the tour and it also allows me to get to know them personally. It helps me to better understand their interests and to adapt activities based on their passions.
I always strive for personalizing the experiences as much as possible, in order to make them as unique as the customer would like them to be. I do this both before and during the experience.
For instance, during a hike with a client from New Zealand, he told me about a special recipe they have involving octopus. We went on a fishing trip and we used a specific technique my father taught me: fishing octopus with bare hands. I can't describe how fun it was for him and the immense satisfaction to make the recipe come true at dinner time.
Generally speaking, I always try to have a generic plan for each trip but I avoid limits in schedules so that I am still free to customize the experience as much as possible.
Fishing Trips - WildSicily Tours
G: Which channels did you use to establish your company in the market?
A: Initially, we used to rely on tour operators, to promote my offer on their website and platforms. Later, little by little I developed a more personalized concept of adventure tours and I started to develop my online presence by creating our first SEO-optimized website.
The main problem was to find a user interface that could express the type of experience I wanted to offer. I needed a tool to sell a custom product where the client himself could build the tour of his dreams. At the moment I am using TrekkSoft, as it allows my clients to rent tools out directly from my website, even before they travel.
For instance, for a guided tour to Etna Volcano, customers can choose directly from the website if they want to rent a mountain bike or hiking equipment. The system records the equipment chosen by the client and allows it to complete the payment online, by adding the rent to the shopping cart to include with the booked tour.
Moreover, the system automatically updates the inventory, simplifying the management of the resources in real time.
It is also true that clients still value direct contact. This comes even when booking a tour online and especially applies to customized tours, where they always send you a second email to confirm the booking.
Sometimes you can't avoid traditional methods but you can always find a way to manage them efficiently.
G: Why did you choose TrekkSoft over another booking system?
A: I decided to rely on TrekkSoft because it is a very versatile tool. It can easily adapt not only to managing bookings but also to tour operators like me that have no streamlined selling system yet. It helps manage both distribution channels and payments, and personalize the offer too.
G: Do you have any other advice to tour and activity providers like you?
A: I always recommend seeing the client as a guest. This is my slogan. A visitor is looking for an adventure and needs to be seen, not reduced to a client, but as a real guest. That's a point of view that is very typical of the Sicilian culture.
Our strengths come from our lifestyle, from our culture. If we all could "host" people rather than "sell" them tours, Sicily would be the flower of Italian tourism and with no effort at all.
I'd like to show you an example:
once on the way back from a hike, my guests and I stopped at the restaurant of a friend who is famous in town for the quality of his wines. The restaurant had finished the special wine I requested for my guest but he decided to give me another one and for free. This gesture left all my guests completely shocked to the point that they said: "This would be completely impossible in Melbourne.”
I know well that when you organize trips every day, we tour guides risk falling into the routine and forget to treat clients as guests but I truly believe in the value of it. Sometimes I even invite my guests to lunch with my family; an experience that has no price for them.