When it comes to Italy we all think of the same cities, don’t we? Rome, Milan, Florence, Naples, Venice, etc...
I bet at least two or three of these cities were on your list. But why is that? Is it because they are the most famous and beautiful Italian cities? Also. But not quiet.
Why do you and 99% of people all wish to visit the same cities?
Today we take a deep dive into the ethics of traveling through Italy and the pros and cons of visiting both big and small cities and destinations in Italy. Here is what we will cover.
• Why we all tend to always visit the same Italian cities.
• Why you shouldn’t visit Italy’s most popular cities and destinations.
• The best part about italy’s smaller cities.
• What the Tourist Show is.
• The appeal of Italian small cities.
Italy has literally thousands of gorgeous towns. Why limiting your visit to just a handful? Is it because they are the best places to visit in Italy? The cheapest? Is it because they have more history than all other cities?
Before the advent of social media people didn’t have the opportunity of learning about all the beautiful Italian cities and had to rely on what friends, family, television and travel agencies recommended. That in most cases was the cities we mentioned above; Milan, Rome, Naples, Florence etc.
You would expect this to change with the spread of social media and easy access to information online, but the change never occurred. It took me a second to work around the why for this when I finally understood: Social media was never going to change this. It was only bound to reinforce the loop. Forgive me if I get technical but have you ever heard of the eco chamber effect? Many of you probably know it already, if you don’t, here is a very quick definition by the dictionary.
“An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.”
People usually use it to describe the effect social media have on people’s political believes. Social media are built in a way that regurgitates backs to you what you gave them in the first place. If you followed a particular politician, or if you often searched for the name of a particular political party, the social media quickly learn from that behavior and feed you with more content resembling what you went looking for in the first place. In the same way, I understood that social media has the same effect also outside the political sphere. If on Facebook you followed —and I am making this up— pages called Love Milan and Travel Milan because, as we discussed earlier, Milan is one of those major cities “You need to visit,” social media quickly pick up on the behavior and will later show in your feed more content by pages about Milan. You may or may not realize it but you will be reminded of the city so often that it goes without asking: of course the first city you will visit in Italy will be Milan.
Is this a bad thing? Political sphere and ethicality apart, it doesn’t have to be. You wanted to visit Milan in the first place so why not? As long as you keep an open mindset and make an active effort to learn about other options and new, sometimes ever more interesting Italian destinations. And this doesn’t apply to Italy only, but also to any other country, destination or field. We offer authentic experiences with Locals in Bergamo, Italy, and it only made sense for us to take Italy as example.
So why do we all tend to travel to the same Italian cities and destination?
The more fame a place gain, the more people will recommend others to visit. This in turn will entice more people to visit, reinforcing the loop and starting it all over.
Social media made it even easier for people to fall in the same loop as now people have the power to share feedbacks and stories about their experiences in popular Italian destinations and reach a larger audience; all the while with similar cities as background.
So now that we know why this happens, let’s see why you should not do the same.
Why you shouldn’t visit Italy’s most popular destination or at least not limit your visit to them.
Visiting large Italian cities makes perfect sense and is totally fine if you want to. People come back to these cities again and again. Go look online for “Italian cities” on google or ask your friend who just came back from Europe and what will you get? The same list of cities.
You and I both trust our friends and it makes perfect sense for us to ask for recommendations if they visited a country we want to visit. And if you want to find more information, we would both go on the internet. This is what we do, it is effective, it is convenient and it reduces the risk of choosing a wrong or boring place to the minimum.
It doesn’t mean it’s the best thing you can do, nor what will lead to the best Italian trip or italian experience.
I was born and raised in Bergamo, just 30 minutes outside Milan, I lived there for twenty years before I moved and started a new life abroad. I spent more or less seven years abroad and the experience taught me a lot. First and foremost this: The authentic and best aspects of a place are outside major destinations
The best part about visiting Italy’s small cities
While living abroad I experienced the life style of both big, major cities and that of smaller, more remote ones. What I learned is that the best and most authentic stuff was hidden away in smaller cities. Big cities are people-filled, traffic-filled, advertising-, chaos-, attractions-filled. Big cities are often fake-but-authentic-like- and super-over-priced-experiences-filled. The truth is that big cities, and in this case, Italian famous, big destinations, aren’t ugly or not worth seeing, but you should see them knowingly what you are seeing.
Italy’s famous destinations are beautiful, but also overcrowded and overly populated with tourists 365 days per year. This insane influx of tourists make them the perfect place for restaurants, tour guides and cafes to charge insanely expensive sums of money for stuff that locals would never even dream of paying. Venice is home to a little over 250,000 people, tourists arriving from abroad in 2018 were 4.5 million, and growing. Wouldn’t you charge more? I am not here to blame them. I am here to warn you.
Prepare yourself for the Tourist Show.
This is how I call the whole flashy and pricey industry around tourism in big cities. Let’s begin by stating the obvious: Culture is an asset. Culture has become and continues to be a fantastic, incredibly lucrative asset driving billions of Dollars (or Euros, or Pounds or whatever currency you are currently using and thinking in) in revenue around the world. This was bound to happen and it isn’t going to change. Ever. Earning a living and even living a successful, comfortable life sharing with the world the traditions and peculiarities of the place you grew up in is a genuine and remarkable thing to do. That is also what I do, and you bet I am biased, but I have reason on my side. Sharing insights about one’s culture and creating genuine moments while sharing with others the traditions passed down in your country or city is a great way to share culture, grow as a person, fight discrimination and open peoples views. Charging three, four or five times what you would charge locals for the same, simple dish of the tradition without innovating or adding any added value is unethical and barbaric. Faking traditions and putting up shows is plain disgusting.
Hiring a fella good at talking to lure inside your restaurants tourists walking by to offer them your delicious, traditional carbonara is good marketing, hiring a purposely Italian-looking fella and asking him to act and speak loudly to reinforce the stereotyped expectation of tourists and lure them inside to eat a pizza you charge double for just because they are mostly tourists is despicable.
This is unsustainable tourism, this is the ugly side of globalization and mass tourism. Playing on commonly held believes (a loud, young fella with a thick mustache sending kisses your way to convince you to stop and eat pizza at that restaurant, for example) and overcharging to gain short-term gains is putting up what I call a tourist show.
The appeal of Italy’s small cities
Just like I explained in another article on Why you should visit Italy’s smaller cities, things are different outside Italy’s bigger ones. For instance people tend to be more genuine. Businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector don’t enjoy the same, constant huge number of tourists visiting every day. In places like Bergamo (but also in all the other culturally-relevant, history-packed small cities that are being overlooked) people live and work at a different pace. They greet you, welcome you, struggle to communicate with you in English and try their best to offer you a quality, authentic stay. Genuine experiences are possible here. People here see tourism as a flattering, genuine interest by others in their city and culture. People from these places aren’t necessarily better and I hope that I am not giving off that impression, but they come from a different place and, due to circumstances, perceive tourism in a different way; a way much more favorable for you, by the way.
Luckily more and more people are slowly sharing this mindset on both sides (the tourist’s side and that of local businesses) and the genuine sharing of experiences is often possible.
This is the thin, yet perceivable difference between what’s being offered in big vs small Italian cities. The experiences you can live outside major destinations are characterized by a clearly distinguishable feeling of authenticity that eating out at a restaurant in a touristy area of a big city, for example, lacks. The lack of English and the focus on quality and authenticity that characterize the experiences you live in smaller cities will considerably improve the quality of your stay. And this is without saying that visiting a place where people are more approachable and don’t look at you like they would at a dollar or Euro bill will make the difference.
Focus on people. Focus on the moments and experiences you can live and share with them. Try focusing less on taking the perfect pic or sharing the perfect story. Allow yourself to visit big, must-see cities such as Venice for they are irreplaceable and you will never see a city where instead of taxis and ambulances you will see ambulance-boats and taxi-boats, but don’t stop there. Grant yourself two-to-three days in major destinations and then go visit different cities and destinations searching for something different and authentic.
This is what we strive to offer and achieve at Garipalli. It goes without saying that Garipalli, as business, must be financially viable and be able to sustain itself by offering these experiences. But people are smart enough to distinguish between sharing culture and traditions with others driven by passion and a desire to share and live in touch with people from all over the world, and blatantly taking advantage of the interest shown by tourists for the place and culture you found yourself in since birth by mere luck.
We at Garipalli are on a mission that goes beyond the bottom line. Reach out to us for questions and feedbacks. Feel free to confront us on these and other topics and share with us your thoughts. Check out our other blog posts on similar topic if you enjoyed this one. See you at out next story.