Before Experiential Tourism became a catch phrase for the travel industry, Elena Pettinicchio and Laura Sanvito of Lake Como Food Tours had been offering unique experiences to travelers looking to delve into local culture.
It was 2012 when Elena and Laura, both young mothers at the time, met at the after school children’s park. While the children played, the moms struck up polite conversation and quickly realized that they had a mutual passion for travel and a love for their adopted home, Lake Como.
Both Elena and Laura are natives of Milan, the urban, financial capital of Italy. In fact, Laura worked in finance before moving to Lecco. She recalls, “My life was completely different. I worked in investment banking for 15 years. When my husband and I decided to start a family, we moved to Lecco. Even after my first child, I commuted. It was lucrative to do so, but after my second child, I decided to dedicate myself to my family. When I met Elena, it was the right time for me to face a new challenge and… well, the rest is history.”
Elena talks about her love of travel, “The most memorable trip I ever did was a 2 month experience around the world after graduation. I bought a “round the world ticket” and with only a rucksack on my back, I started my journey. I didn’t book anything – I just went with a pure desire to see different countries and encounter new cultures. I decided the length of my stay based on the emotions and sensations that each destination provided.” She adds, “To really get to know a country, you have to live, eat and talk with the locals. I truly believe that travel satisfies natural human curiosity and enriches one’s character.”
That first conversation between Elena and Laura was just after Elena had returned from a trip to Vietnam. Elena recalls, “The idea of creating a travel agency that dealt with experiential tourism was inspired by my trip to Vietnam where I had scheduled a bike tour through the Mekong Delta. The trip crossed the rural Vietnamese countryside, we slept at local’s houses and ate real home cooking. We’d stop every chance we could to try street food from the local vendors. I explored and experienced more Asian flavors in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, swapping the bicycle for a motorbike driven by Vietnamese girl-guides. It was an exhilarating experience driving along small alleyways and hidden neighborhoods, sampling exotic specialties. That experience was the seed planted for Lake Como Food Tours.”
Although there are many different definitions of Experiential Tourism, Lake Como Food Tours have their own definition:
“Experiential Tourism means sharing a unique moment which gives the visitor a sense of the region, its people and heritage. Experiential Tourism means creating memories that will remain in the hearts of our guests and become stories to tell time and time again.”
In a 2018 survey carried out by Skift Research, participants were asked to agree or disagree with the statement: “I see value in goods and services that enable me to learn something.” More than half, 57% of the participants agreed, and 27% strongly agreed.
Whether it’s learning to cook or learning about traditions, food experiences have become an integral part of travel itineraries. Travelers are seeking destinations where traditional production methods are valued and still in practice. Especially in Italy where food is so deeply connected to its origin, Elena and Laura have created special itineraries that allow the visitor to see the beauty of the landscape as well as experience the traditions of the territory.
The classic formula and terminology ‘tour’ has been replaced with ‘experiences’. Experiences can be anything from a walking tour of an ancient hillside village, learning to cook homemade pasta, meeting local fishermen and trying their catch of the day, or an afternoon at the lakefront learning to paint with an experienced master. Laura explains, “One of our mottos is ‘Collect Moments Not Things’. We really want our guests to go back enriched from their experience and ready to share it with their friends and family.” She elaborates, “We always try to design experiences which are unique. Unique doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do something very glamorous and costly like a helicopter ride to Bellagio. It could simply be a hiking trip to a place where there’s an astonishing view of Lake Como – and when you arrive at the top, your tour guide opens her rucksack and sets up a small picnic with local products and wine to enjoy in front of the scene. That is something you will remember, forever.”
“If there was a first rule of Authenticity, it would be: You cannot create Authenticity.” -Jeremy Smith, travel author
Laura agrees, “This is something that I think is very important. A visitor needs to see the territory and experience the strengths of that region. I don’t agree when people sell tours that promise you will ‘live like a local’, because this is very, very difficult to do unless you stay for a long period of time. What we can do, is offer a local experience that is much better than how a local would live it. In reality, the guest lives the territory much better than any of the locals. They see it in a different way – they visit things that residents never take the time to visit. When we introduce our guests to a local producer who has passion for his job, that’s special, they feel something. This is the moment and memory that they bring back.”
In Elena’s and Laura’s opinion, Experiential Tourism is more than sightseeing, it should be a memorable, human interaction shared with local people that will enrich your life.