How Slow is Slow ? (Rant, thoughts and what Slow Italy stands for)
In recent years we have seen quite a few companies popping up that include the word “Slow” in their company name or mission statement.
The truth is that at least a few of these companies are using the word ‘Slow’ as some kind of magic marketing catchword to sell their travel packages – because that’s currently the trendy wave to surf on – but they don’t seem to have the slightest idea what slow travel in Italy is about.
Let’s be clear: going “slow” and nationwide seems kind of an oxymoron.
Indeed, “slow” is all about traveling deeper, instead of wider, so tour operators that choose to go deep, big and wide at the same time, seem to not have grasped the essence of the concept.
How can a company possibly offer slow travel experiences while working from a back office somewhere in Italy (or abroad) without being on the road most of the time, testing out things first-hand themselves? When everything goes through a nation-wide network of representatives and chain of delegation, travel packages necessarily come out pre-formatted, more organized and scheduled than they would be when “cooked on the spot” (pun intended).
Consequently, as a client or visitor you’re completely missing out on the first-hand, personal, authentic, and unformatted experience that “slow” travel is all about and, which that kind of companies are failing to transmit.
Fortunately, there are also small and boutique tour operators doing a great job in specific regions of Italy. These small businesses are operating very locally in an environment where they have settled in, which they know thoroughly, which is exactly the point. They are not claiming to offer “slow travel experiences” on a country-wide scale.
Some companies, who have deliberately chosen not to jump on the “slow” travel bandwagon, work with representatives all over Italy and do sell great travel packages for travelers who prefer to have things a little more organized. And that’s a good thing, the fact there’s something for everyone.
What we’re trying to say is this: the future of the slow travel movement in Italy is too important to let the concept being watered down !
So far, for the rant.
Note that higher up I wrote, “what slow travel in Italy is about”, not just “what slow travel is about”.
While many of the various Slow movements’ principles are universal, when it comes to Slow Travel, interpretation and implementation are much more country-specific. Slow travel embraces values and principles common to responsible travel, ethical travel, sustainable travel which may not take on the same global dimension in both developing and industrialized countries, or Northern and Southern countries, for example. The reason is that the impact left on a territory is not just environmental, but depending on the hierarchy of needs of that territory, on its specificity, and on the type of tourism that is common in that territory, can be multi-dimensional.
Consequently, it is impossible to define general slow traveling principles without taking the specific nature of a country or region into account. In fact, slow travel is about respecting, understanding, learning and adapting, instead of imposing. Hence, another reason why “global” and “slow” seem kind of antagonistic.
Do slow travelers stick exclusively to slow modes of transportation when they travel? Is slow travel the new kind of budget traveling?
Actually, “slow” has much less to do with speed than it has with choice.
Slow travel, as a term, was coined on analogy of slow food (originally an Italian invention) and in the same way that slow food is not just about cooking your food slowly, slow travel is not just about traveling at a slow pace.
It is not so much that the pace is more laid back in Italy, but Italians put a higher value on other values (family, friends, solidarity, excellence), rather than merely doing things fast.
While much of the rest of the world equals “fast” to “good” (“how fast can this be done? How fast can you deliver?), in Italy it is quite the opposite. Taking the time to do things the right way, even if that means being slower, has always stood for quality, long before the word “slow” was coined into a label for the Slow Food movement by Carlo Petrini (a movement originally started as a reaction to the opening of a McDonald’s outlet on one of Rome’s most iconic sites, Piazza di Spagna, in 1986).
For Italians, time is simply subordinate to other more important values: authenticity, family, genuinity, excellence and mastership. See also: 10 reasons to slow travel in Italy.
Translated into travel, “slow” is about doing less, but more intensely. It’s about getting rid of a tight schedule and scoreboard and enjoying a way of traveling where exploring, wandering, discovering and tasting are key ingredients, leaving space for the unexpected without planning too much into the smallest detail. Obviously, this type of traveling requires some homework and research to be done ahead, but isn’t that the most wonderful way, to slowly roll into your vacation or journey while you are preparing it from the comfort of your home, days or weeks in advance?
Now, back to Slow Italy.
One could argue that we, as an on-line magazine, are global as well, as we are covering all of Italy. Isn’t that some kind of contradiction which what we said previously? Well, the point is, we are not selling anything out of it. We have no clients, only readers, so our readers get what we have to offer right from the stove, so to say, wherever that happens to be at that moment.
And above all, we are not claiming something to sell something else.
We are a social business, which means that any profits realized are reinvested in Slow Italy itself, with the aim of increasing social impact, i.e. encouraging more people to adopt a more sustainable way of traveling that is possible through slow traveling.
Unlike a profit-maximizing travel business, our prime aim is not to maximize profits (although generating some income is necessary to cover operating costs, that’s why we do have ads and affiliate links on our website), but to increase awareness and be part of a change. So, the funds we have at our disposal are entirely reinvested to deepen and broaden our research, and get the word out to be as much an active part of the change as possible.
We may or may not tell the owner of the hotel, B&B or restaurant who we are, depending on the type of contact we have with them, but when we do, it is usually towards the end of our stay, preferably after we’ve paid the bill. We leave absolutely no ambiguity over the fact that we are there to pay for our stays and meals. The reason why we sometimes mention that we work for a website is to get access to information or places that could be useful to write our articles.
Hotel, B&B and restaurant owners who feel that their business is in line with the Slow Italy philosophy are always welcome to submit their business for consideration. They should just know that we only recommend places that we have personally visited and that even after our stay or meal, we are keen on retaining full editorial freedom, meaning that our visit will not automatically result in an article. Unless, of course, we’re really 100% enthusiastic and confident to share our experience with our readers. That be said, we are always very enthusiastic when we meet like-minded people!
So, what does Slow Italy stand for?
The idea behind Slow Italy took off with the launch of Yourguidetoitaly.com, the website we started in 2005. Long before #overtourism became a concept, we already wanted to offer a novel approach to traveling in Italy, away from the tourist hot spots and beyond the typical clichés. Our more than 22-years-long first-hand experience living and traveling in Italy was fundamental to the project.
We wanted to inspire people to travel slow and “deeper”, i.e. staying longer in fewer places, and especially places that have remained off the tourist radar, instead of checking off famous destinations from a to-visit-list. But, we also wanted to show that even the most touristy places have their off-the-beaten-path itineraries.
In short, Slow Italy is intended for the curious, open-minded, adventurous traveler (if you aren’t being adventurous when you travel, when will you be?). We seek to transmit basic principles of sustainability related to tourism, because whether we want it or not, tourism can be a wonderful thing for the host country, as much as it can be a completely destructive one, depending on our choices and behavior as a traveler. So, Slow Italy aims to also make travelers aware that:
We have been reluctant to formally write out our “guidelines” because we didn’t want, in the slightest way, to sound like we’re preaching something or compelling people to act a certain way while they are on vacation. Vacation and traveling should be a moment of relax, of happiness, of freedom, a moment where you should be able to be off guard, not feeling that someone is judging you. So, we chose to keep our philosophy implicit within our articles rather than straight off explicit. However, now that “slow” is popping up almost everywhere as the new marketing gimmick we feel that we should defend what we stand for, so here are our ideas in a nutshell:
- We believe in deep, immersive travel experiences that are not paced by tight travel schedules, but by meaningful exchanges with people and places. These exchanges can be as straightforward as asking a taxi driver about his top 3 restaurants in town or showing a genuine, personal interest for a local craftsman’s work, to more planned exchanges like attending a pottery course or joining a wine tasting event.
- We attach great value to the cultural and historic heritage of the regions we visit and feature on our website. One of our main motivations is, in fact, to defend the cultural and historic heritage of Italian villages and sights that remain off the tourist radar and that are on the verge of cultural desertification, i.e. losing the funds and human investment that keep their cultural identity alive. Bringing new visitors to these sights is a way to keep this unique heritage alive. In the same way that biodiversity is the future of our planet, we believe that cultural diversity (especially within the same country) is the future of human intelligence and creativity.
- We hope to inspire people to stay away from a consumerist approach of traveling, where one “consumes” as many tourist sights and “must-see” places as possible, and to favor authentic quality moments over achievement.
- We aim to raise interest in the rich local customs, wonderful craftwork, venerable traditions, and plentiful legends and languages.
- Last, but not least, we support initiatives that minimize the human and environmental impact of traveling. We’d like to make travelers aware that: what we bring with us, what we take back home with us and what we leave behind has an impact on our host country. And whether this impact is positive or negative is entirely up to us.
- That’s why we favor stays in handpicked accommodation that have a positive environmental, economic, urbanistic or social impact on the local life and identity of an area, over large hotels, cruise ships or resorts specifically built for tourists, which often disrupt the natural, urban or social landscape and equilibrium, with the risk of dramatically changing the local economic and cultural life in a negative way in the long run. The types of accommodation that are in line with this philosophy are:
- family-owned and -run small hotels and B&Bs, perfectly integrated into the local life, especially those that promote local products and activities in their area;
- agriturismi that have diversified into the tourist industry to keep their agricultural activity alive while sharing their local produce and knowledge with travelers. Read more about agriturismi in Italy.
- castles and other historic buildings in the course of renovation, or turned into boutique hotels, which have preserved the historic value of the edifice, and where travelers are positively contributing to the preservation of the local cultural heritage by financing preservation and renovation with their stay. Read more: 10 reasons to slow travel in Italy
- alberghi diffusi (nearly abandoned villages turned into hotels) or small, off-the-beaten-track village hotels, are another way to fight the growing risk of rural desertification threatening some of the beautiful Italian hamlets.
So far, Slow Italy’s philosophy in a nutshell. If this resonates with you, you may want to read our 10 reasons to slow travel in Italy.