Meet Maria Laura from Fantastica Italia

Fantastica Italia Crew a Boutique Tour Operator specialising in Italy trips.

Travel boutique Fantastica Italia was born of “my degree, my passion, and my dislike for
tour bus companies that tell you to be in the lobby by 6am,” says founder MariaLaura Boldini

The Arizona-based company specialises in creating 100% customised trips to Europe for the
North American market. “I wanted people to travel how I like to travel. I’m a sleeper! I don’t
want to be in the lobby at 6am. I want to be there at 11 am. I don’t want to spend my time on
a bus with 50 people to go to the Vatican. I’d rather be in a cooking class. That was my

Landing in the US with a Masters in Travel and Tourism Management, Italian-born
MariaLaura started work as a travel intern before branching out on her own 16 years ago.
Her experience in the logistics of travel, plus her in depth knowledge of Italy – from the
perfect tiny cooking class in Bologna, to the mind-blowing hidden restaurant in Milan that
only the locals know – has stood her in good stead with her clientele who want ‘the trip of a
lifetime’ to mark their honeymoon, retirement, big birthday or anniversary. “We listen a lot. If
you tell me what you like, I can nail what you want.”

A cooking class in Bologna that a specialist tour operator organises.

In recent years client demand has seen the business expand beyond Italy, to Greece, Spain,
Portugal, and France, with the occasional stop-off in London – but MariaLaura’s business
ethos has stayed close to her roots. In true Italian fashion, it’s a family affair. Her business
partner is her mother; many of her on-ground providers have been with her since the start.
“We’re extremely loyal people. When we find a driver or a guide we like, we don’t change. It
creates this trusting relationship. We know these people, it becomes like a family
relationship, so the quality is really high.

“In travel, the connection that you build, that you water, you grow, that makes the experience
you can sell to your client. Anyone can book a hotel online but we know the unique
experiences in each area. Our person in Rome is from Rome. We have local people in the
local area. They know the territory like the back of their hand and if something happens we
want them to be able to be there in a matter of minutes.” Plus, she adds, using local
operators is a more sustainable option, keeping money in the local community.

A tour explores the local food shop in Siena

Turning to Tourwriter

While the content of her itineraries was fantastica, the process of producing them in the early
days was less so. The old software MariaLaura used, which was essentially text in boxes,
“was like an old shoe – you get really comfortable.” After getting feedback from both Zicasso
and travel agents that clients required the proposals to be more visual, she started to
manually add images. “It took ages.”

After a recommendation from friends, Fantastica Italia signed up to Tourwriter in 2021. ‘I wish I’d done it sooner. I think it’s a beautiful product. I like to look at our proposals too!’

“I can do a proposal on Tourwriter in half an hour from start to finish. The cleanliness of the itinerary and the speed of the process helps for sure in conversion. For the visual people, the impact of these pictures, it makes you want to be there now.”

MariaLaura- Founder of Fantastica Italia

Tourwriter also helps to avoid costly mistakes when organising a multi-destination trip, she
adds. “Tourwriter’s price structure is probably my favourite thing. I can be working across
three different currencies. I can easily see if all my markup is right, the exchange rate is
right. In the old system I had to go in to each price and check markup and exchange rate –
that was the biggest time consuming task. Now I’m working three times faster. Tourwriter
leaves way less margin for error.”

A courtyard in Bologna

The future for Fantastica Italia

The Covid-19 pandemic was a spanner in the works for Fantastica Italia, like any travel
business, but MariaLaura says when travel resumed, it received a “tsunami of enquiries” as
people rushed to catch up on celebrations they’d missed. The company is now looking to
expand its current core team of three, but “it’s a struggle to find someone up to our level in
terms of customer service and experience”.

She has noticed enquiries now seem to be coming from either end of the market – those on a
tight budget, or those wanting to splash out for something incredible. Either way, the model
of Fantastica Italia combined wirth Tourwriter fits the bill. “Looking ahead to 2023, business
is returning back to normal. We’ve got more people that plan – people who understand the
importance of doing it properly. The focus now is on transformational travel – and the only
real way to do that is independent travel.”

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