Meet Gemma from Passion for Italy
Travel design company Passion for Italy’s origins lie in its name. A long-term fascination for Italy has seen Australian founding director Gemma Green Close visit 30 times in the past 32 years. The former research scientist’s skills are evident in her microscopic knowledge of Italy’s arts, culture, history and gastronomy, which allows her to plan stress-free tailored itineraries for her English-speaking clients around the world.
The Italian speaker initially stumbled into travel planning: “Italy’s not easy to get around, on the trains and driving on the wrong side of the road. I thought if it’s hard for me and I can communicate, what would it be like for people who can’t speak Italian? So, my aim was to guide people in the right direction and share my passion.”
Her first client, a government conference, “was a spot of luck” and after organising trips in Italy for friends, she formally started her business in 2004.
“I created it from scratch because I loved Italy so much. Our marketing ploy is we’ve been there, I’ve travelled the breadth and depth of Italy. You can get a beautiful hotel in a horrible area if you just book online. I work directly with hotels and tour guides; I know the managers of the major hotels we use and can tell clients exactly where to go and how to get there.”
Clients are consulted to ensure they get a wonderful experience that aligns with their tastes. “My philosophy is ‘slow travel’ – it’s more about the culture, history, the museums, cooking courses. My unique selling point is that it’s more quality, not quantity. I really encourage the culture and meeting the Italian people. The people are wonderful; the food and wine, sharing a meal, that to me is the precious thing.”
While Gemma’s passion for Italian history helped launch her business, her future focused views on engaging customers has helped it grow. Her client base has grown through a mix of word-of-mouth recommendations and online activity, including blogs and podcasts.
An early adopter of technology, Passion for Italy’s strong online presence grew to incorporate four websites to communicate with staff and clients.
After being with Tourwriter for many years, Gemma moved to the new product in May 2021 which has allowed her to streamline her workflow further.
“We can also add the directions and maps – previously we would have to send these separately. Everything is online for the client and they can access it all from their phones or tablets while travelling.”
Gemma is also saving time by not having to update her website as frequently: “I don’t have to keep adding new apartments, hotels or tours to the Passion for Italy website, instead I can just add the description and as many photos as I like in Tourwriter.”
While Gemma is based in Australia where her family lives, she also has a staff member on the ground in Italy, the wonderful Sabrina Barro. Another benefit of Tourwriter, she says, is easily seeing what each other are up to as they operate on opposite sides of the world.
“I can see what her itineraries are and check the supplier’s prices and so on – it’s all there, you don’t have to look everything up.”
With travel and enquiries starting to crank up again post-pandemic, Gemma is looking forward to expanding her business – as well as a long-awaited return to Italy.
“Green by name and green by nature”, she’s keen to promote more sustainable suppliers, from organic farms and wine producers in Tuscany, to ‘farm to plate’ style dining experiences.
Her clientele is growing, particularly in the US, and she’s on the hunt for travel agents with an in-depth knowledge of Italy to join her, with the potential to grow into the UK and South Africa in future.
“I’ll have to train up new staff soon for Tourwriter. I’m glad there is lots of information to help with that and saves me having to do lots of demonstrations.”