Seizing change as an opportunity – an interview with Zena Batocchi, International Sales Manager, Carrani Tours

We continue interviewing Carrani’s Team to talk about the restart. After talking about the reopening of the Hop on Hop Off buses in Rome during the summer today we interview Zena Batocchi, International Sales Manager for Carrani Tours.

In this interview, Zena tells us about the initiatives undertaken by Carrani following the COVID emergency, and in particular: how the company was able to reorganize and adapt to this special moment for world tourism. The acceleration of the digital transformation, the passion for tourism, the cohesion of the team, and much more in this interview that summarizes the experience gained in recent months, sharing some lessons learned and ideas to plan tourism operators’ restart.

The COVID emergency was like a thunderbolt for the tourism sector. Could you please describe what this period of change represented for you? How has the role of the sales manager changed?

The role of the International Sales Manager involves a considerable amount of trips, even long ones, to represent the company by participating in trade fairs, roadshows, conferences and, of course, sales trips to visit our partners and to support our Sales Team around the world.

Covering practically the whole globe, it often happened to me to do back to back trips which means packing for summer and winter in one luggage… now all this has been deconstructed … we had to adapt to virtually connect with our teams and partners and we realized that this new mode is surprisingly effective! For example, when we organize an event to present our country, we have seen that online participants are proactive and willing to join the conversation by asking many questions.

In these difficult days, technology and the network are playing a key role in enabling people to communicate. How was it for tourism operators to adapt to this new normal?

The tourism sector, despite having a very complex “machine” behind it, touches the most emotional and personal chords of the human being: travel can never be completely replaced by virtual experiences… the same is true for professional interaction! We are used to having relationships also based on the “human factor” and therefore we are all suffering a little from a “tourism fair nostalgia”… but certainly technology has allowed us to continue working and preparing for the next seasons … there will be time to go back to being the “fun industry” we have always been !!

Many users used social media as a window to the world during the Coronavirus emergency. How does your company use this communication tool?

Carrani’s social media strategy during Covid19 has been focused on promoting our beautiful country. If there is one thing that we have all learned, it is that a lot can be done even if confined to our homes….starting from the daily use of platforms such as Zoom to train and to stay in touch with our partners, to livestream. We started using Instagram Live when one of our Argentine partners asked to show what was happening in Rome. It was the first day after the exit from the first lock-down we walked with our friends from Argentina showing some off the beaten path areas of the city like the beautiful church of S. Luigi dei Francesi with the paintings by Caravaggio, and we ended our live with a virtual toast!

After this first experiment, during the summer we offered various live experiences showing our followers the wonders of the Val d’Orcia, Tuscany. We also visited Pompeii, Sorrento and its views over the Gulf of Naples with a special guide. Our last “adventure” was the Harvest in Montalcino, in collaboration with Brunello’s producers.

We believe that this mode is worth much more than a powerpoint presentation: we want to offer a real Italy live experience and make you dream of traveling to our country as soon as possible!

Our goal is to expand our fan base and also conquer the English-speaking markets: so far we have had great satisfaction from the Latin markets which, despite the great difficulties related to the pandemic, always show a lot of participation in every event!

We followed you on social media thanks to your lives from wonderful places like Pompeii, Sorrento, Montalcino, etc. How was it for you and your team to go from behind the scenes to be in front of the cameras? What lessons do you take home from this experience?

Each live event requires a preparation phase… like selecting partners, contents, visiting the venues, etc.

Despite the anxiety before the show and some technical problems, it is truly inspiring to see the participation of followers that increase from time to time. We are proud to say that we created a new Instagram profile for Carrani in mid-July and we are already sailing towards 1,000 followers! They might see a few… but our audience is mainly made of tour operators and travel agents, so their engagement is an amazing result for us!

Personally, I don’t know if I would be able to spend an hour watching a live streaming although we had many people watching our lives while being very engaged asking questions during and after the live streamings. We take it as a good sign and we are glad to create content which can somehow alleviate the boredom and anxiety of those who may be confined at home due to the pandemic.

With that said, I will never forget experiencing internet problems when streaming in Bagno Vignoni or having technical difficulties when trying to save our wonderful live in Pompeii! There is certainly a lot of room for improvement. Our goal is to produce more and more interesting material while maintaining that informal and personal touch that makes the event “entertaining” and special for tour followers!

How do your international partners see Italy? How did you communicate with them during this time?

At the beginning, it is undeniable that we were seen as “plague-spreaders” like in a Manzoni’s novel, unfortunately we know how things went and the global impact of the pandemic. We have maintained contact with our partners from Rome and, locally, thanks to our Sales Team distributed all over the world. It was our choice to play “with open cards” explaining the situation and the commercial and operational impacts, we are all in the same boat…

What do you think institutions could do to support your business?

We need a Ministry of Tourism and a real understanding of the tourism market. It is important to involve tourism professionals as we plan the recovery phase. We have recently realized the impact of tourism on our country. There is still a long way to go and local tourism cannot compensate for the loss of incoming tourism at the moment.

During the lockdown, you activated a Facebook group in Italy to allow tourism operators to exchange ideas to reactivate the Italian tourism supply chain. Today it is one of the most vital and loved Facebook communities in Italy: could you tell us about this initiative?

The group was created by pure chance: I had returned from an exciting promotional trip to South America, just before my return, the news of the first case of Codogno had come out. It is useless to deny it: at first almost no one took the situation seriously and, with great concern for the repercussions on tourism and even a little annoyance, we tried to minimize the impact of the virus. The spread of news and the alarmism that began to spread risked damaging the image of Italy abroad: in this panorama, on a Saturday morning, while I was reflecting on the situation, I called a friend from Venice who told me the great difficulties that his city had been facing for months because of the exceptional high water of the previous autumn; during that call we said “we should suggest to our circle of friends to have a weekend in an Italian city … let’s help each other!” . The same day I opened a Facebook group that was exactly oriented towards this purpose, to support internal tourism with the word of mouth effect among their circle of friends: it was February 29, in just 24 hours we got to 500 members … we didn’t have the time to approve all the registrations, my phone went crazy! Many friends of the tourism industry who, with an unexpected multiplier effect, have generated a flood of contacts: I immediately shared the efforts (and the surprise) with my friend Enrico Spalazzi of Clementson Travel Venezia, with Dario Ferrante of Tourplus Palermo and with Massimo Bello of Beddy Catania. In three days we reached 1,500 members … we couldn’t believe it! There was a friendly atmosphere aimed at sharing news and our network. Then during the lockdown and everything we experienced: the mood of the group has certainly changed, concerns, sometimes even anger and frustration. Today the group is approaching 10,000 members, many synergies have been generated and some satellite groups have been created!

In addition to the “historical” co-administrators I have enlisted other friends and colleagues to help us manage the group. A real microcosm that gathers professionals linked in various ways to tourism: from transport to accommodation facilities, from tour operators to travel agencies to small DMCs, from associations for the promotion of the territory to artisan shops, etc. (it is impossible to name them all!).

According to Facebook, the future is in the communities: what role does Carrani intend to play for the next few years for tourism operators?

For almost a century, Carrani has been an important point of contact for operators from all over the world: the step towards greater engagement in social media communities has already been taken … and our commitment to grow our presence will be ever more constant.

The idea is to maintain a “social” relationship also with our Partners and for this reason, we are opening a Facebook group where we can keep in touch more assiduously!

Unity is strength … that’s for sure! We are sure that there are incredible opportunities for a decidedly more tailored and, above all, more sustainable tourism and all this is possible by collecting all the ideas that come from the communities!

In a delicate historical moment for tourism, how important is a community like yours and what added value can it provide?

This group has demonstrated the extreme heterogeneity of the actors involved in the tourism supply chain and, at times, the lack of communication that exists between the various realities … I think the possibility of deepening the knowledge of the territory and the opportunities that can be exploited to propose the best destination Italy to our international customers! Personally, I found that it is really very difficult to know “all of Italy”: there is such a variety of places and activities that you never stop learning!

What is the biggest benefit of collaborating in groups and communities?

There is so much to see in every single corner of our country … that there is no limit to the imagination and to the experiences and memories that can be created in Italy!

For example, for the live shows I presented in Val d’Orcia I turned to a participant in the group I did not know personally … but I liked the photos she posted: thanks to the group I met Nicoletta Innocenti, a force of nature! A woman full of life and with a visceral love for her territory! Thanks to her I learned an infinite amount of anecdotes and curiosities that I then transferred to our friends during the live shows!

What best practice will you continue to implement after the emergency?

Certainly, as regards the commercial promotion aspect, we will treasure the tools we have learned to use in recent months: everything will be decidedly more aimed at improving knowledge of the Italian destination and the diversification of products. More sustainability and more respect for inclusiveness towards our customers: this crisis can be a formidable starting point for improvement!

It will be an important point to take advantage of the networking opportunities of the Facebook group “Tourism Professionals” both in identifying partnerships with local and out-of-the-ordinary realities and to create a bridge for commercial collaborations or take inspiration for innovative ideas. As for the social side of content creation, it stimulates me to know what our followers are interested in to prepare our next live adventure and who knows what the future holds!

About Zena Batocchi

International Sales Manager, Carrani Tours

As a sales manager, Zena has been working in tourism for over twenty years, most of which spent in the world of hospitality in national and international realities, after an experience within the sales department in Italo for 5 years, she returned to Carrani, where she had worked briefly after an experience in Spain. Thanks to the various experiences gained and the natural propensity for “being social” she has many contacts thats he loves to maintain and involve in the most varied initiatives with the motto: “the more ingredients you put in the soup, the tastier it gets”.