Open letter to travellers in Italy

Dear Traveler in Italy,

We have decided to write you directly because you, more than anyone else, can judge your travel experience in Italy.

Italy is a wonderful place, full of creative people and natural and artistic beauty but it is also the place of contradictions, of unwritten rules and lobbies.

In these days, in the heart of the summer season, when everybody is busy organizing activities and tours to make your stay more than perfect, once again we have to lose time to answer to complaints from certain groups of guides who don’t accept the existence of Free Walking Tours.

In a country in which the tourism business is controlled by older generations, and completely closed to new guides, where tourist companions (i.e. “accompagnatore turistico") are hired instead of guides, where there is completely no innovation and a huge lack of tour guides, because the government has decided to block the exams to become a guide, the public discussion once again goes back to Free Walking Tour! 
It is like having the house on fire and thinking how to save the grass in the backyard…


For the last time we will list down all the critiques to answer them, but this time, traveller, we would like your feedback because our only worry is that you have a memorable experience in Italy.

  • Free Walking Tours don’t pay taxes

Italy is the place in which, without having any knowledge of someone else business, you accuse him publicly of not paying taxes. Some people don’t even try to verify the situation: if, while watching the television it comes to their mind that Free Walking Tours don’t pay taxes, they run to Facebook and start writing misleading information about it.

We would like to remind all these people of two small but important things:

- Legislation gives Free Walking Tour the right to operate in full compliance with the Italian law;
- They expose themselves to the risk of being brought to court because of defamation (i.e. “diffamazione”).

We know that some people were expecting us to reveal our fiscal and administration scheme but we won’t. It is duty of the prosecution to provide the proof in courts. Enjoy the investigation! Once you find out that our balance sheets are completely fine, you will be angry at yourselves for the time lost.

 

  • Free Walking Tours are run by people without the guide certification

Guides running Free Walking Tours MUST have a tour guide certification. Even though we don’t believe that the guide certification is proof of the skills and knowledge of a person, at the moment the Italian legislation requires it, and therefore we will comply with it.
We strongly suggest you to ask your Free Walking Tour guide if they have a guide certification, if not, be aware that (even if the best guide you ever had) for the Italian law he/she is illegal.

With reference to this point, we would like to highlight that Free Walking Tour Italia staff have put and are putting efforts in order to communicate to the entities involved, the correct ways of managing Free Walking Tours. 

Moreover we have to highlight that Italy has many not certified guides operating without any difficulties on the territory who are not affiliated to any Free Walking Tour. Most of these people are very inexperienced and tell travellers wrong information, causing a damage to the image of Italy. Free Walking Tour Italia cooperates daily with local authorities to block these guides. The sad reality is that the Italian legislation doesn’t have the tools to stop these people, they get a couple of fines and they are back on track! Therefore, we beg you please, can we focus the attention on this point instead of Free Walking Tours?!

  • The use of the term FREE is misleading for travelers

Free Walking Tour is an international format which is well spread all around the world. The term FREE is misleading only for Italians who are not used to this format, all foreign visitors know very well the format and react accordingly.

Just to be clear, the word FREE is correctly translated in Italian with the word “LIBERO”. Travellers are Free to join the activities, are Free to leave the tour whenever they want and they are Free to donate (if they want) as much as they want.

 

  • Free Walking Tour guides are not professional

It often happens that when offering our service we have been asked “How is it possible that a guide is paid with tips?! You are ruining the image of the professional guide.”. 

If you compare Free Walking Tours and “regular” tours, it appears immediately clear that in order to run a Free Walking Tour and hope to get some money at the end of the day, guides must be much more prepared and skilled: the travellers are different for each tour, coming from every continent, from any social background and with different interests and questions. Professionalism, flexibility and empathy are crucial.
With Free Walking Tours the tourist has the chance to experience the tour and then decide how much it is worth. If the guide didn’t study the itinerary and the content, be sure that at the end of the tour he/she will realize it immediately and will react immediately to improve it.

 

  • Free Walking Tours are unfair competition

In our opinion, what is unfair is to have built a national system which created a lobby of guides (reducing the possibility of new guides to be certified) in order to keep prices high; it is the same thing that has been done with taxi licenses. This is unfair for travellers who (in some cases) can not afford to access a proper tour of the city.
In the free market every professional operator can, and should, decide their own tariff. In comparison to our work, many people have said “It would be impossible to find an architect that work with donation!!”. We are sorry to disappoint you but if an architect is willing to work in the Free Walking Tour way, he is completely free to do it. If the “customer” will be honest enough to recognize his value, he could 
probably earn a lot of money.

Once during a presentation, a guide told us “If you want to run Free Walking Tour ask people to pay €1 but don’t leave to travellers the possibility to decide”. The reality is that people are afraid of the concept of Free Walking Tours because it does not appear controllable from outside. You never know the actual donation until the end of the tour. We won’t change the way it works because Free Walking Tour is not only about money, it is about values such as accessibility to culture and people’s awareness of the value of what they do.

Free Walking Tours are not simply a “cheap” way of visiting a city, it is a way of bringing knowledge and culture to everybody, despite what’s in their bank account, and make people realize that it is right and correct to assign their own value to things (positive or negative). How many times have you eaten in a restaurant and not like the food at all but still had to pay a high bill?!

Are we perfect? Certainly not, but in years of operations, Free Walking Tours around the world have brought smiles and happiness to thousands of people, together with a better understanding of the culture and the history of the cities they were visiting.

For all these reasons, Free Walking Tour Italia and all the Free Walking Tours in Italy will continue their activities. The only reason we would stop is if YOU TRAVELER think that what we do is not worth.

Our dear traveler we would therefore appreciate if you could take 30 seconds of your time and write below your opinion: it is the only real thing that matters to us.

Thanks!

Free Walking Tour Italia Staff

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Comments

Federica Martinelli - July 18, 2019

Ciao Riccardo, ‘Free’ vuol dire libero, non gratuito! ;) credo i ragazzi intendessero questo. Viva la semiotica !

Riccardo - July 13, 2019

Credo dovreste cambiare nome.
“Free” vuol dire “Gratuito”, mentre voi dovreste invece scrivere “Free offer”, “Offerta libera”.
Altrimenti è un inganno.
Accalappiate il cliente con la gratuità e poi gli “estorcete” l’offerta libera per mezzo del senso di colpa.
Allora perché non dirlo subito e lasciare “libero” il cliente di scegliervi o di non scegliervi?
Perchè nella scelta, “Gratuito” e “Offerta libera” ha la sua bella differenza.

Paulo Coelho - July 3, 2019
Tax evasion since they don’t declare the money they get, lack of professionalism and in my agency i would never hire people like them. Beer can or cigarrete in one hand and talking to the clients at the same time…i saw that scene frequently. “Hey guys…” this is how most of them adress to clients they never saw in their life…sometimes clients old enough to be their grandparents. TRASH…
Giuliana Grillotti - June 30, 2019
siete come quelli che chiedono la firma contro la droga, poi chiedete soldi o come I cinesi che vendono parmigiano: Siete dei poverini….che sperano di fare soldi fregando i poveri turisti, o turisti poveri oltre allo stato italiano a cui non pagate nulla. Spero che l’elemosina finisca. Siete disperati, fate pena
Caitlin Miller - June 30, 2019
After years of study and hard work I, as a foreigner, was able to pass the Provincia di Roma guide exam. It is not a closed system with an ‘old guard’ mentality but used to be closed to those who did not put in the work and time to prepare (before the national guide). Your article is ridiculous and offensive. I would not offer my services for free as I doubt any qualified professional would. My clients are happy to pay for my time and expertise. Everyone knows what you mean by ‘free’ and it is not something that the Italians don’t understand. You are ruining the category and very disrespectful to your more qualified “colleagues”

Caitlin Miller
Licensed tour guide in Rome & Vatican City

Carol - June 30, 2019
A fine bunch of excuses to justify your illegal practices. Qualified guides do 800 hours of study and undergo 3 exams for their licences. What have YOU done to qualify?? Last week an idiot like yourself was fined 2000 euros in Siena for guiding without a license. Those of us who actually worked to qualify as guides will be happy to report you.
Stefano - June 29, 2019
Totally illegal and unfair. Nothing is free it is only a way to sell other tours illegally and without paying taxes in Italy we say: A CAZZARI!!
Stefano - June 29, 2019
Totally illegal and unfair. Nothing is free it is only a way to sell other tours illegally and without paying taxes in Italy we say: A CAZZARI!!
Stefano - June 29, 2019
Totally illegal and unfair. Nothing is free it is only a way to sell other tours illegally and without paying taxes in Italy we say: A CAZZARI!!
Stefano - June 29, 2019
Totally illegal and unfair. Nothing is free it is only a way to sell other tours illegally and without paying taxes in Italy we say: A CAZZARI!!

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