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.


Free Walking Tour Italia Staff

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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!!
Francesca - June 29, 2019
“ It is duty of the prosecution to provide the proof in in courts.” Or shall we rather say “Catch me if you can”?

“It is like having the house on fire and thinking how to save the grass in the back yard”, really? So you admit that there is a big problem of legality in Italy (the fire) and you go and compare yourself to the lesser evil? What a smart move!!! Enough said.

IvyG - June 29, 2019

If a licence is not needed for a job, why would they invent it? Pease go and get another job (a legal one if possibile) and don’t bother people that studied many years, put their efforts and money into their studies to learn and get prepared to became licensed official guides.
People that take free walking tours must know that they are giving their money into the black market and they are giving money to a person that pretends to be something he/she is not. Associations like yours are killing the Italian economy and those that really love Italy want only want the best for this country.
In life you get what you give… guys.

Francis - June 29, 2019
" 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."

I am afraid I don’t understand. So you pay taxes on the offers you get at the end of the tour? I assume all your guides have a receipt form with them.
I would like to ask your customers if they got a receipt at the end of the tour. It is the only way to understand if you are declaring or not.
Anyway, from what you say and how you say it, it sounds wierd to me.
As for the “unfair” part. The license is national and there are many ways to access the profession. It is not anymore as it used to be in the past but from the rage you show against the system it seems you wanted to be guides and you didn"t manage. Or maybe you did? Not clear. If you use all licensed guides what’s the point of attacking the guides category? Are you attacking your own guides? Why?
This article is quite strange. It seems you are looking for easy endorsements. What do you expect a traveler to say? You tell them your story, you say you are as good as standard tours simply they don’t have to pay with you because you are some kind of philantrophist? Come on! You are doing things this way not because you want people happy and pay less for tours but just because it’s a very good business for you. Round of applause for having asked the most obvious question in the world to travellers whi are not aware of this kind of buisness

Fabrizio Formica - June 29, 2019
Dear FWTI,

as they say in the US, “there is no free lunch”. If you offer your services for “free”, while certified professionals charge a minimum of 40€ per hour, there MUST be a reason: try “competence and knowledge”. Goid luck with your noble plan to save Italy from evil and selfish lobbies….

Rossella - June 29, 2019
“Italy is the country of unwritten rules and lobbies.”

As italian, who does respect laws, pays very high taxes and teach my daughter to be honest, I am profoundly offended by this sentence.
Italy is a country who tries hard to be respected in the world, despite the prejudices, and this attitude work exactly in the opposite direction. And you says that you are good ambassadors of our country? Please…

Karine LABORDE Real Licensed Guide - June 29, 2019

Sorry to insist, only the organisation is writing, but not the guides themselves. You know very well that in Italy, no money can be given without a receipt, this is called black money the ones the people give in the street, it is financially forbidden by the law. Nobody can work as a free lance without an official document (customer o travel agency mail). What about the so called guides themselves? Are they legally employed? Why do they tell false cultural and artistical informations to the customers as I could verify many time by hearing them speaking? I participated to your tours before talking about them, and the level is not low, less than low. How are you happy in tricking the “poor” foreigner tourist? I am not. My job is a serious one, a professional one. And yours is not. If you were professional, you would like to be paid after the many many years of studies, exams, and constant updatings. Let’s see if you will publish this, otherwise I will use the social networks… But I would like to hear one of your guides and not the company…..

Paola - June 29, 2019

I’m a qualified tourist guide in Rome and Vatican City. I’ve past my exam with flying colors to get my qualification what proves my knowledge while instead the “market” proves my skills and my frequent clients confirm it. I’ve got nothing against you and I wish you to get always the best from what you think is an hobby while instead is a professional job for what you must get your own qualification. I don’t feel I’m a member of a lobby and you should pay attention in stating things like this since the law is equal to everyone.
We are not questioning about save our grass while our houses are on fire, we are trying to prevent fires in general for our own security and for our neighbors too.
Wishing you good luck and a little of more wisdom to “guide” you in the right direction.

My deepest best regards
Paola Bernardini
Qualified tourist Guide in Rome and Vatican City

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