How it works:
- Situation: it is estimated there is a large black market of tourism services in Italy, which has been growing not from a year ago, but for the past decade. In theory, these operators may or may not be a scam, but would you trust an operator which skirts regulations not to rip you off or to not disappear after you make payment? Also, it is important not to assume that any operator that is listed on popular travel platforms is a licensed one.
- What you get: generally, a much lower level of quality is to be expected, as these operators and guides have not undergone rigorous training and examinations. Would you really want a layman who have memorized a script explain the rich culture and history of Italy to you? Further, they tend to engage in misleading advertising as well as not have any insurance coverage. Most importantly, you will not be able to get any legal recourse if something goes wrong – in fact, you are actually considered guilty of participating in an illegal activity under Italian law.
- Set-up 1 (operators): these operators tend to hide behind an overseas address although they are based in Italy or a different organization type (e.g. claiming to be a cultural association – note: cultural associations can only hold 2 tours/year). Further, they will not provide more details about the company’s owners, guides, licenses as well as any qualifications.
- Set-up 2 (tour guide touts): besides online operators, you may encounter touts wearing “official tour guide” tags offline as well. They will make all sorts of claims to get you to join an overpriced tour. For instance, they lie about the queue length and claim to help you skip it, or even help you arrange tea with the Pope! Once you sign, the tout will send you to another guide. This will likely be a low quality tour where not much is shared and is difficult to understand. You will also not go to all places promised. When questioned, the guide will act clueless on what was agreed between you and the tout.
Places to beware:
What to do:
- The key particulars to look out for: the registered business name, business owners, where they are based and the operator’s license. Look out also for the word “licensed”, and not the words “professional/qualified/expert” which anyone can use.
- Other particulars include: insurance policies to cover “civil responsibilities” and “non-fulfilment of contract”, VAT/tax registration number, receipts and an accessible office. Licensed guides should also have the blue badge displaying “Guida Turistica”.
- Seeking recourse: you can file a complaint with Istituto dell’Autodiscplina Pubblicitaria (IAP) or report an illegal operator to FIAVET (Federazione delle Agenzie di viaggio e Turismo, Federazione regionale Toscana) via the email: [email protected]
- Online platforms: GetYourGuide (leading day tour platform globally) also has some popular tours (e.g. Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel, Murano & Burano Islands, Colosseum and ancient Rome walking tour, etc), or check out this page for the best tours in Italy.
- Paying: avoid paying in full upfront (unless reputable operator) or off the (online) platform.