‘Sicily off the beaten path’ — case study of a small territory to raise awareness of a global challenge

This coming May will be one year since I teamed up with Laura Notarbartolo, Founder at Italian Special Occasions DMC and Farhan Huseynli and his wife Aysel, independent photographers, videographers and producers, to create a documentary about Milazzo, Sicily. Several content pieces have been produced about this journey, and next week I will host an Event Planners Talk event during ITB Berlin, at the International Club Berlin regarding the topic ‘Over-tourism and the MICE industry — looking for solutions’. I will be joined by Laura Notarbartolo, Pauline Kwasniak from TurnedSee and Joel Francisco Vicente from LineUp Events Factory and Portugal Incoming DMC and together we will address this problem further, as well as look for applicable solutions that group travel bookers can implement strait away. 

The following post is a case study example of how this project resonates with the topic of over-tourism and what can be done to support small regions, their local business and crafts and ensure that their legacy will live on.    

Trailer: Sicily – story told by locals: 

Sicily Part 1 | Shooting at The Castle of Milazzo: 

Sicily Part 2 | Shooting at Art Hotel Atelier Sul Mare and Muciara Restaurant (old tonnara):

Sicily Part 3 | Little Sicily of Ed and Vivina:

Case study of Milazzo in Sicily addresses a global problem 

The key message of this campaign is to address the problem of over-tourism and develop easily applicable solutions. Over-tourism is a widely discussed problem among travel professionals with no one easy solution. For many affected cities and countries, this is a problem that has to be solved on a government level (for example restricting access, imposing city taxes and fines). 

The ‘Sicily off the beaten path’ project creators believe that to help solve this problem, the change can also start from small businesses and individuals, who are in a position to influence the travel decisions of their clients. That ability, as a result, will help solve this global issue. Project creators believe that ‘we need to be the change that we want to see.’ 

To demonstrate the vision for positive change, I teamed up with Laura Notarbartolo, founder of Italian Special Occasions, an Italian Destination Management Company (DMC) and an independent filmmaker Farhan Huseynli and his wife Aysel, to create a documentary about an area in Sicily called Milazzo, which is located in the Messinese Territory. Sicily has always been known for Taormina, Palermo, Siracusa and the movie Padrino. These areas are extremely popular because tourists want to see where the filming took place, and other areas, including Milazzo are overshadowed by its popularity, without tourists taking the initiative to explore further. Therefore, the aim of this documentary was to chose a less-known territory, take the path less travelled and tell the story of its people, agriculture, food, architecture and small local businesses. 

By using Milazzo as a case study, the aim of this documentary is to increase awareness, educate and create behaviour change among individual and group travel bookers of meetings, incentive, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) who book group travel and organise events abroad, to consider smaller and less-known destinations instead of selling the most popular ones on a regular basis (e.g. Paris, Rome, Barcelona). 

Sicily: the way it is seen through the eyes of both locals and tourists 

Shooting this documentary for two weeks in Milazzo provided Farhan and Aysel the basis to explore and learn in depth about the local people, businesses and culture specific to this territory. They took the time to interview local residents and expats and visited multiple sites, such as Castroreale, Savoca, the surroundings of Milazzo and discover the most unknown side of Mt. Etna, Tusa. Each of these small villages have their own hidden gems, such as the Castle of Milazzo, ancient fortress, beautiful landscape, history and traditions to discover. It was also possible for them to have a look at an unusual hotel, the Atelier sul Mare and its open air museum. 

But the most important part was the interviews with locals who practice their crafts on a daily basis, and run businesses locally, some of which are also located in historical places. The videographers also learned about the specifics of local trade, for example the Granita (a typical local dessert), which differs from vendor to vendor in its taste. These places are very casual and unpretentious, but they have the best Granita or Gelato, that you cannot taste anywhere else. And this is the key factor. Ingredients, old recipes that pass from generation to generation and traditions are what make the place unique. Through visual storytelling, the documentary presents the true essence of the region: the culture, architecture and local dialect. 

This less-known region of Sicily is seen differently through the eyes of both locals and tourists. Both have different perceptions of the region, hence it can be interpreted differently. The most interesting thing happens when they both interact, and different cultures and generations meet each other and pass the story to the next generations. 

This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Laura, who organised the trip and the programme to ensure that project creators stay sensible and considerate to the needs of the locals, and who was on site to translate and help with communication and logistics.

Key elements of this documentary highlight the focus on responsibility including respecting local communities and cultures, showcasing local businesses and communities, for example harvesting and agriculture, fishing, broidery, local food and beverage businesses and wine making. Some of the crafts, such as broidery, are almost disappearing, and it is important to highlight such old traditions and pass them on to the next generations.  

Sensible and more responsible travel  

With this documentary, we want to create awareness and behaviour change, enabling travellers to travel more responsibly. For example, it can be by travelling to a less popular destination, or going during a quieter period of the year, so local businesses can benefit economically from tourism off season. Additionally, being considerate to choosing independent suppliers will support the local communities. 

Locals also have a story to tell, and it is important to be a sensible traveller and respect locals’ space in a way that will contribute to future development, instead of making it the next over-crowded territory. By engaging with locals and learning about their crafts, these techniques can be preserved and their legacy maintained. 

The Milazzo area is very beautiful because it has not been spoiled, and it is important that locals don’t adapt themselves to the needs of tourists. This phenomenon is termed “Turismo di cavallette” in Italy, involving sites being transformed to accommodate the demanding requirements of tourists. Such changes should not occur. 

Let’s have a conversation about it at ITB Berlin 

We strongly believe in combining both online and face-to-face conversation, and on 7 March 2019, we will host a live event during ITB Berlin about this particular topic ‘Over-tourism and the MICE industry — Looking for solutions’. Because over-tourism is also a key topic this year at ITB Berlin, we are beyond honoured that we have secured a venue to address this challenge among MICE professionals at an offsite location where the MICE Night will take place — International Club Berlin. MICE activities at ITB Berlin are organised by Der Verband der Veranstaltungsorganisatoren e.V. (VDVO) — the largest event association in Germany. We have 21 registrations at the time of writing, proving that this is a topic of relevance and we will further share thoughts on this topic across our combined social media channels. Speakers include Pauline Kwasniak from TurnedSee, Joel Francisco Vicente from LineUp Events Factory and Portugal Incoming DMC, Laura Notarbartolo from Italian Special Occasions and myself, I will moderate the panel. 

Event Planners Talk and MICE Night venue, International Club Berlin

Further reading and links 

Further articles have been written on the Italian Special Occasions DMC blog with more visual material:

An additional online campaign was created in August 2018 by Italian Special Occasions DMC to support the topic of over-tourism, referred to as ‘Over-Tourism Awareness Month’. August is the busiest time of the year in Italy. Last August, Laura shared tips and articles using the hashtag #overtourismawarenessmonth, and I hosted a Twitter chat, a write-up of which is available here: ‘Over-tourism and the MICE industry – Looking for solutions.’

You might also like

1 Comment

  • Great website … will use this site again in the future 😉 THANK YOU !!!! Greetings from Germany

Leave a Reply