Conversation with Patrik Romano, Managing Director of Bologna Welcome

17 September 2015

“Bologna is showing a remarkable increase of the inflow of tourists, mostly foreign, who, in 2015, account for 50% of the total, confirming the growing trend of recent years. And here, in Bologna, we’re working in order to offer them more and innovative opportunities”. Thus spoke Patrik Romano, Managing Director of Bologna Welcome, the town information and tourist welcoming service, who met the students of the Masters in Digital Marketing, Communication & New Media.

For many tourists, Bologna Welcome is the first interface with the town. How do you manage to understand which is the solution to offer, to different types of tourist?

The exchange with tourists is characterized by different moments. Currently Bologna is mainly chosen for short breaks, for leisure tourism, therefore the fist contact of the tourist with the town occurs months before the actual trip, when they plan it or when they buy a plane ticket. The main interface is our website that, besides featuring an event area, proposes a series of theme itineraries, that aim at intercepting the needs of our visitors-to-be. Besides the website, there’s the information we provide once they arrive. There are three possible channels: the welcome points (at the airport, in the main square, i.e. piazza Maggiore and, hopefully, from next year, at the railway station too); the social media channels; a newsletter about the events taking place in town, available every morning at hotels. At the information points, tourists receive targeted information, based on their needs, for instance guided visits or specific itineraries.

What type of managers does the Italian tourism industry need? What type of training would you suggest, to a young person willing to work in this sector?

First and foremost, I believe the tourism sector should be recognized as an industry. In order to manage it, we need Destination Management, a highly complex discipline, as customers are not offered a specific product, but a destination with several aspects to be promoted. Therefore, it’d be important to have across the board skills, both in economic and marketing terms, besides an excellent sensitivity for all things pertaining to cultural aspects. Too often people end up working in this industry, as tourism managers, without the proper training. My wish is that increasingly courses and professional profiles will be developed, specifically devoted to tourism and its management.

Talking about promotion techniques, what is the marketing strategy for an individual town or country, in order to compete in terms of tourism on the international markets?

Before choosing the operational tools, a destination should reflect on the quality of the contents it’d like to offer. Then contents need to be conveyed following the rules of each specific channel. We shouldn’t forget that tourists need specifically dedicated contents. This is the reason why, we at Bologna Welcome, have an internal editorial staff working on the contents, which we then distribute on different multi-platforms. I’m convinced that the press campaigns, typical of the Seventies, that would propose a destination in rather general terms, focusing purely on the charm, are no longer working. Tourism is nowadays divided into niches, into products, into markets, therefore we should talk to individuals using differentiated tools. Among the latter, the digital marketing tools are fundamental. It’s important though to be able to use them efficiently, and to do so specific skills are required, we’re talking about competences that cannot be improvised, but that we must cultivate.

Do you think that Bologna, as a tourist destination, is competitive, both nationally and internationally? Which are the strengths on which to focus?

Bologna is following a very interesting path: it all started with an assessment on the perception of the destination, based on a questionnaire distributed to tourists in hotels and to those who in the last 10 years came to Bologna and various focus groups, that involved opinion leaders in town and at a national level. In addition, a semantic analysis on the web and an analysis of social media were performed. A picture of how Bologna is perceived is the result that emerged. Then a competition was organized, on City branding for the new logo of the town (it was something unique, as it can generate graphic symbols for every concept that needs to be expressed) and on this basis, the local administration developed the promotion of the town as a tourist destination. People appreciate Bologna for two characteristics : its authenticity and experience. Authenticity, because it represents the essence of Made in Italy: it’s a town where you can witness the various elements of Italy gathered in one place. Tourists mentioned that Bologna is a place that immediately puts you at ease, less fake than other destinations that are more active as for mass tourism and that are more conformed. The other characteristic is the experience, and this concerns the so-called post-modern tourists, who don’t simply intend to visit places but they are someone willing to have experiences. So, we are targeting our offer based on these aspects. We’re at the beginning and right now we’re investing on four themes, in terms of promotion, communication and organization of tourist product : City of Food, City of Motors, City of Culture and City of Music.

Despite the increase in the number of tourists in Italy, they spend less if compared to Spain and France. How to increase the weight of tourism within the GDP?

By improving facilities, services and product. It’s a simple recipe, but we need to work hard on these aspects in our country. What piece of advice would you give to a student who’d like to operate in this industry?It’s a fantastic industry and there’s a lot to do. In Italy we always believed that natural and artistic beauties were going to be enough to ensure a large and constant inflow of tourists. This is no longer the case today. We need professionalism too: other countries know it and have already invested in tourism management. We need to do the same, so that tourists will decide to come here not just for our beauties but also for our service, reception and products.



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