CHICAGO, IL ( JUNE2018 ) —To Italy lovers, Rome is the most romantic city in Europe — sorry Paris! Amid passionate residents, spectacular natural beauty, great food, and flowing wine, Italy inspires love for all couples. Chicago's Lesley Pritkin and Rosanne Cofoid, owners of two "Italy-only" travel companies, marvel that despite Italy's long-standing popularity among LGBTQ travelers, no travel brand has captured the market. And, they are ready to seize the opportunity to emerge as leaders in that space.
In 2015 alone, The Romance Tourism sector in Italy generated over 400 million euro. No wonder with all of the intimate hideaways, picturesque medieval towns, and remote islands that are popular destinations for all travelers. But there is a gap when it comes to LGBTQ Weddings and targeted travel adventures. Lesley and Rosanne are filling this hole with unique venues for same-sex wedding celebrations and honeymoons that cater to all tastes and budgets — from tiny secluded gems in fairy-tale towns, to sprawling olive and lemon groves in rural areas, to southern Italy's "Sassi" of Matera, prehistoric dwellings that are perfect for dramatically beautiful and luxurious "cave weddings".
"Residents of many exquisite towns in Italy want to attract an LGBTQ clientele — which contrasts with the images of isolated incidents depicting hostility that get more media attention," explains Lesley Pritkin, owner of a Rome-based Illinois destination marketing company, Divertimento Group ( DG ). She is helping locals network with USA travel professionals who have an LGBTQ clientele. Pritikin hopes travel writers and tourism professionals will help spread the word that Italy is fertile ground for LGBTQ tourism. DG's Alternative Cultural Adventures are targeted to travelers who value contact with locals in remote areas. A perfect example are their tours with local residents of Venice's lagoon islands, created with VeneziaGay, who is specialized in unique LGBT tours of the Veneto region such as the Riviera di Brenta.
Rosanne Cofoid, owner of Hindsdale's 10 year-plus boutique agency La Dolce Via Travel ( LDVT ), is Divertimento Group's Travel Agency Partner for the USA market. LDVT has just recently become an International Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association ( IGLTA ) member to network with other Chicago and national LGBTQ-friendly businesses. She explains her commitment to this initiative, "I value encouraging inclusion in my personal life and was always aware of Chicago's vibrant, energetic LGBTQ community — now, thanks to my partnership with Divertimento Group, I can actively participate in it with my business."
Pritikin and Cofoid are also busy kicking off a STOP Overtourism Movement that encourages travelers to Italy to avoid crowds by exploring lesser-known destinations or seeing standard hot-spots in off-hours or off-season. No doubt, they say, LGBTQ travelers will become avid followers and appreciate this alternative approach to visiting Italy.