After the figure of Elda Lettieri Selena’s president, let’s introduce Laura Cresti. She is responsible for having relations with touristic associations, supplies and communications; general manager for the farm “La Ripolina” set in Buonconvento (Siena), she produces wine and she is the president of “Agriturist Toscana”, the first Italian association regarding farm holidays.
Here, there is a long interview published on “Business Lady Magazine” in April 2011, after her participation at 2nd International Forum on female business held in Sofia organized by Selena Association Entrepreneurs Women in Bulgaria.
Laura, have you always given hospitality in country houses ?
Actually, before giving hospitality I have studied “ Political Science” at University in Siena, after graduating I have been interested in international organization and E.U, collaborating with different EU institutions. I have been working as International Organisation researcher at Siena University for 12 years. Later I have begun taking after my family’s firm, to be honest at first I did not understand what to do, then having some old country-houses to restore being the economic situation favourable, I started doing training courses putting together my knowledge. In few years I have restored my properties and I had the idea of creating a farm holidays.
Have you had any problems? If so which ones?
To be honest starting from the beginning is not easy but passion and enthusiasm help so much to succeed.
Firstly, I have organised my farm holidays following the idea of giving to the tourist the possibility to stay in touch with nature and animals, because this is impossible working full time in a modern city. When I was a child I used to visit my grandparents, they were farmers their life used to be slower than today’s life, giving importance to values like friendship and hospitality, in fact there was always a free seat at the table in order to welcome someone who was passing by. Starting from my ancestors’ belief I have recreated my hospitality.
So ,What have you done in order to make your company known?
This has been the hardest part, communication is one of the fundamental aspect together with hospitality. At beginning I had paid some big tourist agencies, then I have started taking part in tourist’s meeting and exhibitions, knowing foreign operators, so I decided to join and create an association of farm holidays whose I am the president today. There are 60 companies, which have worked hard to create themselves and to gain European funds in order to promote tourism .Now, I am studying to learn how to use new technologies.
What are your impressions about rural tourism in Balkans?
I went in Bulgaria 30 years ago to play a volleyball match, travelling by bus I could admire its beauties. I clearly remember the flat and fertile lands in countryside, where the industrialisation had not arrived yet, moreover the sea, the mountains, religious, cultural and artistic sites, Traci’s routes. This is not enough because the agricultural European section sets some important development choices.
Bulgaria too, being member of U.E. has to conform to the rules regarding the new huge unique market and one answer is to be found in rural tourism.
So, who should give the boost in Bulgaria?
Firstly, public administration must involve the realization of farm holidays granting aids or working on European projects in order to have financial support. In addition realizing public structures such as roads, airports, public transports, useful and fundamental for coming tourists.
Do you think the public intervention is enough to start farm holidays in areas like Bulgaria?
I think it is not enough, it needs a radical transformation in way of thinking, reflecting as an “old farmer” is old fashioned. The farmer knows his products very well, knows the agricultural market, he is able to produce, transform and sell , moreover he is good at giving hospitality and food service. To achieve these professional results it is important to work on formation. The state, the local authorities should support and facilitate the professional learning, it is impossible to think of becoming a business professional person if you do not speak at least two foreign languages; English language and the knowledge of English culture is fundamental. Moreover technological skills on computer and use of internet are essential too.
Farm holidays might give a new dynamic stimulus carrying wealth in small villages far from big cities, that would be destined to be poor, instead. The money earned could be invested to improve inhabitants’ lives and to restore small suburbs.
Laura, could women have an important role in this sector?
Farm holidays are modelled on women figures, they have always looked after family, cooked organised everything related to home and family. That is the reason why in this sector women have more possibilities to achieve their aim, having the proper training.
One fundamental aspect is to exchange experiences in order to get better this is possible thanks to associations like SELENA, to have a good and right connection among business companies, so it is possible to grow. To me is important to create synergies among rural world between Italian women and East women, because the collaboration and comparison is important.