Dion is the owner and operator of IschiaReview.com, a information and booking service for all things Ischia. He offered to meet us in Forio and tell us about his time on the island and tourism industry.
Greg Kamradt: Before we jump into the website, can you tell me about your history with the island and how you got here in general?
Dion Protani: So, basically I didn't know anything about Ischia until 2012. I was traveling in Rome and met a girl, who is now my girlfriend, and she is from Ischia. And she was telling me all about this amazing place, and I was like...ok ok well lets go have a look at it. Came here for a week in October in 2012 and thought, wow this place is amazing. I've been to Tuscany, Sorrento, everywhere. Never ever heard of Ischia.
DP: I used to be a salesman in London for exhibition stand designs. Very boring, very pressurized. Anyway we ended up getting together and lived in England for a bit. It worked for a bit but she didn't end up liking it. I don't know if it was the weather or the food or both ha, but we decided to try and come live here. Obviously I was going to need to make money, so I built the website after I saw the need for English Ischia material, a little gap in the market. I had never heard of it so I couldn't have been the only one. The site has kinda grown by just adding new things on to it.
GK: And you're still having fun doing it?
DP: Yeah, yeah I love. I'm absolutely rushed on my feet doing it right now. So yeah I'm really enjoying it.
GK: How do the locals receive it? Or how do they feel about the site?
DP: We're a little bit under the radar at the moment. Because 90% of the tourists here are either Italian, Germans, Russians, or even Czechs now. So we don't really get noticed a lot by the Italian business people. But its nice because we get most of the English speaking world coming to us for whether it be a boat or a car or accommodation.
GK: So not only do you provide information but you also are going into the travel arrangements realm?
DP: Yeah definitely. So if you've never been to Ischia before, let me know your flight number and I'll put together a whole itinerary for you for free. Just to encourage people to come here basically. To make them realize that its easy for them to come.
GK: Are you in communication with the tourism board here?
DP: I am not. There is one. I did email them once, and they didn't reply. Which kind of happens a lot. But no I haven't had a lot of need to be in contact with them yet. I'm kind of creating my own unofficial tourism board.
GK: Do you want to get your page into Italian at all? or any other languages?
DP: I could, I could if I wanted to. I don't want to yet, I know as soon as I do, I'm going to get 10 times as much traffic and I can't handle the traffic as it is right now. I need to build the infrastructure first before I do that.
GK: So whats the biggest pain point that travelers come to you for help with?
DP: I kinda do everything. I walk around with a little camera. I do a blog on Sunday. Website maintenance, meeting with people, most of it is dealing with emails. Phone calls, planning ahead, trying to get on top of Google. I wish that a day was 72 hours long.
GK: What about the future of the website? What kind of long terms plans do you have for it?
DP: Just to build it and keep it going the same direction that it is. You know a website lives and dies on Google. You can't come in and be number one straight away. You have to build yourself over a number of years. I want to be the site that when you type in Ischia we are the first one on the list. But that is going to take at least another 2 or 3 years.
GK: So thats the site, lets talk about the tourism in general. Why is it that a lot of Germans, Russians and Czechs come?
DP: The Germans come for the thermal water. Ischia obviously was an active volcano. I don't want to get too much into the medical side. Anyway, the German government, many many years ago paid for people to come here to the baths because its good for any sort of skin complaints and arthritis. Kinda relieved a burden on their health system. And so they came.
GK: Well and plus people got a free or subsidized vacation to Ischia.
DP: Ha well yeah that too of course. Exactly. So that was the reason that people started coming here. And then now its the Russians. But things are a bit quiet at the moment.
GK: Is that a May thing or is that a 2014 thing?
DP: Well quiet in general, not just the month. There are a ton of hotels in Ischia and obviously thats a lot of competition and all of those hotels aren't full as I'm sure you can guess. And people are complaining a bit that its slow at the moment. So it really needs a publicity push.
GK: What do you think it is going to take to get that push?
DP: Umm well a lot of time. You're up against Capri...Sorrento...flooded with English tourists. Its need more things like the website I'm doing, going to trade fairs, TV advertisements, whole load of publicity. Whether they're going to do that or not, I don't know.
GK: So Ludo was talking to me about the publicity push that was happened for the island around 40 years ago. Do you have any more details on that?
DP: Yeah, there was a guy named Angelo Rizzoli, he was a Italian film director. I think it was in the 40s and he was amazed by the place and set up a home here. He started to build hotels, spas and thermal parks and it all kinda grew from there. So you have the Rizzoli hospital, you have tons of streets named after him. There is a house where he used to live is called the Villa Arbusto, so you can go and visit that.
GK: Do you think the island on the right course right now? To increase tourism that is.
DP: Well one think that the Ischian people moan about is that it is divided into six towns and rather than have one communal pot of publicity money, everything is kind of split between these towns and there is a bit of fighting and politics that go on. That is what they moan about the most.
GK: What do you think the island is lacking business wise? So if that type of business came to the island it would do really well.
DP: Well improving the transport. Improving the bus system. I personally don't think its that bad but they are always packed. So that could be improved. But in terms of an actual business that it could have...well I haven't thought about that a lot, if I had I would be doing it ha.
GK: Ha yeah makes sense, whats your favorite thing to do on the island?
DP: So my absolute favorite thing to do on the island is ride my scooter. I bought it in January and especially now that its a bit warmer its fantastic. Absolutely love going around on the scooter. Anyone that is planning on coming to Ischia, get a scooter. Its the best. I mean you see around here, there are no motorways so its a maximum of 30mph. Its pretty safe.
GK: Whats your favorite island tradition?
DP: Well the food if you can call that a tradition. We live close to my girlfriends mom and for the first six weeks I was here she cooked all day and I didn't have the same meal twice. I mean, all amazing.
GK: So what do you recommend that we do before we take off for the month that isn't well known? Under the radar.
DP: Scooters ha, take a boat around the island. Definitely go for some walks, go for as many walks as you can. I tell you what you should do actually, I took part in a guided walk around Forio. I went to all the churches around Forio. Get on the buses and get out and just chat to people.