DUCO takes a deep dive into Italian destinations

“DUCO is certainly good for business,” says Paolo Mancuso, director of projects and business developments at ForteVillage Resort in Sardinia, Italy. It’s one of the properties exhibiting, again, at the second annual DUCO Travel Summit, held April 1-5 in Florence, Italy.

Unlike most other hospitality events, DUCO, which was conceived by Carolina Perez – she owns it 100% — is destination-focused. The 265 exhibiting hotels and resorts were all in Italy: Of the total, Leading Hotels of the World had 58 properties represented, Relais & Châteaux brought along 38, Small Luxury Hotels of the World numbered 22, and Preferred Hotels and Resorts 12. Interestingly, 39 properties had 20 or fewer rooms – the smallest was the two-room Holy Deer San Lorenzo City Lodge, Rome.

Carolina Perez, left, and Marilena Barberi, director, cooking class at the Pope's Farm, at DUCO, April 3rd, 2019)
Carolina Perez, left, and Marilena Barberi, director, cooking class at the Pope’s Farm, at DUCO, April 3rd, 2019)

“We have invited 160 travel advisors, all different from those who came last year,” said Perez. This year, 60.4% came from the USA, 9.9% from Canada, 8.9% from the U.K. (with 7.9%, all English-speaking, from mainland Europe), and 12.9% from Australasia.

Day one saw a “parliament session,” with speakers including fashion specialist Paolo Zegna of Ermenegildo Zegna, talking about the link between luxury brands and high-end travel. Days two to four were computer-generated meetings, with exhibitors remaining at their tables and advisors moving, as scheduled, every quarter-hour. Day two, meetings were at the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. Day three, business moved to The St. Regis Florence. On day four, everyone was bused half an hour out of town to Belmond Villa San Michele.

The main sponsor, Toscana Promozione Turistica, was helped by an impressive lineup of co-sponsors, who conveniently included desirable wineries (and InRome Cooking, which combines a visit to the Sistine Chapel with private cooking lessons at the Pope’s Farm at Castel Gandolfo).

Yes, Italians are remarkably good at sharing responsibility, which lessens the load of each organizing entity but sometimes causes challenges. On the workday at The St. Regis Florence, for instance, some tables were squeezed into the mezzanine gallery overlooking the hotel’s magnificent be-chandeliered restaurant. Those eating below had to put up with not only incessant chatter from up above but also the session-change gong every 15 minutes, at which time advisors moving to meet delegates at tables above sometimes had to hold their breath to squeeze through.

All this year’s attendees appeared to be ecstatic. “This is marvelous. It offers the chance to focus on one destination in depth rather than being all over the place,” said Jack Bloch, president and founder, JB’s World Travel Consultants, based in New York City.

Of course, being Italy the social program, and its food, was widely praised. Evenings were taken up by a casual market dinner, a formal gala dinner which included a Milanese risotto topped with shaved dried raspberries, a happy hour and a closing cocktail. The final day was retail paradise, with travel advisors let loose at The Mall Luxury Outlets.

“I am sure we will see as much additional business as last year, particularly from the USA,” said ForteVillage Resort’s Paolo Mancuso.