There are so many tour companies taking travelers all across the world, but some of the more unsung heroes are the smaller or one-person companies introducing travelers to new locations and cultures. Lynette of Cypress Tours has been taking groups to Italy for more than a decade.
Like most of the industry, Lynette’s business was stalled for two years, but she is back doing what she loves best. We chatted with her about her business and the future of touring.
Tell me a little bit about you and what your company does?
I host small-group cultural trips, mainly to Italy. I love sharing the things that I enjoy about travel: meeting locals, cooking in their kitchens, hearing stories of grandparents, walking through their vineyards and drinking wine together. I’ve been traveling there for more than 20 years, and I’ve had my business for almost 12. I introduce my travelers to the wonderful colleagues I have there – winery owners, chefs, tour guides, etc. We make pasta, hunt truffles, take the high-speed trains – very “experiential”.
How did you get into the industry? How did you build your business?
I grew up traveling and have serious wanderlust. Of all the places I’ve been, Italy feels like home. I don’t have roots there, but I’ve established my own and sort of adopted that country and culture. I went on a cooking tour there in 2003, and as a result, worked for that tour company for three years, escorting similar groups. When they closed, I took my experience and travelers’ feedback and morphed it into what I saw as the perfect immersion-travel experience: small groups, hands-on experiences, encounters with lovely people – food, culture, history. My guests leave knowing they have new friends in Italy who would welcome them back any time (and have, on multiple occasions).
You took time off during COVID but are back leading tours. How did you decide it was the right time?
As soon as Italy opened to Americans in May (2021), I went to check it out. Clients and I were getting antsy to travel. I wanted to see how the experience was so I could provide advice and guidance. I also wanted to see whether the environment was one where we could safely travel and navigate easily or if we should give it more time. I decided it was manageable and not much different than traveling closer to home. When I floated the idea to clients for a small test group of eight, it filled up quickly.
Are people more excited to travel now?
From what I’ve seen, yes. They’ve waited a long time. Maybe an even deeper appreciation for the opportunity. It’s true for me. One traveling friend who missed out on multiple trips in 2020 and 2021 said “the sand is running through the hour glass and I can’t do anything about it!”
The roughly 40 people who traveled with me [in October 2021] were thrilled to be there. Three groups went to Italy, Croatia and Greece. There were normal speed bumps along the way – flight delays, rainy weather, changes to our itineraries. But anyone who travels much knows that happens, and it’s worth it in the end. Mask requirements or Covid tests are just part of today’s reality, whether you’re in Boise or Rome or Athens.
How have your tours changed from pre-pandemic travel?
Not much has changed, actually. My itinerary in Italy recently was very similar to 2019. Other than wearing masks or showing proof of vaccine/negative test results, the wineries are open, the restaurants are still serving, we can take boats, trains, cars. Sadly, some of the restaurants I worked with in the past have closed permanently. But most of my colleagues there are rebuilding their business as the tourism machine comes back to life. They were thrilled to see Americans and shared their gratitude.
One new addition to our itinerary is to help arrange testing for our return to the U.S. A negative test result, regardless of vaccine status, is required to return home. I don’t see that changing for a while. But the tourism industry has kept up with this requirement, and for testing – from local pharmacies to on-site hotel appointments to private on-line tests – there are many easy options.
Or do you feel Italy is getting back to normal? Are all your vendors (including hotels) back at work?
Yes, I’d say mostly back to normal given today’s pandemic status. Some hotels and restaurants in October had just reopened. Many reopened in 2020, closed again, then opened in spring of 2021. Some bars and restaurants still have limited hours or offer only outdoor seating. Like in the U.S., it’s been a slow process to find and rehire employees after shutting down for so long.
What tips would you give to someone trying to get into the industry?
The travel industry took a hard hit for almost two years. It was painful to wait it out, but there was no choice. I encourage people who are interested to be proactive – meet people, build a network, follow travel news, go on trips, study a language. There’s a population who has been waiting to travel, and they want to make up for lost time. They still rely on others’ expertise to make it seamless or unique. My evolution in the industry was mostly organic; it came purely from a love of travel and teaching. There are probably many avenues into the industry but it always starts with people.