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Pietro & Luigi in Landmannalaugur in Iceland

Founded in Italy with an aspiration to promote global change, the non-profit Genova-based organization Tripinyourshoes invites us to rediscover the value of local culture and make our trips delicious and 100% sustainable. Its co-founder Pietro Ienca talks to José M. Sainz-Manza in this article about his love for gastronomy, the value of traditions and natural landscapes, and how he came up with the idea of launching a company that promotes slow travel in the days of Instagram.

Words By José M. Sainz-Maza

Pietro and his dog Spina – a gift from a shepard during a trip to Sardinia – hiking in Genoa.

The young Italian entrepreneur welcomes me from his living room, bent over his laptop. Despite his busy schedule, he has arrived at our Google Meet call on time, but the connection is weak and we spend the first two minutes trying to improve it in the best way we can think of. Pietro Ienca has a kind smile, one of those that exude confidence, and the short beard that covers his face provides him with an air of maturity. His long black hair tied back at the nape and his restless gaze, however, reveals the adventurer who loves to spend time in nature. “If you want, we can talk in Spanish,” he suggests with almost no trace of an Italian accent. I accept, but we agree to speak at all times in the language that is most comfortable for us or makes it easier to understand each other well.

“I have been to Spain several times,” he mentions next. “You have beautiful hiking trails there, and wonderful food.” With a few words, he has already earned my sympathy. Pietro’s ability to speak easily and convincingly is also very important to his work. Tripinyourshoes is a non-profit organization, and personal connections with public and private partners are essential to carry out its activity.

I ask Pietro how, in a world in which low-cost air travel and weekend getaways have set the trend in the sector in the last two decades, it occurred to him to focus on something like outdoor experiences in rural areas. “I’ve always liked hiking,” he says without hesitation. “If I have to think of a specific event, I think there are two that come easily to mind. The first would be when I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2012, when I was just a kid. I travelled hundreds of kilometres across Spain on foot and felt better than ever.” His eyes light up as he remembers. “The trigger was in a second journey, six years ago, when Luigi Chiurchi and I graduated and decided to take a trip from Genoa to the highest peak of the Apennines, in Abruzzo. As we covered 650 km in a month, we began to know a little more about our own country… It was a revealing experience. We knew that these topics (hiking, ecology, geography) interested us and we wanted to carry out a project in this regard, so we created a blog.”

This is how Tripinyourshoes was born: with two Genoese friends marching on foot through the mountains of central Italy. “At first we had no high aspirations,” Pietro admits. “But we were passionate about the subject, and little by little we went on improving the content we uploaded. We both like making videos and photographs, and the world out there is full of spectacular images to be captured. The biggest change came in 2017 when buying a drone. Having aerial shots has given us the possibility of producing high-quality audiovisual material that we could not make otherwise.”

Pietro also tells me how largely due to their visuals, they began to see their number of followers on social media rapidly increase. As a result, the first collaboration with a local television channel also arrived. This was an opportunity that could not be missed in a country where, as happens in most today, young people move to big cities and end up detached from the countryside. “The idea became that of communicating to young people through social networks the importance of being aware of the particular reality of each region, the rural areas of Italy, small producers and nature,” he explains. “We also began to extend this idea outside our country, to others nearby such as Spain, where we collaborated with an Extremadura association attached to the Slow Food movement.”

It was precisely in the footsteps of this organization founded in Italy in the 1980s, that Tripinyourshoes set out to combine sustainability and local gastronomy, carrying out projects that merge various ethnographic elements within a responsible tourism model. “There are many incredible corners to discover even in the most touristic countries,” Pietro states. “The tourist must understand the impact that their activity has, which can be positive or negative. One can choose to eat at international franchise restaurants and travel everywhere by plane, or explore the lesser-known facets of the place while providing a positive boost to the local economy. It depends on us.”

When asked about his business model, Pietro immediately emphasizes that his company is not for profit. He tells me that since 2017 they have collaborated with some outdoor clothing brands, such as The North Face or Vibram, and this group of partners has recently been joined by the German manufacturer of optical instruments Leica. Public and private tourist organizations from different regions also seek the collaboration of Tripinyourshoes to attract visitors and promote their offer of sustainable tourism through Luigi and Pietro’s stunning videos and photographs.

Klaksvík, Faroe Islands

As with any small business in this sector, raising funds is not always easy. “We have also founded in parallel a small audiovisual production company, and part of its benefits help us support Tripinyourshoes’ activities,” Pietro acknowledges. “We also rely heavily on local entities. Sometimes tourism management is truly difficult, as in the case of the Faroe Islands.” he says. They have recently worked with the entity in charge of this activity in this northern European archipelago. “The islands have very little population and a small extension, so the impact of tourism is huge. Therefore, it is essential to respect their society and handle well the impact of the visitors on it so as not to damage their way of life.”

At this point in the conversation, I have already realized long ago that Pietro knows perfectly well what he is talking about. He is a Doctor in Human Science of Environment, Territory and Landscape from the University of Milan and, as he himself says, he is “passionate about finding the potential of each place and looking for ways to bring a positive impact to it.” But this is not just about travelling and taking photos; there is a lot of effort and hard work behind. “We have invested a lot of time looking for collaborations in many different countries and building a project that makes sense. Now we are continuously growing on social media, and that happens largely because we convey an honest image, we do not do aggressive marketing… That helps a lot when it comes to gaining the trust of our followers and maintaining the interest of our sponsors. They know that we believe in what we do,” he declares.

The interview cannot pass without mentioning one of the main themes this year. “COVID-19 has affected us, of course. We have had to put some projects in Cyprus and Kenya on hold. However, we have also seen a great opportunity for local tourism with a positive impact for the rural world. We have started to work more again with the natural parks of Liguria, which are now in need of more audiovisual content to attract visitors and promote their invaluable natural heritage.” Pietro also assess ​​the consequences that this has for countries with very different circumstances. “Disruption of tourism has a very negative impact on less economically developed regions, some of which are highly dependent on this activity. This happens in Kenya, in Madagascar, in the Dominican Republic, etc. What sustains some of these countries is tourism, and now locals must look for other sources of income, which may increase problems such as deforestation or illegal hunting of wild animals to sell them to Asian countries, for example.”

Monte Rosa Glacier in Valle d’Aosta

“In any case, regarding the future, I am quite optimistic. I believe that the impact of the pandemic on the travel industry will be clearly positive in the medium to long term, as I am already seeing in Italy. It is important to learn to travel in a more local-friendly and sustainable way, having a more positive effect on the world around us,” Pietro says. Requested for specific advice, he answers me: “Just focus on living the place you visit, travelling slowly (by bike, on foot, etc.), and sleeping near the locations where you are going to go sightseeing during the day. Also, consume local products and get to know the gastronomy of the area, the particularities of local cuisine. It is important for all of this to travel light, without much luggage. Try to use sustainable family-run accommodations as much as possible and stay in touch with nature.”

When he thinks of his favorite place to go on a trip, Pietro hesitates for a moment, then smiles. “I would tell you the Faroe Islands, but I have to admit that this is perhaps not the most sustainable option. So I will choose Calabria, closer to home. You have to visit it,” he insists. “You’ll love it.”

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