A leading travel website has asked its clients where they felt most welcomed. No surprise to anyone, the winner was an Italian city. So, where is the friendliest city in Italy, and the most welcoming city in the world? Plus, five essential tips for welcoming your own guests.
Whether welcoming friends and family or tourist guests to your Italian home, you want to make a great first impression. Having happy guests is so rewarding, and if you are trying to attract more holiday rentals, a good review score is essential.
Holiday accommodation owners in a town in the Puglia region of Italy, have been highly praised by guests for their outstandingly friendly welcome. The holiday portal Booking.com has just awarded Polignano a Mare the number one spot on their list of The Most Welcoming Cities on Earth 2023.
Based on traveller reviews around the world, Booking.com identified those cities that have the greatest share of accommodation providers receiving a “Traveller Review Award”. With Polignano a Mare achieving the top spot in the world, I was keen to investigate what it was that the good people of this town are doing, that makes it so popular with guests.
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Is your local town friendly?
You can be the best host ever, but it is also important that the local town offers the same friendly atmosphere. If you are looking for a property that you can also rent to tourists, it is important to consider the friendliness of the local town and neighbours, before proceeding to buy.
What makes Polignano a Mare the friendliest city in Italy
Firstly, Polignano a Mare is a sun-drenched town right on the Adriatic sea, hence it’s nickname “The Pearl of the Adriatic”. Houses hug the top of the cliff offering incredible sea views. You can lie in bed with the relaxing sound of the waves splashing against the rocks below your window. Often your accommodation is a short walk to cafes and restaurants and the best accommodation might offer a sea view, parking and free wifi.
More than just a pretty face…
The pedestrianised historic centre is full of character and charm. As you wander around the narrow streets of shuttered white washed houses it has a lovely homely feel, with flowers and succulents, and the scent of home cooking drifting through the streets. You can see the locals going about their daily life; fishing and working in family businesses, such as bakers and green grocers.
Living like a local
Visitors have the opportunity to live like an Italian during their stay. This is possible because holiday accommodation is scattered among the homes of local people. Mostly you will find apartments and houses to rent. Locals love visitors taking an interest in their work, traditions, festivals and the history of their town. In summer, the best time to go out among the locals is early morning and late in the evening. Try to visit during a festival, because this is when all the local people come out and celebrate their culture, food and music.
Eat like a local
In the morning you can sit outside a café, sipping your cappuccino and tucking into a cornetto (croissant), just watching the world go by. Visiting a bakery, deli counter or fruit and veg market can be a treat in itself. Then, for lunch you can lay out your meat and cheeses, fresh bread, fruit and local wine and relax on the terrace. In summer, regular trips to a gelateria for a gelato (icecream) is a must.
By going to the shops, restaurants and cafes that you can see the locals using, and asking them for recommendations, you will find the places with the best food at the best prices. A popular place in Polignano a Mare is the Pescaria, which sells seafood in baps. Some of the more touristy restaurants can be pricey, but the food is high quality.
Holiday makers love to see and experience something unique, that they can tell their friends about when they get home. In Polignano a Mare you can dine in one of the most amazing locations in the world. The Grotta Palazese’s elegant restaurant is actually in a cave on the front of the cliff. The setting is romantic and memorable and totally unique.
Also check the dates for the Red Bull Cliff Diving competition (Usually September). The competition attracts the best cliff divers from around the world, who battle it out to win the series title.
Watch as the divers emerge from the water, make their way up a crowded beach, walk barefoot through the bustling historic streets, then arrive (via a private living room) at the platforms mounted on a rooftop terrace! In interviews the divers are always complementary about the warm Puglian welcome they receive. (Past competitions are still available to watch on Youtube)
Eye catching homes
Puglia has many unusual style properties for sale, from Trulli to Masserie. Even countryside properties can offer unique experiences and authentic photo opportunities. From picking fruit from the tree and making pizza in a wood fired pizza oven.
Holiday guests like to look around the property and feel like they are in Italy. I have been in expat homes, where it has felt more like I was in a modern English home or an ikea store. Make the most of architectural features, plants that grow in the region, and local arts and crafts, to give it an Italian feel.
Where was last years most welcoming city?
In 2022 the “Most Welcoming City in the World” title went to another Italian town. Amazingly, it is Just 39 miles (63km) from Polignano a Mare, and 45 minutes drive from Bari airport. The Most welcoming city 2022 was Matera in the Basilicata region.
Matera’s cave dwellings
Matera is “the world’s third oldest continuously inhabited settlement”. If you thought dining in a cave was amazing, how about staying in a cave on the side of a ravine? You can find luxurious private suites in the heart of the UNESCO protected area. No matter how rustic the general appearance, its worth remembering that a top priority for guests is that it is clean and comfortable.
Less than 20,000 population
When trying to decide on a town in Italy, the population numbers can be important. You don’t want a town that has been so taken over by tourists that its lost its character. At the same time, there are villages where the local people just stare at anyone they don’t know, because they aren’t used to seeing tourists. So, make sure that you get a good feel about the town as well as the property.
Acccording to Istat data in January 2022 the population of Polignano a Mare was 17,680. Which places it under the 20,000 limit required to be able to apply for the 7% tax rate when retiring to a southern region. The great thing is, that it’s only 12 minutes drive to the centre of the much larger town of Monopoli. Plus, the city of Bari and it’s airport are less than 45 minutes drive away. Therefore, it has all the extra amenities a big town can offer, just a short drive or train ride away.
What a good host review looks like
Looking through the top reviews for holiday accommodation in Polignano a Mare, guests said things like, “excellent hospitality”, “Never met a more courteous and nice host”, “The owners are really welcoming, they gave us excellent suggestions and let us taste the typical local products!”, “always ready to find any solution and always generous with excellent advice on the territory.”, “kindness, professionalism and extreme availability”, “owner extremely kind and ready to provide all the information on what to do and where to eat.” “The owner welcomed us with an aperitif”.
As well as comments, guests give a score out of ten for; staff, services, cleaning, comfort, value for money, position and free wifi. Potential guests can filter their search to look at only the accommodation that has scored highly.
Managing your holiday rental
To offer a high level of hospitality you need to be available on site. That being said, even if you are renting out your holiday home and wont personally be there to greet your guests, there are things you can do to ensure they receive a good level of service.
It all begins with providing an honest and informative advertising page, with good photographs. Then you need to keep it up to date, along with the calendar of bookings. Booking inquiries should be dealt with promptly and in a friendly and professional manner. If you don’t have time to manage this yourself, it is worth paying a Holiday Property Management company to take on the responsibility.
1. Be prepared for your first guests
We have all seen TV programmes about people moving abroad and setting up a holiday rental. It makes entertaining TV viewing when there is a desperate rush to finish the renovation before the first guests arrive. In an age when reviews are so important, a bad review at the start can put off future guests. Therefore, hold off advertising until you are ready. You will find that there are plenty of people, that can only book their holidays at the last minute, due to work commitments.
2. Good staff
There is more to renting out a property than just handing over a key. You need good staff with local knowledge. As well as having a reliable cleaner, you will need a trustworthy local person to do “meet and greets”, who is always available to sort out any problems promptly. For example, if there is a plumbing leak, the guest should be able to call them and they will know who to hire to sort the problem quickly.
3. Set the scene
It is the little thoughtful touches that make your accommodation feel like a home from home. A bowl of fruit, fresh flowers, baskets of local food products and toiletries. Some bottles of cold water and a bottle of wine are always welcome, as well as facilities to make a hot drink. They should feel like they can immediately sit down, have a drink and browse through a book about the local area. Also include directions, business cards and leaflets for attractions, restaurants and shops.
4. First impressions
Whoever welcomes the guests will also need to make sure that cleaning, laundry and bed changing is done to a high standard. They should make sure welcome packs are in place and that everything is functioning as it should. Any breakages and problems discovered on changeover day should be dealt with in a polite and professional manner. It is so important that guests are welcomed by someone friendly, helpful and available.
5. Is your property easy to find?
It’s not a great start when your guests arrive late because they had trouble finding your property. Bearing in mind that many countryside homes don’t have a road name or number, and historic centres are often pedestrianised. Just providing an address might not be enough.
Following google directions may seem straight forward, and its pronunciation of Italian street names can be rather amusing, but in Italy its not always up to date on new junctions.
Providing your own step by step instructions, with landmarks along the way, can reassure guests that they are on the right road. You might also want to indicate a shop or restaurant on route, in case they arrive early. If need be, they should be able to call someone, that is willing to say “OK, where are you? I’ll come and meet you and you can follow me the rest of the way.”
Even when you think you have given them the best directions, and it seems a straight forward route, you will have guests that get lost. When you consider they have been travelling for hours, and might not be used to driving on the right, it’s not surprising.
Therefore when they do arrive they should be given a warm friendly welcome, as you would your own family. You will know you are a good host, when people choose to come back again and again.
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