Liliana Navarra is an Italian “non tourist guide” in Lisbon. Read this beautiful interview to find out how she managed to build a thriving business based on her true passions.
You can listen to Liliana’s podcast in Italian here.
When and why did you move to Portugal?
Destiny took me here 14 years ago as a tourist, when tourism was almost non-existent. I came with a friend and we decided to visit Lisbon. I stayed on. From the very first day I felt a huge connection with this city. I felt Lisbon was my home.
How did you get the idea of creating your tours, and what kind of tours are they?
It might sound strange, but I like to define myself as a “non tourist guide” because my idea was, and still is, to show a city from the point of view of someone living here. Every time a client contacts me, I try to understand what he’s interested in and what he’d like to see, and then mould the tour on it. I have a mental GPS that connects me to the client.
I have a PHD in cinema and when I decided to leave university, I did not want to leave cinema as well. I also loved Lisbon a lot, so I decided to combine all this and opened the first national Portuguese agency of cinetourism, a kind of tourism that offers walking tours in Lisbon linked to movies. I use a tablet to show movie scenes and take visitors to the places where they have been shot. Of course I also tell about anecdotes, history and the culture of the city.
My blog’s readers suggested other tours. Many of them were not interested in the cinetourism approach, but had other needs. I hesitated at the beginning because I wanted my agency to grow. Then I let myself be convinced. After all I am a licensed and registered tourist guide. My first tour was like an experiment: I promised my clients a refund if they were not satisfied.
You offer a wide selection of tours: is it correct to say that you take in clients’ suggestions and when they come and are satisfied, they talk about you and send you more clients?
Yes, word of mouth is certainly the most powerful tool to develop my business. I had tried several things at the beginning, investing quite a lot of money in the business, but none of them really worked. The turning point was with my blog. I started it because I had fun writing about Lisbon. I need to do things that are fun and make me happy. For me this does not feel like working: meeting new people all the time and starting new human relationship is a joy. Anyway, I started the blog, and then added the Facebook page, and today all of my clients come from them. Everyday I give tips and info on Lisbon, share events, but mostly places I know and love. In the culinary tours for instance, I take people to my secret places, places I discovered simply by living here every day.
It is obvious that you are doing something right with the management of your online presence. And although your work is very rooted in the place where you live, very physical, you are supported in your career by online tools. What are your suggestions to develop an online presence that boosts your business?
First suggestion is not to be lazy. Give a lot of time to your blog. I write on mine almost every day, and try to produce quality contents.
It is also important to study and keep updated on what are the best practices for the online marketing. Study social networks and use them. The most important thing is to create a wish, show a different way to approach a destination. Storytelling is basic today. Of course I am not an expert and I am still training myself, but my experience shows me that by talking about Lisbon and producing quality content on the city, visitors increase. This has been for me the most powerful tool. It is not always easy to keep a blog updated, it takes time, and my work demands a lot of time in direct contact with clients. In this case you could use a Facebook page.
Part of your work implies keeping updated on what happens in Lisbon and communicate it on your socials. How do you manage to follow all changes, to keep always informed about what opens, closes, and what are the new trends? How much time to do you devote to this side of your business, what strategies do you have?
This is right question for me at the moment, because I am presently sort of going crazy to keep my blog updated. I have a Thursday column about bars, places, and events, and it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain it. I can’t be behind everything. I have decided to focus on what interests me and what is part of my life. I also have my small tricks, like following two great websites on Lisbon, where I discover all the news and new restaurants and bars. Facebook is for me a magic source for events. I love Facebook for my work, it makes communication so much easier. I also follow universities and archaeological sites because almost every day they discover new things.
Do you have any future project or ideas you plan to introduce in your work?
I am presently focusing on creating new products, I have a new very alternative offer that I’ll launch in autumn. I plan to introduce new tours not only in town, one will be in the outskirts. I would love my projects to grow and create jobs; I am already in a position of needing a hand.
Head photo credit ©Lili Popper