Questions and Answers
Welcome to our "business" page. No pretty pictures. No flowery prose. Just information. If you have a question that isn't answered here, email us!
• Multicultural? Aren't Sicily and Sicilians simply Italian?
• How is your philosophy different from that of other tour operators?
• Can you work with me if I'm not in the United States or Canada?
• What kind of tours do you usually recommend?
• Are group leaders (professors) included for free?
• What is the largest group you can accommodate?
• And the hotels?
• Do you do flights?
• Are there direct flights to Sicily from points in the US and Canada?
• Do you only do student tours?
• Do you do conferences and events?
• How much time does it take to plan a tour?
• What are your payment terms?
• When is the best season to visit Sicily?
• Are you insured?
• What's the difference between your agency and others?
• What if my school already has a travel agent for student tours of European countries?
• Do you pay referral commissions to travel agents?
• Can you accommodate students with physical challenges?
• Can dietary restrictions be accommodated?
• Can you work to our budget?
• I'm interested. What's the first step?
This is considered in the two books prominently mentioned on this site. Our island was eclectically multicultural into the middle years of the thirteenth century. By 1300, the Kingdom of Sicily had become a Latin monoculture. There was an influx of Albanians after 1470, but the last Jews were converted or expelled in 1493. Sicily was annexed to Italy in 1860. Following its liberation by Allied forces in 1943, it was declared the first autonomous political region of Italy.
The civilizations that ruled Sicily from antiquity through the Middle Ages left much behind in art, architecture, language and cuisine – much more than you'll find in most of peninsular Italy. Today Sicily is home to new immigrants from Asia and Africa, and they have been better accepted here than those in Lombardy, Lazio and other Italian regions.
Sicily is a very different part of Italy. It always has been.
The simple fact that we have one makes us different. Planning a tour for students isn't just a question of hotels, transportation and meals. It's about learning. That's where we're very different from the great majority of Sicily-based tour operators that seek an American or Canadian clientele at events like trade fairs. Our books reflect a very balanced, unbiased view of history and culture, and Sicilian Studies, in particular, examines Italians' so-called "retro" (outdated) views of things like multiculturalism, Italian unification, Fascism, World War II, Italy's political complexities, and even organized crime.
Like you, we believe that your students deserve an open, objective, unbiased, modern, accurate perspective. We guarantee it; most Italian tour operators, trapped as they are in the "mass tourism" mentality of the last century, don't even think about it.
Yes! Contact us.
You'll find some ideas on our itineraries page. The "typical" group of undergraduates (if there is such a thing) will be interested in a general itinerary, but your tour may have an emphasis on a specific kind of site that exemplifies ancient archeology or Medieval architecture. The great diversity of Sicilian attractions argues for variety. Though your focus may be medieval, Sicily has some of the greatest ancient Greek temples. Even if your group's focus is classical antiquity, it would be great to visit a few of the churches of the Norman-Arab era that don't exist elsewhere. Topics outside these areas might encompass social issues (immigration or organized crime) or specialized subjects (women's studies, cuisine, volcanology).
Of course. There are usually two instructors accompanying a group of fifty students, but please let us know your requirements. Travel agents are not always very clear about the fact that, in practice, the costs of those traveling "free" are divided among the cost of the other participants.
While the typical group is under fifty participants (students and instructors), we can accommodate larger groups. Note that the typical tour bus accommodates fifty or fifty-two, including a tour guide or tour escort, but using two vehicles is not out of the question.
We use the best possible for your budget, rated at least four-stars by Italy's tourism board, in convenient locations so that your students don't have to take a taxi into town to enjoy a pizza in the evening. Student rooms are based on double occupancy (two students per room).
Yes. Firstly, though, you may wish to check your institution's current policies and procedures regarding faculty and student travel. A larger university may have a travel secretary who handles flights, and probably "local" details like a bus to take your students to the airport.
We have the IATA certification that makes booking flights possible. For a number of practical reasons, we prefer Alitalia and its partners (such as Delta) almost exclusively. Our experience has shown this to be the best choice because it ensures against potential cancellations and possible missed connecting flights (see the next question).
Please note that we do not receive commissions from Alitalia, and we do not add any fee to make a profit from flight tickets. It is simply our belief that, for flights to Palermo and Catania, this carrier is the best choice for most groups most of the time.
It is worth noting that, on average, the flight constitutes around a thousand dollars (US) of the total price of this kind of trip.
Only rarely. Your group's trip to Palermo (PMO) or Catania (CTA) will be via a connection through Rome or Milan. Delta services many cities in North America, and Alitalia has its own flights from larger ones like New York, Chicago and Toronto.
We can do almost any kind of tour, for virtually any kind of group, from any country. Our recommendations are more carefully considered than those proposed by some competing firms because we believe that even a trip undertaken for pleasure can be educational, and that learning can be a lifelong pursuit. One is dismayed when a "luxury tour" that makes use of the finest hotels ignores a place like Monreale Abbey, with its marvelous mosaics and splendid cloister, but this happens.
Yes, and not only for student groups. Email us (email@example.com) to talk about yours.
Actual planning can usually be completed within three weeks of your approval of the final itinerary and details. More important is the lead time, which depends on availability of flights and hotels. This is usually longer.
Usually around 30 percent when the tour is approved and a contract is signed, 55 percent just prior to your group's departure for Italy, and 15 percent following the tour.
Winter. Yes, winter, or perhaps during "spring break" in late February or early March. During this "low" tourist season flights and hotels are more available and cost less. November, early December, January and February are great times to visit Sicily. It's less crowded and pleasantly cool. Winter in Sicily is like October in New York, Chicago or Toronto. The Best of Sicily site has a weather page on seasonal temperatures and precipitation.
Of course. These tours are insured at every step. Our agency is insured for liability, our Italy-based suppliers (such as bus companies) are insured, and your institution (which will accept participants' payments) is probably insured for school-sponsored student activities.
We carry one million dollars in liability (and errors and omissions) insurance and, yes, escrow account payments can be arranged (with a prime bank).
While certain Italian practices in the spheres of business and the academy might strike some Americans and Canadians as unconventional, the biggest difference between us and most travel firms based in Italy is a simple matter of philosophy and our approach to planning your group's trip
Our staff is exceptionally competent in developing interesting, practical itineraries. For student groups, this may mean a convenient route that crosses the island, beginning in Palermo and ending in Catania, rather than going back and forth in a "circuit." Another possibility, to avoid too many hotel check-ins, is a focus on either eastern or western Sicily, with excursions from a base in Palermo (to Cefalù, Erice, Agrigento, Segesta) or Catania (to Siracusa, Taormina, Etna, Piazza Armerina).
See the itinerary page for ideas about itineraries and places.
An important point is that the personnel you'll be working with during the tour, such as group leaders and local tour guides, are typically more knowledgeable than those recruited by competing agencies. For example, most "generic" tour operators consider tour guides as an afterthought, but to us the guides are one of the most important elements in the mix that makes a tour experience enjoyable, satisfying and successful. And, if we dare use an overused word, unique.
As we all know, not every scholar is a great teacher. Our guides and lecturers are distinguished not only for their professional and academic qualifications but for their communication skills, because it helps for your students to understand what is being expressed. We're all about teaching and learning. We certainly don't presume tour operators to be professors, but they should at least know to hire the right guides and lecturers when planning tours for students, yet many do not.
So the real difference is our attention to detail and our keen sense of what curious visitors, like your students, want to see and experience.
Our competitors can imitate our tour itineraries, and even plagiarize some of the text you're reading here (!), but they can't clone us and what we have to offer your group.
In practice, universities and colleges rarely grant a monopoly to just one travel agent or tour operator for all their needs. Even if your department's trusted travel agent handles tours in Italy, the same agent probably works with people like us because, unlike most travel agents in the United States and Canada, we have our own full-time staff in Italy.
Despite what you may occasionally hear, even most of the American tour operators famous for travel to Italy actually work with "receptive agents" or "ground handlers" (sometimes known as "incoming agents") in Italy. Our chief criticism of many receptive agents in Sicily is that, having founded their businesses long before the internet began to influence the field, many still focus on rather generic "mass market" tourism. As a result, a travel agent who works with such firms may not be in a position to "think outside the box" when it comes to ideas about your students' visit.
What we can say for certain is that no travel agent based in North America knows Sicily better than we do.
If we plan your students' tour through another firm that your institution usually works with (some universities may insist on this), it will increase the cost by at least twenty percent compared to what it would be if you worked directly with Golden Sicily.
We are travel agents. To pay a travel agent commission for a referral would increase the cost of a tour substantially. (The industry standard commission is ten percent.) For this reason and others, we only work directly with our clients. We do not work through other travel agents as intermediaries and we do not pay for referrals from third parties.
A related detail concerns commissions more generally. We subscribe to the ethical standards of the American Society of Travel Agents (we're a member), and we do not remit monetary incentives to professors or department heads in exchange for recommending or choosing our services. We mention this because even though it is a common practice in Italy and some other countries (where it is not always considered "corrupt") such incentives are usually regarded as unethical in Canada and the United States.
By way of example, we know of instances where the vendors representing British publishers of academic books reward professors at Italian universities for using/assigning their texts. This sometimes takes the form of vacations or other "payments in kind."
That depends on each case. Physical mobility is important in Sicily. Many old streets are paved in uneven stones, and some localities, like Erice and Taormina are built upon mountains. Some important sights are reached only by steps, with no ramps or elevators, and without wheelchair access. Most tours of Sicily presuppose a certain degree of walking.
Yes, but these should be made clear during the planning stages so that (for example) vegetarian options are available.
Yes, within reason. If a competitor beats our price by a substantial margin, it might be worth looking at the quality of what they are claiming to offer. Our experience has been that many student tours in Italy leave something to be desired.
A personal consultation. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set up a time we can ring you up to discuss your ideas and ours. Our books tell Sicily's unique story. We'll be happy to send you one of our books, either The Peoples of Sicily or Sicilian Studies, from Amazon or directly from our publisher in New York, if you email us your name, title, institution name, address and telephone number (courier services require a contact phone number). Based on your group's interests, we'll develop an itinerary and provide you with a quote. Obviously, we'll have to know the number (or estimated number) of participants.
© 2018 Golden Sicily LLC