Exploring the Essence of South-West Sicily: RESTART MED! Interviews Manila Di Maira, founder and director of Emotional Sicily


Today RESTART MED! interviews Manila Di Maira, founder and director of Emotional Sicily, a tour operator based in Sicily, Italy. They are specialized in crafting bespoke itineraries, tailoring them closely to the desires and requirements of travellers. Their experiences provide an opportunity for travellers to connect with local people and immerse themselves in Sicilian culture. Emotional Sicily aims to build a community of like-minded individuals throughout the island.

What did you develop thanks to RESTART MED!?

Thanks to Restart Med, we had the opportunity to deeply explore the impacted area of South-West Sicily. This allowed us to better understand the features we should focus on while developing the communication campaign, which was the main goal of the project. Throughout the project's five-month duration, we met with small businesses, local institutions, projects, and experience-makers committed to the sustainable development of the area. We identified experiences and activities aligned with the project's values and sustainable tourism criteria. With the help of our expert local guides, we explored the most remote areas of the Belice Valley. Using these elements, we created thematic itineraries and experiences to offer travellers an in-depth experience and ensure a long-term impact for the project. Our dream is to establish a destination with its own distinctiveness and uniqueness. With the support of Restart Med and the prestige of a European institution backing our project, we received trust and collaboration from local institutions and partners, greatly facilitating our work. The communication campaign, titled "To the Southwest: People, nature, and culture of Belìce Valley," was launched in May and will be disseminated until December 2023. We produced various audio-visual materials and focused on accurate copywriting to address different target audiences through various channels while maintaining consistency and coherence. Additionally, we created a short documentary where local partners and community members share their personal stories and their relationship with the area.

What are, according to you, the challenges that sustainable tourism is facing in Sicily? how are you addressing them?

According to the UNWTO, sustainable tourism is "tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities." Based on this definition, sustainable tourism involves an integrated set of activities that consider all parties involved. In Sicily, we are already working towards this ideal, although we struggle to gain support from local administrations that fail to recognize the real impact tourism could have on all sectors. The focus remains primarily on the economic benefits of traditionally tourism-related activities, while the local community and small businesses are often overlooked as potential participants and beneficiaries. At Emotional Sicily, we view tourism as a force for good and a means to have a positive impact on the local community. We achieve this by supporting small businesses, promoting projects rooted in Sicily with compelling stories, and involving individuals and initiatives that align with our vision, encompassing sustainability and beyond. People are at the core of Emotional Sicily, serving as the key to extending our impact to other areas. With the assistance of Restart Med, we also created a new website, www.sustainablesicily.com, which will be further developed and launched in autumn. The website aims to showcase sustainable projects in Sicily and will be managed collaboratively.

What is – or will be, in your vision – the impact of your project in Sicily and on the local community?

We are grateful to be part of a network of companies that have worked on European projects in Sicily and the Mediterranean. We also participated in the Med Pearls project, focusing on the Etna and Alcantara Valley area, where we designed 10 slow tourism itineraries. We believe that this project, within the ENI CBC MED programme, sets an example of good practice that is already making an impact on local stakeholders. They are gaining confidence in a different way of collaboration, where they are actively supported and involved. We believe this will have a long-term impact on the local tourism industry and the administration dedicated to tourism in Sicily.

How do you see the future of your company? what are your next plans?

Emotional Sicily is a boutique travel specialist that works in an artisanal way to offer carefully designed experiences. We take pride in our personalized approach to creating itineraries, which is highly appreciated by our customers. As our company grows rapidly, we aim to maintain the utmost care we put into every relationship with our customers and suppliers.

To forge new relationships and foster synergies, we have organized several small events in recent years where our stakeholders have had the opportunity to meet each other. The results have been very positive from our point of view. Our plan is to create a network of companies committed to sustainable and responsible tourism that serves as a reference for quality in Sicily's international market. Our dream is to establish an annual event that brings together local stakeholders aligned with our values, creating a space for them to showcase their products to an international market seeking this kind of offering. We recognize our strength lies in our ability to bring like-minded people together, who share the same values, vision, and mission, to collaborate and work towards common goals. This is our current focus.