Me crazy? Why this man from Northern Ireland started a travel agency in Italy at the height of the pandemic

Creating a travel agency during a pandemic when much of the travel industry is struggling to survive is madness. To the right? To put it mildly, bad timing?

Wrong, says Timothy Surgenor, from Co Antrim, who launched Alma Italia Travel in 2020 with his business partner Alessio Mazza.

Tim, 44, who grew up outside of Crumlin, believes travel agents who can deliver once-in-a-lifetime experiences with friends and family – which are tailor-made, flexible and secure – will make hay when the restrictions will be further relaxed on travel.

While the strategy is to “survive for the time being,” there is “a huge pent-up demand,” said Tim, who moved his family from Sydney to just outside of Florence in 2018. “Almost all of it. 2022 has been booked, people are booking now.

In some ways, vacationers have more time to plan during the pandemic when travel has been restricted. People are more motivated to think about the dream vacation.

“We want to give people an outlet for this future thinking and this travel design,” says Tim.

Alma Italia Travel offers upscale and tailor-made travel experiences all over Italy. While Americans and Australians love to ‘do’ Italy, traveling the country from coast to coast with a guide, Irish and UK tourists tend to opt for special interest vacations. .

The brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea off the island of Capri (left) and one of Capri’s iconic “lidos” or beach clubs

“A very popular holiday is the Wine and Food Festival,” said Tim. “A group of friends who want to go to the best wineries and we know where the hidden gems are – the boutique wineries and wineries you wouldn’t know if you didn’t live here. The ones that are run by the family are the real jewels.

They also designed tailor-made vacations around outdoor art, history and music. A charming ski vacation, with the best restaurants and a ski guide are also offered.

“I think Italy is the most beautiful country in the world, but it can be difficult to navigate,” says Tim. It can be the best country and the worst to visit. You can come and have a really bad vacation. We won’t let that happen. We tailor it to what people want from a vacation.

The pandemic has seen an increase in the number of people eager to have more support navigating the travel landscape. Travelers want more thoughtful assistance and personalization. They want to know that they can do it safely, while still having an amazing experience that was worth the money and the expense.

Tim’s love for travel was nurtured by his parents Brian and Joanna Surgenor, the founders of Crumlin Travel in the village of Crumlin, Co Antrim.

He spent several years in Florence as a student and a year working in Milan and he always returned to the country.

While living in Sydney, he spent long periods traveling in Italy with his wife, Candida. When the oldest of their three boys approached school age, they knew it was time to settle down. They chose Italy.


Positano, a cliffside village on the Amalfi Coast of southern Italy and a vineyard in San Gimignano in the Tuscan hills

“Look at the view from our balcony,” Tim says, activating his phone’s camera to gaze at the olive groves that date back to the 15th century.

There is a haze of heat resting on the trees.

“In my opinion, most of Italy is hidden from the tourist. There is a side of Italy that is reserved for locals.

While Tim knew from his parents that working in the travel industry had its benefits, he stumbled upon it by accident. He had a background in law and he was going to work for an architecture studio in Australia.

“Growing up with my mom and dad in the travel agency made it a more natural decision. I knew it was a fun industry to be a part of.

His business partner’s uncle introduced the two men and over a glass of Italian wine or two a plan was worked out and Tim agreed to invest in Alma Italia Travel.

The pandemic has of course created its challenges. Alma Italia Travel guarantees that if government travel advice changes you can get a refund or change your dates.

“It’s not crazy,” said Tim. “Whoever is still standing at the end of the pandemic will do well.”

Travel tips if traveling to Italy from the Republic of Ireland

Travel tips to and from Northern Ireland

Willie R. Golden