In 1945, Joseph Perillo came to America from a war-devastated Italy where he was an attorney and settled in New York. He began selling steamship tickets to Europe while at the same time sending help back to his home country, including flour to his hometown of Naples to help relatives. Those efforts eventually turned into a tour company taken over by Mario Perillo in 1975 and by Steve Perillo in 2005.
Steve Perillo talked to TravelPulse about how the company has evolved in the past 75 years to where it is now moving beyond its long-time Italy product and seeking to lead the way in technology and in its relationship with travel advisors.
Like many tour operators, said Perillo, his company has moved toward smaller groups, more free time, more experiential programs, better hotels and higher quality food. “We do truffle hunting and classes on how to make cheese, and olive oil tastings,” said Perillo; “it’s what travelers want now.”
Even after all these years of traveling to Italy (with a quieter presence in Hawaii), Perillo is going to places it hadn’t been before like Lecce and Alberobello, where, he said, there are “conical homes that look like little dollhouses”: and 1000-year-old olive trees. There are also tours to the north to visit places like Bologna and Lucca.
Still, with all the talk of going to smaller places and experiential trips, Perillo said: “If you want to make money as a travel agent, you still have to offer the big destinations like Rome and Venice.” That’s typical of Perillo, a longtime travel advisor supporter. He said it’s no surprise that the agency business has resurged. “It’s hard to go it alone,” said Perillo, “and a professional agent can really help you. If you approach St. Peter’s in Vatican City alone without the assistance of a pro, you will be waiting three hours to do anything. An advisor can get you past that.”
And last year, Perillo ventured beyond Italy to Spain in large part because he loves the country—the food, flamenco, history. “It’s a very detailed program,” said Perillo, “with incredible value. In Italy, we provide 75 percent of dinners. In Spain, it’s all meals and the hotels are deluxe.”
In fact, said Perillo, “We are always pushing toward the higher end, but that being said, a couple spending $10,000 can expect the experience of a lifetime.” For agents, that’s good news because they can earn 13 percent (back to the first booking) with 6 bookings, 14 percent with 9 bookings and 15 percent with 19 bookings.
And Perillo is looking to expand further, currently looking into yacht sailings along the Italian and Greek coasts.
As for the anniversary itself, the company will celebrate its birthday on May 1 and several tours will be arriving in Italy on that date. They will enjoy special gifts and parties. There will also be a big bash at Perillo’s New Jersey office in June where loyal travel advisors will be invited.
While the company has much more competition than it did over the years, Perillo thinks it will continue to thrive because of the attention to detail. “We talk to our customers and in the end, it comes down to our tour leaders and the amount of detail we put into our trips. That comes down to details like traffic patterns, the best time of day to do things and so forth. We don’t get complaints which is amazing when you handle thousands of travelers.”
So well known is the Perillo product that it was the subject of a parody on Saturday Night live by Adam Sandler last year, which drew a lot of attention. In January, Perillo was a guest of the show when it was hosted by Adam Driver and enjoyed a backstage tour afterward.
And Perillo is intent on staying relevant by continuing to innovate. A FIT booking engine called Travel Genie is being rolled out where agents will be able to select from a library of expert-designed itineraries. They can edit the itineraries and then book online. “I want to conquer FIT’s and make them profitable, quick and easy,” said Perillo. Once he has the technology for that, he said, he will roll it out to other countries.
Perillo is very excited about what he calls a “new way of selling”—virtual reality video. Perilla Tours has its own VR product that can be downloaded at perillotours.com. Viewers will be able to see 360 surround views on where they will be going.
In the meantime, he is not forgetting the past. He will be using his grandfather’s 1928 Remington typewriter to write his next travel agent newsletter—along with a picture of the typewriter.
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