The train rumbles quietly along the Ligurian coast, winding its way through the lazy seaside towns and rocky landscape which characterize the Mediterranean in the stretch between Genova and La Spezia.
The “Levante”, as it is known (“Where the sun rises”), is a direct encounter between mountains and sea, and the result is a territory which is as breathtakingly beautiful as it is inhospitable to large-scale urban development. Go ahead and try to find a flat piece of land to build on.
As the train pulls in to the final stretch of its journey the calm of the nearly empty wagon is broken. We’re at Monterosso, a small village of 1,500 inhabitants, and it seems as if nearly that many are trying to cram onto the train in this very moment.
Welcome to the Cinque Terre–one of the most successful touristic endeavours on the Italian peninsula.
The five villages of the Cinque Terre–Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore–count less than 5,000 inhabitants in all and yet have a touristic prowess similar to that of Rome, Florence, and Venice.
The “Five Lands” have managed to compete for tourism with these much-larger Italian and other European destinations by joining together to create a single touristic brand. Chances are that you have never heard of Corniglia before–but the “Cinque Terre” might ring a bell.
Tourists are drawn to these small, unimportant villages because they seem to be part of something larger.
And they are quite right. The five villages of the Cinque Terre offer a similarly rustic atmosphere and have evolved from a common cultural background. However in no way are they simply five carbon copies of the same place. In fact, while the similarities in the villages are what permit them to join together to market on a larger scale, the internal differences are what keep visitors interested in discovering the entire territory.
As a marketing consultant I don’t know what I find more fascinating–the unique beauty of the tiny villages or the staggering success of their tourism initiative. The past 50 years have seen the miserable poverty of the area transformed into a florid touristic economy. Local traditions and products and a unique way of life have been saved and strengthened thanks to this change in fortune.
The Lesson of the Cinque Terre
The lesson for small businesses is palpable.
You can compete with the big guys without abandoning the unique characteristics of a small enterprise, but you must band together. For Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore the decision to join up may not have been as obvious as it now seems–bad blood often runs deep between neighboring Italian villages. But however the story may have gone, they are a wonderful example.
In the Internet age we have an advantage over the Cinque Terre–we can find complimentary businesses and build online relationships with just about anyone, not just neighboring villages. Social media, advertising and a well-run website are your portal to being part of something bigger. We’ll help you find and develop your unique “Cinque Terre”.
Are you building and leveraging relationships online? Are you forming a niche? Please let me know in the comments below and if you liked this post, please subscribe to our e-mail newsletter!