Fake tour operators and how to spot them
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Fake tour operators and how to spot them

Florence’s historical centre is itself a masterpiece. Fiavet, a national association of tour operators and travel agencies, actively cares for consumers of travel experiences.

Fri 10 May 2019 9:38 AM

Florence’s historical centre is itself a masterpiece. It is rightly listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s important we all play a part in safeguarding this precious place.


When searching on the web or browsing social media and even platforms such as TripAdvisor and Airbnb, travelers face a barrage of tourism offers and proposals. Of the millions of visitors to Florence and Tuscany each year, many are unwittingly duped into paying for illegal black-market tourism services.


Tourism is an industry in Florence—it’s a professional activity. There are laws and procedures to guarantee the quality of tourism offers, ensuring consumers’ safety and protecting their best interests. People offering tourism services to the public are required to have the appropriate qualifications and licences as well as having an office open to the public and legally required designated insurances. Unfortunately, a large amount of the offers available on- and offline for Florence and Tuscany are not legal, since they evade Italian and European laws and are misleading and, in many cases, fraudulent.


There is a large black market in tourism in Florence. Misleading advertising—where people omit to state vital information, such as if they are licensed to offer tourism services—is rife. Many people purporting to offer tours and experiences turn a blind eye to the laws, avoiding paying taxes and insurance, and offer an inferior standard for the travel consumer. Not only are individual consumers disadvantaged by misleading advertising, as it’s impossible for illegal operators to have insurance, but the actions of illegal tour providers disadvantage fair ethical operators by flooding the market with shoddy services and undercutting quality. 


Fiavet, a national association of tour operators and travel agencies, actively cares for consumers of travel experiences. Fiavet has proudly set standards for high-quality tourism services these last 50 years and continues to do so. Fiavet’s mission is to develop high-quality tourism in Italy, safeguarding the cultural identity of destinations and overseeing and designing respectful ways to visit Italy’s amazing and rich cultural and natural diversity. Tour operators members of Fiavet agree to ethical standards to protect consumers, Italy’s cultural heritage and ecology. One of Fiavet’s goals is to alert authorities and police to illegal tourism practices.




Ponte Vecchio, Florence: a tourist thoroughfare






  • The subjects that operate illegally usually hide their identity or give an overseas address and company identity. Sometimes they give a name as a “cultural association”, but don’t say where the association is based, who the responsible persons are and/or what legal framework they have. Cultural association are only allowed to do two tours per year by law. A simple email address and mobile phone number is not enough to establish qualifications or legal standing: don’t be fooled.
  • Illegal tour operators operate outside the law. They may tell you to pay in cash only or may be using a foreign account or Paypal. In this way, they avoid being tracked in order to avoid paying taxes.
  • Often illegal operators pretend not to be based in Italy to justify their operations, but they are active in Florence and know they should follow the local laws. Many illegal companies have their office hidden in Florence, but don’t publish their addresses. This is to avoid having checks and controls on the quality of their services and how they operate.
  • Illegal tour operators are not authorized to offer guided tours or packages with excursions, so they sometimes obfuscate by pretending to be another kind of organisation.
  • Illegal tour operators avoid giving proper fiscal receipts. They will avoid giving you a proper receipt for what you have paid. When receiving money, everyone in Italy is supposed to give you a legal receipt, one that can be used for tax purposes. Sometimes they offer tours “for free” asking for a tip at the end. This is a way to shirk responsibilities and not to pay the taxes due. Fake operators may falsely assert they are running “educational” activities, or may purport to be a “school”.


An illegal tour may even be offered by your driving company, concierge, local mum and pop operation, local social media influencers, or even a seemingly harmless expat friend just wanting to “live the dream”. Naïve or ingenuous intentions or being a start-up does not make the service legal or capable of having insurance. If an accident happens, any insurance purported by an illegal operator will not be valid.





  • Why risk recommending or choosing a low-quality experience by unqualified people.
  • Why risk your privacy by giving your details to an illegal tour organizer. Don’t expect an illegal operator to respect privacy laws if they are not respecting Italian and European standards on consumer law. In Europe it is obligatory with strict penalties to show customers who exactly is handling your privacy and what measures are being taken to care and protect your private identity and information.
  • With a fly-by-night illegal tour operator there is no legal recourse. You cannot claim for any unexpected issues, such as an accident.
  • You will not be covered by the obligatory insurance every official tour organizer has.
  • With no receipt you could also be fined by the police.
  • You will damage the local economy and encourage low-quality out-of-control tourism, which is damaging the identity of Florence and Tuscany.




  • Any officially recognised organization will show their full name, where they are based, who is in charge and the number of the operator’s licence.
  • Official operators always have insurance policies to protect you for “civil responsibilities” and “non-fulfilment” of the contract. Real tour operators will declare their name and type of insurance policy.
  • A real operator has a tax registration number and always gives you receipts for every service you purchased.
  • Real tour operators are required to have an office open to the public, clearly and transparently advertised.




A tour group in Florence





Anyone selling their services on social media or online must clearly give you all the information you need to make an informed decision about whether to purchase the services. Omitting to tell you they are not licensed to offer tourism experiences here in Italy is at best misleading advertising and at worst fraud that may lead to loss of your rights. If you see misleading tourism offers and or have purchased services, or have advised others to purchase services and suspect that the provider is operating as an illegal company, make a formal complaint by filling in an online form.




The black tourism market badly damages the local economy. All illegal tour operators are also avoiding local taxes. If you suspect a company, person or association is guilty of fiscal crimes, contact the finance police (Guardia di Finanza).




Fiavet to the rescue


Don’t hesitate to contact FIAVET (Federazione delle Agenzie di viaggio e Turismo, Federazione regionale Toscana). If you suspect a tour operator, email segreteria@fiavettoscana.it

Look out for hashtags: #Licencedtouroperator





Why choose a FIAVET Tuscany tour operator?

If you believe in encouraging fair trade and not facilitating unfair consumer practices such as false advertising and fraud, consider choosing a real “Made in Italy”
licensed tour organization. You’ll be safer and will enjoy your time more with a tried, trusted and registered professional operator. FIAVET TUSCANY agents have the necessary skills to play an active role in assisting you. These skills are acquired through continued professional development via training courses, seminars and meetings between professionals.


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