Perillo Tours is going where few family-owned and operated tour companies have gone before: the fourth generation.
After 78 years in business, the company has stood the test of time, surviving wars, economic recessions, a pandemic, and perhaps its biggest threat to date: being acquired by a larger company.
“Three generations is tough,” said Steve Perillo, CEO and owner of Perillo Tours. “The fourth generation is the hardest thing to achieve in the business.” He still marvels at the company’s resilience, while the number of mom-and-pop tour businesses has dwindled over the years.
Perillo is the grandson of Joseph Perillo, who started Perillo Tours in the 1940s, and the son of second-generation owner Mario Perillo, whose “Mr. Italy” TV and radio commercials raised the company’s profile in the 1980s and ’90s. .
Enter Devin Buonanno, Steve Perillo’s 26-year-old nephew and heir apparent to the Perillo Tours business, which is best known for specializing in custom tours of Italy but also offers Spain and Hawaii.
Buonanno currently serves as regional director of Perillo Tours in Hawaii, overseeing product development for the destination.
Buonanno said he started Perillo Tours when he was still a child, through his love of traveling to Italy with his mother and siblings every year.
“I was just hooked on travel,” Buonanno recalls. “I’m also a big sports fan. I love traveling around the country to watch my sports teams in different cities.”
But spending time with his family has been Buonanno’s biggest motivator for joining the family business.
“I just love the whole family aspect with my uncle, my grandfather and my great-grandfather. I’m a big family person,” Buonanno said.
Business is good for Perillo now, but the past two years have been the toughest the company has faced since opening in 1945.
Closed international borders brought business to a standstill in Italy and Spain; Bookings in Hawaii fared relatively well in comparison; however, these sales were not enough to offset heavy losses in Europe.
But the Covid relief funds released by the government kept the lights on at Perillo Tours. Now, at the end of those pandemic-stricken years, it is able to turn a profit in 2022.
The tour operator has a smaller staff, will benefit from tax breaks for small businesses and is seeing booking numbers rise again, although they are still operating at 50% of their pre-pandemic levels.
The company — which continued to run its TV commercials before the pandemic, with Steve replacing his father, who died in 2003 — was also forced to cut its marketing budget and is no longer spending money on advertising. It’s a decision Perillo can live with. After all, who needs advertising when your ads have been immortalized in a Saturday Night Live skit starring Adam Sandler as Joe Romano, down to every last bearded detail?
“It was a very, very big deal,” Perillo said. “These kinds of things only happen once in a lifetime.”
Perillo Tours will launch its first tour in Greece next year and bookings will be available online this month.
And soon, travel advisors will also be able to take advantage of Perillo Trip Planner, a digital library of 25 professionally curated tours in Italy that will enable travel advisors to customize and create multi-city itineraries and make choices from activities, hotels, rental cars, railways. and airline tickets.
“You can modify it into whatever shape you want,” Perillo said. “We have a team of eight travel agents who we’re giving a 20% commission to work the system and really put it through its paces.” Trip Planner is expected to launch in January.
In his current role, Buonanno says he’s busy working on his passion project: designing independent itineraries in Hawaii. He wanted to expand Perillo Tours’ destination offerings worldwide, but says his Uncle Steve reminded him of something.
“I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘You have to stay true to who you are. We’re not going to be known as Italy’s No. 1 tour operator and we’re going to lose our position if you experience all these destinations,'” Buonanno said. “I want to have the same mentality. This is very important to me.”