Seable Accessible Holidays is happy to announce that Fabriq, a new incubator for social innovation just opened in Milan and during their first workshop they mentioned Seable Holidays as an example of good practices and social inclusion. Antonio Tasso, journalist @ Startu-up Italia decided to get in touch with us and interviewed the founder: Damiano La Rocca. Here the translated version of the interview taken on the 14th of February 2014
A: Hello Damiano, then, how did you end up in London?
D: I left for London after high school, from Catania. I had no idea what to study and decided to learn English in London. Initially I planned for 6 months but I got comfortable and decided to stay. I undertook different jobs, from working as a waiter for a Japanese restaurant to salesman for Divani & Divani in Harrods. In the meantime, I enrolled at the London Metropolitan University and I started to organise cultural events in collaboration with the Italian consulate. I later left the university for a year, to work in large corporate event’s company. Following the corporate experience and few months back in Sicily I decided to finish University and present project Seable at the Accelerator London, London Met business incubator. The project was successful and I have been awarded with the initial start-up support and office space for 2 years.
A: When was Seable officially founded?
D: Seable officially opened in November 2012, but is the result of a year and a half of work. Seable is a social enterprise providing active holidays for the disabled people. During the holidays you can participate in activities which aim to enhance the psychophysical state of the disabled, thus promoting physical activity, independence and self-esteem.
A: Where these activities take place?
D: For the first few years in Sicily, Catania
A: Can you give me some examples of the activities?
D: Our main activity was scuba diving. Then we added windsurfing, canoeing and many more. In addition we also offer wine tours and sensory experience, an example: the olive harvest and virgin olive oil production. Each activity must stimulate the person to do more and learn from it.
A: I have read that your father conducts the diving courses
D: Yes, he is a certified instructor for people with disabilities and has been running courses for the past 15 years. Has helped many people and trained 2 of his students, a wheelchair user and blind girl to achieve a Guinness world record. At the beginning I wanted to allow people from all over the world to come to scuba dive in Sicily but then I realised the big lack of offer for the disable community and decided to become a full-service tour operator.
A: In Sicily, what services to you use to conduct these activities?
As mentioned earlier, my father runs the diving course, Danielino Windsurf for windsurfing, Drive active for blind driving experiences. Tours are usually conducted by Seable’s personnel in Sicily. My main goal is to increase the offer and expand outside of Sicily. How many people worked on this project? Last year I had help from 12 interns and volunteers for marketing and website, but in Sicily I have different contractors
A: So how does it work? I’ll call you or send you an e-mail … and then what?
D: I’d offer you all the possibilities are and you would build yourself a package. You can decide whether to go alone or in a group, you can decide the date. I arrange the accommodations, travel, meals and activities. The customer only has to book the flight.
A: Is the business profitable?
D: It’s not an easy question, as it’s too early to tell but the first year I won an award for social entrepreneurs organized by Unltd-For Social entrepreneurs which helped with the initial marketing costs. Following the first customers the business has survived. I think the second year will become a more sustainable venture. Now, I have to rely on grants to grow and luckily enough I was also nominated for a second award, which is the phase 2 of what I was awarded last year.
A: Among the many businesses that can be applied in the field of tourism, why did you decide to focus on people with disabilities?
D: On one hand, the idea was inspired by my father’s work, who as I said is the diving instructor for the disabled. On the other hand, while preparing to present the project at the Accelerator, I realised that the current offer is very limited. Just to give you an example, there are 600,000 registered blind people in England there is only one tour operator that organizes trips for their needs. Quite a gap in the market. The question I’m still asking myself is: no one has ever tried it? Or they have tried and failed? Because I can assure you that it is not a simple task There is no room for mistakes!
A: Despite all this, however, you are getting satisfaction for it?
D: Lots. Think that a blind Paralympic athlete has used our services, He was so excited about the activities, especially the diving, that has continued his training after the holidays and is planning to beat the world record in 2015.
A: Italy does not shine for infrastructures designed to make life easier for the disabled! Have you encountered many difficulties?
D: Of course, starting from the airport! But problems there are and always will be. Just with a little forethought and attention you can create an accessible offer. Having said that, I spent two summers in Sicily to select all the places to make a great and stimulating. With the help of several people I have made accessible excursions to Mount Etnaor the Alcantara Gorges, in theory places not usually accessible. Your startup opened in London. Do you think you would have encountered more difficulty if I had opened in Italy? One of the reasons why I’m in London is the functionality of the system. In Italy, probably it would take 100 million papers to sign. Here with £100 you can open a business with an online form. The government helps you to create your business. The first 50K are not taxable, taxes on salaries are acceptable, VAT is mandatory just over 75k. I know that sounds like fiction in Italy, but this is normal here.
Thanks to Antonio for the interview.