Pope Fiction

Pope Fiction

What do the Vatican, John Travolta and Burgers have to do with Supplier Relationships? Everything!

Last September we planned an incentive travel program in Rome, the capital of Italy and one of the world’s oldest cities. In terms of incentive travel, Rome is the pinnacle of achievement and recognition, which is exactly what our client, US Foods, needed to motivate their sales team.

While the program was a whopping success, it didn’t come without its challenges. We were presented with a small timeframe for a big, multi-faceted initiative pockmarked by concerns like: how are we going to breach a normally forbidden location? If we couldn’t drive right up to the Vatican’s front door, we knew from experience that our distinguished guests would have to walk a long way (which would be awkward for our 452-member group).

Even with 32 years under our belts, we still suffer from the occasional frozen-in-time-moment where we find ourselves wondering: “Can we do this?”

“Of course we can!” said our Senior Buyer Heather Douglas. What made Heather so sure? Our supplier relationships.

“We have a reputation in the industry for our strong and long-term relationships with our partners,” says Heather. It’s a relationship based on mutual respect and a genuine fondness that takes a step beyond business, into the realm of friendship. “We walk on fire for them, and they walk on fire for us.”

Enter Vittorio Marsiglio, owner and CEO of International Travel Company (ITC) based in Rome. Vittorio started his career as a teen working in laundry at a local hotel, and continued to move his way up until he opened ITC. Forty years of experience translates into thousands of industry contacts.

The more connected our suppliers, the further their reach. The further their reach, the more they can bring to the table, and in turn, the more we achieve for our clients.

But here’s the thing: we’re only human—all of us. Meaning suppliers will always reach far and wide for their clients, but hyper-extending they save for the few they call friends.

This is where the Vatican and the American actor John Travolta come in. It’s very difficult, post 9-11, to drive up to—let alone, park at—the front steps of the Vatican. It’s just not done. But we did it.

Because of our relationship with Vittorio we were able to glide our large, luxury motor coach right up to the entrance, almost like the Pope himself, or at the very least Vatican VIPs. It was a stellar start for our private tour, all thanks to our relationship with our Italian partners who “walk on fire” as Heather describes it (or, in light of the setting, can we say water?).

And where does John Travolta fit in? At the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria, a shining jewel dressed in royal red, navy and gold, accessorized with opulent Swarovski crystals and original Warhol art. Our group stayed at the hotel for the duration of the five-day program, enjoying not just the decadent decor and delicioso cuisine, but also its close proximity to the city centre and the awe-inspiring skyline views.

A notable member of our group was offered a no-charge upgrade to one of two top-level suites. He graciously accepted only to discover that the second suite was occupied by none other than John Travolta of Pulp Fiction fame (Travolta played Vincent Vega in the film). In case you’re wondering: Yes, some of our guests saw Mr. Travolta in the flesh. This, indeed the entire program, went beyond what Vega would call “Le Big Mac.” This was a “Royale with Cheese.”

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