Deborah De Maio, and her son, Rem Malloy, owners of Italy4Real.com and Travel4Real.com, started up their travel businesses after visiting relatives in Italy more than 20 years ago. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Deborah De Maio, and her son, Rem Malloy, owners of Italy4Real.com and Travel4Real.com, started up their travel businesses after visiting relatives in Italy more than 20 years ago. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

‘Miracle trip’ to Italy led to mom-son travel business

In the internet age, anyone with a computer can book a flight to Italy, reserve a tour of the Colosseum or join a large tour group that takes you from one tourist hot spot to another.

Rem Malloy and Deborah de Maio, founders of the Everett-based Italy4Real and Travel4Real, want travelers to go beyond the surface of Italy and come away with a deeper experience of the country’s people and culture.

“It’s the people that make the experience, not the monuments,” de Maio said.

The mother-son duo started Italy4Real more than 20 years ago after a trip to Italy to visit relatives de Maio hadn’t seen in years and whom Malloy had never met.

“My mother passed away and I was reviewing our whole life. That just seems to happen when iconic people in your life leave,” de Maio said. “I thought about all of my Italian heritage and the people I hadn’t seen in so long.

The two took a break from their high-pressure, heavy-duty jobs – Malloy as an executive at Nintendo, de Maio at a cancer research center – and traveled to Italy together.

“We found relatives that just soaked us up like I had always lived there,” Malloy said. “It was just a real kind of miracle trip.”

They returned to the Puget Sound area, but thought about their vacation and how they could turn it into a business. The two had always planned trips for people on the side — Malloy was the social director for his college fraternity — and a year later, they both quit their jobs and moved to Italy for six months.

“I was telling my then-girlfriend, ‘Now’s the time to break up because I’m going to Europe to start this company with my mom,’” Malloy said. (The girlfriend is now his wife and they have a 10-year-old daughter.)

“It was a good thing, being his age,” de Maio said, referring to starting the business. “He was like ‘Jump in!’ and I’m saying ‘no, no, no.’ I know at the bottom is a lot of rocks.”

The two — who now say they didn’t really know what they were doing at the time — packed up and moved to Italy, living off their savings and credit cards. During that time, they met guides and bus drivers, knocked on doors and explained to people what they were trying to do. They continue to work with some of those same people to this day.

“We met all of our people that way, by wandering around and asking where the locals go,” Malloy said.

Their first route — the “Primo Italiano”— took in the Big 3: Venice, Florence and Rome. They returned to the States and placed a small ad in The Seattle Times.

“He did the New York Times, too, which I could have killed him for,” de Maio said. “It was really expensive and who’s going to talk to us?”

The advertisements worked. They sold nine tours in a row that first year, showing their customers around and getting the hang of the business. They came back from those trips with thousands of miles — and several pounds — under their belts.

“It was great,” Malloy said. “We never worked for anyone else after that point.” The company has expanded its offerings, now leading trips to France, Greece, Spain, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scotland. They continue to put together routes the same way they did 20 years ago in Italy.

“We don’t offer anything we don’t know,” said Malloy, who leads a World War II history tour of the Normandy landing beaches in France. “I’ve got to put my foot on the ground and walk through the door before I will offer it.”

That local knowledge is important to offering a deeper experience, Malloy said.

“If I stay in the main alleyways between St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge (in Venice), I’m not going to see anything but high-priced stuff, bad tourist restaurants and Americans with guidebooks,” he said. “But if I go three alleyways off, I’m going to find where the locals eat and where there’s no crowds and where there’s a café with a view of the water.”

De Maio added that many of their customers want that deeper cultural experience.

“I call it a worldview because when you travel the way we’re talking about, you’re whole worldview changes,” she said. “It’s what’s kept me doing it all these years because I have seen people actually change their entire viewpoint of the world.”

Malloy and de Maio rarely lead tours together these days, saying they can’t both leave the office for big chunks of time.

The two say there’s a benefit to working so closely with family.

“When the game is over, I had more time with my family than I could ever ask for,” Malloy said. “We have such a unique thing and I wouldn’t trade the time for anything.”

Of course, there’s a downside to working with people who know you so well. Everyone’s mom knows how to push their kids’ buttons, Malloy said.

“I will remind him of that time when he was 6 and he used to do the thing,” de Maio said with a laugh.

“You have to make yourself a level-headed worker bee, otherwise you go on this rollercoaster of emotions because you’re working with a family member,” Malloy added.

Through it all, the two are grateful for the time they have together and appreciate their customers.

“We’ve come to believe that in business, it’s not about us, it’s about the people we serve,” de Maio said. “We’ve always said we’re like water in a glass — if you put us in another container, we’ll adapt to it.

“We’ve had to make adaptations over the years, but we’re still standing and we’re honored.”

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Striking Starbucks employees talk to a woman who wanted to use the drive-thru but was turned away due to the strike on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, on Broadway in Everett, Washington. Workers at the 37th and Broadway store spent their morning picketing because a fellow employee had been fired the previous day in what the workers believe is an act of union busting. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett Starbucks workers go on strike after employee fired

The employee and her fellow union members claim she was fired for supporting the union. Starbucks denies it.

X
Property values soar 32% in Snohomish County due to hot housing market

Assessed values are up all across the county since last year. The impact on tax bills won’t be known for a few months.

Everett
Port of Everett hosting annual open house after pandemic hiatus

Also, Rustic Cork Wine Bar plans to open a second shop at Fisherman’s Harbor — the latest addition to the port’s “wine walk.”

Holly Burkett-Pohland, the owner of Burkett’s Home & Gift, outside of her new store front on Friday, June 17, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Everett gift store debuts in former J. Matheson space

For years, Holly Burkett-Pohland wanted to expand a business founded by her mother in 1978.

A Kenmore Air Cessna 208 Caravan. (Kenmore Air) 20220613
Kenmore Air to start daily flights from Paine Field to San Juans

Service begins July 14. Flights to Friday Harbor and Orcas Island airports take about 25 minutes.

Seattle Space Needle sues coffee chain over use of logo

The logo for Local Coffee Spot features a mug of hot coffee whose rising steam bears striking resemblance to the iconic tower.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Foes of state’s capital gains tax drop plans for initiative

I-1929 sponsors say they are confident a lawsuit challenging the legality of the tax will be successful.

Arlington
Smoother sailing: Arlington airport gets grant to fix runway

A $2.3 million federal grant will pave the way for a project to resurface the airfield’s main runway.

Workers build the first all electric plane, the Eviation Alice, on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  The plane is designed for regional travel and to carry nine passengers. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Eviation moves tests of electric passenger plane to Moses Lake

The Arlington company said a bigger runway and flatter terrain are better suited to early testing of the commuter aircraft.

An artist's rendering of the new Funko warehouse in Buckeye, Arizona. (Funko) 20220407
Funko warehouse layoffs begin this week in Everett, Puyallup

The layoffs, announced in April, are part of a plan to move distribution operations to Arizona.

Rendering of the front entrance of Spruce Elementary School in Lynnwood. (Edmonds School District)
Police: Edmonds schools sent $2.7 million check to fraudster

Police say the fraudster posed as a contractor for a new elementary school. A bank caught it at the last second.

Looking north, an aerial view of Paine Field in Everett. (Paine Field / Snohomish County) 20220605
Paine Field development plan envisions an expanded terminal

Once Sea-Tac Airport reaches capacity, the Everett airport is on the short list to absorb unmet demand by passengers.