Lunch at L’Angelo Barbone – delicious food and wine with a stunning view.

On Matera, English Fodor’s claims it’s the only place in the world

where people can boast to live in the same houses as their ancestors of 9,000 years ago, which is a pretty cool thing to think about. And for hotels and restaurants, it’s also a pretty rad selling point.

The cave-laden city is a feast for architecture lovers, adventure seekers, and food connoisseurs alike – which all offer fantastic opportunities to the nearly 100 lodging properties that host the increasing number of visitors to the small, rural town each year. There are a few large luxury properties but the market is mostly made up of small, family-run B&Bs, affittacamere, and villa rentals. (I stayed at Residence San Pietro Barisano – a great value, optimal location, helpful owners, and 1 really sweet dog) In a market full of similar products there is bound to be a lot of competition among these properties. And thus a lot of opportunity to set oneself apart. Unfortunately in planning my recent visit, I didn’t find a lot of differentiation. Instead I came across promotion after promotion, all offering discounted rates. Is the only way to add value to your property to ask less for it?

During my visit, I went on an exceptional full-day tour with Liborio Nicoletti, a local Materno who’s seen the town during some of its darkest days until it was reborn again and inscribed into UNESCO in 1993. I left Matera feeling optimistic and enlightened by the extensive and riveting history of the place. This is no ordinary hill town; each and every stone has played some role in its evolution. And for lodging properties to take advantage of this story not only does justice to the heritage of this incredible town but also enhances the value of their brand, the experiences they offer, and them as the city’s storytellers.

So in the spirit of reflection and giving back, I’ve detailed three key takeaways from my visit to this rocky city to hopefully inspire some innovation in Matera’s crucial key bearers.


Sense-of-Place – Matera style

Branding & Marketing

Be careful not to confuse the two because they’re really not the same thing. I found that most branding was limited to a sketchy website, a few poorly composed photos of guest rooms, and a lot of Google Translate. Marketing was Facebook – and it was hardly ever a well published, fully complete page. No other social media platform was optimized for any property.

Imagine a knock at the door. Branding is about opening the door. How do you present yourself? Are you telling a compelling story? Is it complex enough to be interesting but simple enough to understand quickly? Or simply, How did you say hello?

Marketing, on the other hand, is if you were the person knocking. How did you knock? Are you tailoring your message to whom your selling? Are you being persuasive? Again it’s relevant, How did you say hello?

Now think about your website as your front door. How does the other side perceive you? Are you clear and professional? Are you different and unique? Is your story enticing enough to keep the listener interested? Are you prepared to take action immediately (i.e. take a reservation)?

Answering these questions honestly is the start to a strong branding and marketing strategy for your business.


Crafting Experiences

This is more important that you might think. And it can be summed up in a single word: packages.

Matera is the perfect place for packages. It’s isolated. And most of its attractions draw people to come and simply look at them, which explains why excursions and tours are the most popular. But they are often operated by another company which disconnects the excursion or tour from the lodging experience and thus doesn’t optimize it for the guests or the hotel.

But Matera is full of leisure travelers. Leisure guests are the most value-seeking, and nothing says value like a package.

A package experience could be a half-day tour with lunch included and a bottle of wine as a takeaway gift for 30€ a person. Or perhaps a sunset hike followed by an aperitivo picnic for 20€ a person. It’s the big the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-it’s-parts gig, where profit margins can be high, operation costs can be kept low, and you offer a unique experience that other properties don’t. Brand the experience and you only increase it’s value. It’s a win-win-win situation.


Peggy – the owner’s sweet dog at Residence San Pietro Barisano with the gorgeous view of Matera from the hotel’s entrance

Your Greatest Asset is your Story

Finally, Matera is full of incredible stories, but most of them are shared by everyone, including your competition – the caves being a prime example. Sharing in the history of Matera doesn’t make you unique from your competitors, so make sure the tale you tell is a bit different.

Many buildings used to be churches, homes, bakeries, animal stalls, or made up a part of an old neighborhood. Find out what happened in your location and build your brand around it. Or tell the story about you and your family’s involvement in the hotel. Then invite your guests to play a part and continue the history, transforming them from passive to active participants. Tell them they’ll help write history and, more often than not, it’ll be your place they choose.


To fully adopt a competitive approach to gain more reservations, improve your TripAdvisor reviews, or fans on Facebook isn’t a simple – or quick – task. Nor does it come free, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. SAYHELLO Creative is specialized in optimizing the branding, marketing, package development, and storytelling of small, independent hotels and restaurants in Italy (and with their budget in mind!). Together let’s make some of the Italy’s oldest human settlements the model for the future guesthouses of tomorrow.