Home » Alessio Virgili CEO of Quiiky Tours

Alessio Virgili CEO of Quiiky Tours

Business Profile

by Lawrence Ferber
Alessio Virgili CEO of Quiiky Tours (Photo by Nick Zonna)

Quiiky Tours first earned a spot on the literal and figurative maps, and a little multilingual controversy, thanks to a tour titled “Vatican Museum in a Gay Light."

(Photo by Nick Zonna Copia)

While it offers no guarantee of “evil gays,” a murder plot, or Jennifer Coolidge, you can at least experience the stunning Sicily and Mediterranean Sea locations of HBO’s outrageous White Lotus during season two in Quiiky’s The White Lotus Tour.

Italy’s first homegrown and locally based LGBTQ+ tour specialist, Quiiky Tours (quiiky.com) first earned a spot on the literal and figurative maps, and a little multilingual controversy, thanks to a tour titled “Vatican Museum in a Gay Light,” which shares deliciously scandalous, insightful, and often hidden queer histories behind the Vatican’s works of art, artists, and even Popes, while taking in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Grottoes, and more. A cornerstone of Quiiky’s “Untold History”-themed offerings, 2014 saw the New York Times take notice and interviewed Quiiky’s co-founder and CEO, Alessio Virgili, and today the Vatican museums tour remains a top seller among its over two dozen day and multi-day itineraries. Even some priests have inquired about and booked it. “It happens sometimes,” Virgili admits, smiling, during a Zoom call. “And we do have some gay friendly priests in Italy, who perform gay marriages.”

The Rome-raised, 38-year-old Virgili and his partner in love and business, Andrea Cosimi (the pair first met in a straight disco when they were 18 and 21, respectively) got their start in the travel and tourism sector in 2002 with LGBTQ+ umbrella company and hotel management firm, Sonders & Beach. Since then they have expanded to include subsidiary Quiiky Tours (founded in 2007), the bilingual digital Quiiky Magazine, and Queer Vadis, an IGLTA-recognized self-certification program for LGBTQ+ tourism businesses in Italy (Virgili also co-founded and is president of AITGL: Ente Nazionale Turismo LGBTQ+).

Quiiky’s tours range from just a couple of hours to full day or multi-day itineraries for groups of up to 15-20 max (or privately for as few as just two clients). Besides those focused on a specific city, town, or place there are themed tours around history, romance, performing arts (yes, opera); queer Italy-centric movies/books like House of Gucci, Death In Venice, and Call Me By Your Name; and artists who lived in Italy including gay photographer Wilhem von Gloeden (best known for his provocative early 1900s images of male nudes snapped around Sicily’s Taormina), Leonardo Da Vinci, and Norwegian-American expat Hendrik Christian Andersen. 2023 will see a new tour encompassing Italian sites that Oscar Wilde and his tempestuous lover Alfred “Bosie” Douglas visited, with plenty of gossip about their exploits involving local young men.

In a Zoom call with Passport, Virgili, who splits his time between Rome and Milan, discussed Quiiky, working with his life partner (their civil union is planned for September 2023), and some gay spots he’d personally take visitors.

What was the first Quiiky tour?
Israel, and our first tour was on history because what’s in Israel? We met the ministry of tourism at a trade show and started working with them very closely. They were very open and we decided to start with this tour, in Tel Aviv. After, we went to Gran Canaria and Mykonos. When I founded this company with my boyfriend at the beginning, it was a little bit hard because for many people seeing an LGBTQ+ tour operator in the travel industry here was a shock. Our country is Catholic, we have the Pope, so it’s not simple, but after many years the [Italian travel agencies] started to understand the value of this market. Many agencies started to show our product to clients and include our packages on their websites and in their offices. It’s easier year after year.

Once you started Quiiky, how often would you try the competition to get a feel for what’s out there?
Every year we search our competition. We have two people in the marketing department and they try to do something new every year. For example, when we started we were focused only on international LGBTQ destinations, not in Italy. We understand Italy is not like Barcelona or New York. We don’t have many gay bars or neighborhoods, but we have a lot of culture about LGBTQ+ people from ancient Rome. After a few years we decided to do something for Italy and focus on the ancient culture side in
our tours.

Leonardo da Vinci Tour in Milan (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

Leonardo da Vinci Tour in Milan (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

Although the Vatican tour is still immensely popular, what are your next most popular tours?
The “Leonardo Da Vinci’s Genius Under A Gay Light” day tour in Milan. I think because Milan has been very popular since five years ago, similar to Rome in numbers of tourists, and we are able to offer these and the people are very interested to learn about Da Vinci. The other is the Call Me By Your Name tour. It’s based in Crema, a city close to Milan, so people who come to Milan can join this tour, and see the villages of Pandino, Trescone, and Moscazzano. It’s very nice because there’s nature, you get a bike and ride around these very beautiful places.

Is there an Italian city or location you think people should consider touring that’s not already very popular? And are there others in the works that are not already offered?
Yes. We have a tour on Lake Garda and we have some tours in not very big cities, but we have to work more to promote them. I think Apulia, like Gallipoli, and the Sorrento area are very nice places gay people should consider. Also Sicily and Sardinia, where there are many gay beaches and natural things to see. Many think the south of Italy isn’t very open, but it’s not true. Of course, there are some in the south that are closed-minded, but the big cities like Naples, Palermo and Apulia are very gay friendly and with very handsome gay people! We are thinking about doing a tour in Sardinia, it could be a great choice. We also want to do something in the middle of Italy like Umbria. It’s similar to Tuscany, but a little bit different. We want to open a gay hotel there because it’s a very nice area where people can relax and enjoy the nature.

What about places in Italy that you would not want to offer a tour? Like Naples’ crime ridden areas as seen in HBO’s gritty, LGBTQ+ inclusive crime series Gomorrah?
Naples is a very gay friendly destination! We have a very nice gay guide, he does a tour for us of not only Naples but also Pompeii. Of course, there are some Naples neighborhoods where it’s better to not go, but not just for gays, also for straights, too!

How are you and your boyfriend different as travelers and as co-workers, and does that bring a synergy?
We are very similar. Maybe because we have been together for such a long time. But I prefer to relax and stay in the hotel; he prefers to start the tour from 8 A.M. and I sleep in a little bit more. I’m creative and I want to do a lot of things, while he’s very pragmatic. We’re a good combination.

Vatican Museum's Gay Tour (Quiiky Tours)

Vatican Museum’s Gay Tour (Quiiky Tours)

Have any Quiiky tours led to dating and romance for clients?
Oh yes, of course, a lot of times. A couple from Atlantis Cruises that visited Rome decided to do our Vatican tour, and they told me they met on the cruise and fell in love. They decided to come with us to dinner. We went around Rome to show them some local sites at night, and now after I think three or four years, they are still together.

Where would you personally take friends who are visiting Rome and Milan?
In Rome, my favorite place to show friends is Castelli Romani. It’s an area very close to Rome, it’s a mountain area where the Pope goes during the summer, like Castel Gandolfo. It’s nice, close to a lake, and there are many nice restaurants. Also, inside Rome, Gianicolo. You can see all the ancient parts of the city from there, especially if you go at 12 A.M. with the nice light. In Milan, I like to show them Navigli, a district inside the city where guys go outside at night with bars and restaurants. It’s very active and vibrant.

Which city has better food? Milan or Rome?
My preference is Rome! You have to try for sure Suppli, which is rice with tomatoes and fried meat. If you want pasta, carbonara is the best, but we also have Carciofi alla giudìa, fried artichokes Jewish style, because we have a very big Jewish neighborhood and their culture is similar.

What’s a favorite gay bar?
The first to open in Rome, it’s called Coming Out. It’s just in front of the Colosseum, it’s managed by a lesbian, and is just downstairs from a gay friendly hotel. In Milan, Leccomilano bar. It’s in Porta Venezia, the gay neighborhood where people live and work and go out. I think it’s the biggest LGBTQ district in Italy.

Outside Italy, what are a few of your favorite destinations or places you’d love to visit?
I love French Polynesia and want to do something there [with Quiiky], especially because they have a very nice ancient culture. We went just for five days and that wasn’t enough. It was for work, not leisure, and we want to return. We want to see Australia, because we’ve never been there.

What are the most romantic places in the world in your opinion?
French Polynesia for the beaches. Lapland for a winter destination. And in Italy, Taormina.

Do you think the Pope will ever try a Quiiky tour himself? Would you like to take this opportunity and invite Pope Francis?
Yeah. I can do that! Of course. But I don’t know if he will accept our invitation. This Pope seems very open, but I don’t know!

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