How a mother and son built their successful travel business

Multicoloured buildings on top of a headland on a sunny coastline

Starting your own business is always an adventure - but how is that different when going into business as a mother and son duo? It's not one of the most typical business set-ups, but for mother and son team Deborah de Maio and Rem Malloy, it's a dynamic that has worked

The pair set up their European specialist holiday company Italy4Real 25 years ago and are still going strong. Here they tell us the best and worst things about their working relationship, and their tips for starting your own business.

How it all began

Rem and Deborah founded Italy4Real in 1995. The pair have an Italian-American background - Deborah is a first generation Italian-American - and their journey started when they struggled to find a travel specialist offering a truly authentic Italian trip. Spotting a gap in the market, they decided to set up their own tour company bringing true Italian hospitality and first-class luxury experiences to travel groups looking for a real taste of Italy.

Since then they have handcrafted unique tours allowing people to customise and create their own dream Italy break with the help of the pair’s expert local knowledge and connections. They have also expanded to offer tours across Europe, including France, England, Spain and more.

The best part of working together

"Rem and I have a shared passion for the tours that we provide," says Deborah. "We both have a similar background and enthusiasm for Italy and travel which we bring to the company. At the same time, we each have different areas of expertise which we bring to the business. Watching your child succeed is the best thing you can experience as a mother, and getting to be a part of that success - well that’s just even better."

Rem says: "Mum has always been an inspiration for me, and working together each day she continues to inspire me - we have a shared goal to provide the best possible service for our clients and that is what makes our business a success."

The biggest challenge

"Of course when you work with your family - be it your parent, child, sibling or partner - there can be a fine line between work and family life. We need to ensure that when in the office, especially when we have a team of staff, we still treat each other with the same respect as we would any other colleague … and not get carried away with any family gossip," says Deborah.

"At the same time," says Rem, "when we're not at work we have to leave work conversations at the office. The entire family doesn’t want to hear about our latest business ideas at every birthday, wedding and graduation we attend. Even when you own your own business, it’s important to find some time to yourself each day and know when to close office for the night."

Our top three tips:

  • Find a gap in the market. We found a huge gap in the tourism industry which we knew there was an appetite for. We were able to create a unique product and that’s something that we continue to develop every day.
  • Use your passions and interests. We founded Italy4Real because we are passionate about Italy. We have Italian heritage, we love the country and our expert local knowledge sets us apart from our competitors - and that definitely contributes to our success.
  • Work with people you trust. Our unique dynamic as a parent/child business team works because we trust each other and communicate effectively. When you're running your own business, it’s important to work with people you can rely on to bring the same commitment and enthusiasm as you - that’s definitely crucial in a business partner and is a great reason to consider teaming up as a family.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.