WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. — Steve Perillo of Saddle River has led Perillo Tours – the world's largest operator of escorted tours to Italy — into a new era.
Boomers remember the TV commercials of his father, the late Mario Perillo, known as “Mr. Italy.”
Following in that tradition, Steve also has directly appealed to a new generation in recent ads.
“Ah, Puccini,” he says in one, as he plays the piano. “It brings out the Italy in all of us.”
He’s also been featured with his ever-present companion, Harry, his Golden Retriever.
Mario took over the Bronx travel agency of his father, Joseph. In the 1970s, he moved it to Pearl River and started offering tours of Italy.
In 1988, Mario moved the business to its present home: Perillo Plaza on Chestnut Ridge Road in Woodcliff Lake.
The place is designed to look like an Italianate palazzo, complete with a statue of David in the front courtyard.
“My father’s time was unique,” Steve said. “It was the beginning of the modern travel business after the war when the jet aircraft came in for the first time.
“Before then, there wasn’t mass travel at all.”
Since 2003, when he took the reins of the business, travelers have become increasingly more sophisticated, Steve said. They’ve had more experiences than the travelers of yesteryear.
That’s why the son has spent years perfecting what his father created.
Steve, who has been to Italy some 100 times, hand-picks the tour guides as well as the restaurants and hotels.
He also builds in pleasant surprises for his tourgoers.
“You can’t fool around,” he said. “You have to have great food and accommodations have to be happy places.”
Gone are the days of 55-person tours.
Groups now have some 40 people, Steve said, and they’re getting smaller all the time. People prefer traveling with 12 or 15 couples.
Yet some things have stayed the same.
Perillo Tours offers 10 different tours of Italy.
The biggest seller today is the same as it was in 1975 — two weeks going to five cities in Italy.
“It never changed,” Steve said. “People want to see the basics.”
After all this time, he has a personal favorite spot: Positano, near Naples, the place from which his family hails.
“The food is heaven. The place is heaven,” Steve said. “They make this mozzarella. It’s an hour old. It’s so soft and juicy. And the tomatoes. The pasta with the seafood. Positano is a knockout.”
Most countries, he said, would like to have just one of Italy’s fabulous cities.
Steve also has brought Perillo Tours into the tech era, most recently with Travel Genie , which allows people to plan a trip — any kind of trip — online.
Perillo Tours take people to a variety of places in the world, not just Italy.
For those who travel for self-improvement, another modern trend, it offers Perillo’s Learning Journeys to Ireland, Spain, Italy and Israel .
Some journeys are led by Ramapo College professors.
Perillo said one of his nephews is destined to take over Perillo Tours, ensuring family leadership into a fourth generation.