Wanted in Rome interviews Antonio Barreca, Managing Director of Federturismo, one of the key figures in the Italian travel and tourism industry.
by Marco Venturini
What is the current situation of tourism in Italy?
The health and economic crisis caused by the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the tourism sector. Although we are aware that the recovery will not be easy, the acceleration of the vaccination campaign, the easing of restrictions and the Italian and European “green pass” allow us to give way to a certain optimism for this summer.
Slightly less than half of Italians will go on vacation, although for the moment we are still seeing reservations concentrated mainly in August, who see Italy as their favorite destination. For the arrival of foreigners, it will be necessary to wait until the second half of July when there will be a greater propensity to travel guaranteed by a resumption of mobility in complete safety.
The sea is the favorite destination of six out of ten Italians, led by Puglia, Tuscany, Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and Sardinia. Estimates of flows in the summer months, according to a survey conducted with Demoskopika, nearly 166 million visitors for nearly 39 million arrivals, up 16 and 11% in 2020. Levels which would still lead to closing the year with a deficit of more than 50% compared to the records of 2019.
What are the most worrying elements and what are the most hopeful elements for the future of the industry?
Being able to integrate the organization of the proposed structural measures, as well as the digitization of processes and coordination of actors, could make the tourism sector to take this decisive step towards growth. The resources foreseen in the NRRP (Nnational recovery and resilience plan) are more important than those of the past and concentrated in time, but what worries us is their destination and how to ensure the effectiveness of spending.
In order to promote tourism effectively, it is necessary bring together a series of distinct interventions on different fronts, because it is only thanks to their synergy that the plan can succeed in terms of economic development and enhancement of the Italian national heritage. We need to be long-term and work now on deep structural reforms that lay the foundations for an environment that is truly more suited to businesses and workers. Our businesses need to eliminate red tape and be simplified: we cannot afford to remain locked in a layer of regulations and bureaucracy.
How do you think international tourism will influence future summer holidays?
Although we will not be able to count on a large number, foreign tourists want to enjoy an all-Italian holiday. Yes Europeans, especially the Austrians, the Germans and the French are moderately confident, we are confident in the return of the Americans who, thanks to a mass vaccination campaign and Covid-tested flights, are starting to reappear, and not only in Ischia. To see the Russians and the Chinese, you will have to wait since their vaccines are not recognized by the EU.
When do you expect the industry to return to normal?
Although Euromonitor data predicts that Italy will return to pre-pandemic levels by 2025, we are more optimistic, hoping for a return to normal from 2024. The recovery will be closely linked to plans to contain the virus with vaccination campaigns and measures to encourage the movement of people.
It is recent news that countries like Germany and France are closing to tourists from the UK. Do you think there is an equal risk of this happening in Italy?
The high transmissibility of Indian variant led France to adopt a seven-day quarantine for anyone arriving from the UK from May 31. A decision which was preceded by the movements of Germany and Austria which respectively imposed a quarantine of two weeks and direct flights prohibited. Nobody can exclude that Italy could also be in the position of having to resort to such an intervention even if we hope that the vaccination campaign has arrived safely and that vaccines that are largely effective even in the face of this variant can avoid a measure which, just at the gates of the summer season, would further penalize tourism.
To date, what are the entry policies for European and American tourists?
Since mid-May, the tightening of regulations for those arriving in Italy from abroad has been relaxed. American tourists are among the very few non-European foreigners who, thanks to their vaccination campaign and Covid-tested flights, can now enter Italy without a quarantine obligation (but they must take samples before arrival and return). All this while waiting for the first of July when the green pass will suffice.
In your opinion, what are the 3 measures to be put in place immediately to help the sector?
In this delicate and long-awaited phase of restarting, a major problem remains, given the summer season, the difficulty for entrepreneurs to find staff and specific professional personalities on the market, due to citizenship income. To remedy this anomaly, distorting the labor market, an immediate corrective measure would be necessary, such as the overhaul of taxation on the cost of labor to allow workers to receive a higher net salary and thus make work more attractive than citizenship income, with substantial savings for the state coffers. An even more abnormal scenario if we consider that in 2020 the number of people employed in the sector has dropped dramatically.
It is, moreover, necessary to support the liquidity of companies by all means. In particular, with regard to the measures for access to credit and liquidity, we believe that the extension of the current measures and the extension of the repayment terms of guaranteed loans are positive and should help companies to emerge from the phase critical. Even if the operation of certain provisions is subject to authorization by the European Commission and the absence of structured intervention for the capitalization of companies remains, as well as the excessive bureaucratization of procedures which has made access to aid very complex, especially for SMEs.
And then there is the question, absolutely central to the competitiveness of our companies, of the enhancement and quality of our country’s tourist offer, for which we constantly stress the importance of the extension of the Superbonus by 110% which would make it possible to upgrade the Italian tourist offer to the best international standards. An effort that cannot be asked today of companies and entrepreneurs who have not worked for months and whose turnover has been decimated.
Since July 2011 Antonio Barreca was general manager of Federal tourism, the Italian National Federation of the Travel and Tourism Industry which is part of Confindustria (the Italian Confederation of Employers). He served in 2014 as Senior Tourism Advisor for Sicily. He has been a member of the Tourism Sustainability Group of the European Commission since February 2011 and Vice President of the Tourism Committee of the Italian Organization for Standardization (UNI), an association that publishes standards for the industrial, commercial and tertiary sectors.