Confturismo, the country’s tourism association, said Italy had already lost 30 million tourists between March and May.
From Rome to Milan, from Naples to Venice, Italy has been one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world for the past few decades.
A country with diverse offerings including 55 UNESCO World Heritage sites, fabulous beaches on three sides and top-notch ski slopes, the country was dependent on its visitors with around 4.2 million of the population employed in the tourism sector, representing 12 to 13% of the country’s population. GDP.
In 2019, the country welcomed more than 216 million tourists – a considerably high number for its 60 million inhabitants.
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Starting in late February with the first confirmed cases of COVID-19, Italy embarked on a new challenge, one that has been defined as “the worst crisis since World War II” by Prime Minister Conte. As one of the first EU countries to be affected, the whole country quickly went into quarantine, causing “Made in Italy” an immeasurable loss.
While the industrial sector is pressuring the government to “open up” as soon as possible to avoid further financial damage, those employed in tourism are not so lucky. In fact, the recovery of tourism does not only depend on national developments but also on the growth rates of the pandemic worldwide.
The country has suffered a decline in tourist numbers since the start of the year, which has now come to a complete halt. Confturismo, the country’s tourism association, said Italy had already lost 30 million tourists between March and May. This impact does not even include the damage that other related businesses, such as restaurants or small businesses, had to suffer. By the end of the year, the total loss should exceed 200 billion euros.
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Even when the hotels are ready for business, will Italy ever return to its former glory? Although there are tourists all year round, the spring-summer period is the peak season for tourism revenue in Italy. Hotels are already set to pass the Easter holidays closed, but the coming months could pose an even greater threat as many businesses are already receiving cancellations even for September.
According to Tourism Secretary Lorenza Bonaccorsi, it will take at least a few years for the country to get back to where it was when it comes to tourism. A chilling prediction for the survival of small businesses and establishments.
With Roman streets empty for the first time in decades, it’s already possible to find many AirBnBs listed as year-round rental properties as landlords fear losing more money.
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One of the strategies is to invite citizens to spend their annual holidays in Italy to compensate for part of the loss. But companies are canceling their summer holidays one by one – traditionally scheduled for August – and the economy is deteriorating. It is therefore a big question mark whether domestic tourists will have the time or the same amount of money as in previous years to spend on vacation.
The government is currently working on incentive programs that could ease the burden on those who earn their living through tourism. Various payments and taxes are deferred for the next few months. However, with closed businesses and zero income, it will still be impossible for citizens to make payments on the new deadlines. Many argue that government aid of 600 euros or suspensions is not enough, and the measures, for now, are not satisfactory for those who have taken the hit.
The most critical factor remains the unknown timing. It will take months for all restrictions to be lifted, and even then the concept of travel will have a whole new look. Just days ago, Lufthansa decided to shut down GermanWings, its charter airline, arguing that “aviation won’t recover for years”. But even when these flights or trains do work, will we ever be able to get on a crowded plane or wait in long queues at an airport over a weekend in a European capital?
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The virus won’t go away for a long time, so social distancing measures will continue, meaning travel and vacation plans will also have to adapt to this new reality. It is very likely that there will be fewer seats available on planes, trains and the capacity of hotels, guesthouses will be reduced.
These limitations could also lead to higher overall prices, making travel difficult for people who have already suffered the economic consequences of the pandemic or leading them to simpler and less expensive choices closer to home.
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For now, in Italy, the the reopening date is still unknown for restaurants, bars, hotels and similar establishments. One thing is certain, however: the return to normal will not happen overnight.
Even when the government gives the green light, the readjustment phase will take many months, even years. So, the crucial question is: when will this tide turn, and will tourist establishments still be standing on that date?