Tourists are back in Italy – a country that was the epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak months ago, claiming nearly 35,000 lives.
European Union borders have reopened to tourists from a list of countries without the need to quarantine. But the United States is not on this list – much to the dismay of Italian companies.
With the tourism industry accounting for 13% of Italy’s gross domestic product, Italy’s economy – already battered by the COVID-19 pandemic – is set to suffer significant losses without American tourists who are also the biggest spenders.
Since the country started reopening its borders on June 3, European travelers have been the first to return, then from last week those from a number of non-EU countries have followed. However, American tourists – the second largest group of visitors to Italy after Germans – are still banned from entering the country except for urgent reasons.
Today, the few American visitors seen in Italy often have a story to tell. Colleen Hewson, a retiree from the US city of Detroit, and her husband came in March to visit the ruins of Pompeii to find them closed due to the pandemic. They were caught in Italy’s lockdown, stayed and were among the first to return to the archaeological site when it reopened in late May.
“We are here on vacation for our 30th (wedding) anniversary in an Airbnb (vacation home rental) with a local and he was kind enough to accommodate us until the lockdown ended and the ruins opened” , said Colleen Hewson. .
Expensive hotels popular with Americans, such as in the Amalfi Coast region, are bracing for big losses this holiday season. Some have partially reopened, others not at all.
Fifteen million Americans visit Europe each year, many of them during the summer. Their absence is a blow since they represent ten percent of Europe’s overall economy.
The EU’s decision to exclude travelers from certain countries, including the United States, is based on infection rates. Other major countries from which tourists are banned are Brazil and Russia. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea are permitted entry.
Last week, five American tourists hit the headlines when they were refused entry to Sardinia, another favorite American destination. They were forced to leave Cagliari airport after flying to the Mediterranean island on a private jet.
The Italian government says 5.6 million Americans visit Italy each year, with July being their favorite travel month. Besides the more common destinations like Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan, many flock to seaside resorts like the Amalfi Coast and the main islands of Sardinia and Sicily – where food and culture are named as the biggest draw. .