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TOURISM

How Italy’s beaches are preparing for a very different summer

Beach season is around the corner and all along Italy's vast coastlines, preparations have begun to attract sun-worshippers and their wallets while safeguarding against the lingering coronavirus.

How Italy's beaches are preparing for a very different summer
Cleaning a deckchair on Jesolo beach near Venice. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Most beaches throughout the country remain off-limits. Along some stretches of seafront, however, the sight of colourful, carefully spaced parasols and lounge chairs in the sand hint at economic activity waiting anxiously to restart.

On the Adriatic coast, the hotels, restaurants and seaside resorts flanking the beaches are a vital part of the regional economy, as flocks of tourists — both Italian and international — vie for a spot in the sun.

READ ALSO: Why the Italian government might give you up to €500 to go on holiday in Italy

“To speak of beaches is a matter of life or death for the economy,” Luca Zaia, president of the northern region of Veneto, said on Wednesday during a press conference.

Veneto, which includes Venice, is the Italian region that attracts the most tourists, who add €18 billion to the economy each year. About half of that comes from beach activity.

That means that beach hotels are now in high gear, disinfecting chaise lounges, spacing out tables and using technology to help.


Beach cabins in near Savona, in Liguria. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Remote-controlled parasols

Italy's government — well aware of the importance of the tourism sector, which represents 15 percent of the jobs in the country — this week issued a series of rules for beach businesses.

Umbrellas must be placed 4.5 metres apart, common areas such as showers and bars must be sanitised, and disinfecting gel must be provided in heavily trafficked areas.

READ ALSO: 

Most beaches throughout the country remain closed, with regional and local officials having the authority to decide when to open them.

To the east of Venice in Jesolo, dozens of hotels line the beach, Miami Beach style. Here, technology is helping to keep the virus at a distance. Parasols open and close via remote control, bathrooms self-disinfect, and electronic bracelets are used to open lockers and restrooms.


Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Alessandro Berton, president of the professional union Unionmare Veneto, told AFP that businesses had begun preparations over the past few weeks. Among other efforts, the industry has improved its online booking system to prevent people from congregating near entrances to the beach establishments, he said.

But booking is useless unless hotel operators can anticipate when the tourists will arrive, said Christofer De Zotti, director of the Mondial Hotel.

READ ALSO: When will we be able to travel to Italy again?

“The real turning point will be the opening of the borders,” said De Zotti, pointing out that foreigners make up 60 percent of his clientele.

“It's important to know when they will be allowed to take their vacation in Italy,” he said.

'An awful situation'

In Cesenatico, two hours to the south in the neighbouring region of Emilia-Romagna, all the seaside resorts stretching along the coast are closed and only three hotels out of 310 are open.

But despite the closed shutters, all of them are busy trying to restart as soon as possible.

“Normally I would have opened at the beginning of March,” said Simone Battistoni, whose family has been running the Bagno Milano beach concession since 1927.

Battistoni and his colleague Guido Gargiulo, a 37-year-old former footballer, are currently testing newly installed parasols and deckchairs. “Guido, can you believe it moves me to see these sunshades,” Simone said with a smile.


Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Both men come to the same conclusion: the new rules will force them to reduce the number of parasols by at least a third, forcing them to take a cut in revenue of the same size. Battistoni said he envisions hiring 70 people this season, far short of the 120 usually employed.

“It's an awful situation,” laments Fiorenzo Presepi, owner of the nearby La Dolce Vita hotel. “Normally I would be full from Sunday. The Giro d'Italia [bike race] was making a stop here and the Germans had been booking for a year and staying for at least a week.”

Similar complaints are heard in Rimini, where the shutters of the exclusive Grand Hotel remain closed. The beaches are empty and only a few surfers take the opportunity to hit the waves, including Marco Vannucci, 62.

“Here, everything revolves around tourism,” he said. 

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STRIKES

Calendar: The transport strikes to expect in Italy this February

Travellers are once again set to face serious disruption as Italy will experience a new round of transport strikes in February. Here's what you can expect in the coming weeks.

Calendar: The transport strikes to expect in Italy this February

Travel to, from and across Italy was disrupted by dozens of strikes in January

And, while many travellers might have hoped for a change in the trend, strikes are set to continue into February as Italian unions have already announced a further round of demonstrations affecting rail and public transport services as well as airline travel.

Here’s an overview of February’s main strike actions, including a national public transport strike on Friday, February 17th and another nationwide walkout from airport ground staff on Tuesday, February 28th.

Public transport

February 17th: Public transport staff will take part in a national 24-hour strike on Friday, February 17th. 

The strike was called in late January by Italian union USB (Unione Sindacale di Base) to protest against precarious work and “wild privatisation” attempts on the part of the Italian state.

READ ALSO: Should you travel in Italy when there’s a strike on?

There currently aren’t any details as to what percentage of workers will take part in the action. As such, the amount of disruption travellers should expect on the day cannot be estimated yet. 

Air travel

February 12th: Air traffic control staff at Perugia’s San Francesco d’Assisi airport will take part in a 24-hour strike action on Sunday, February 12th. 

It isn’t yet clear how the walkout in question will affect air travel to and from the airport on the day.

Travellers at an Italian airport

A national strike from ground service staff may cause delays and queues at many Italian airports on Tuesday, February 28th. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

February 28th: Baggage handlers and other airport ground service staff will take part in a national 24-hour strike on Tuesday, February 28th. 

It isn’t yet clear how the strike will affect air travel during the day, though a similar demonstration caused significant delays and queues at some Italian airports in late January.

ENAV air traffic operators based in Calabria are also expected to strike on February 28th, with the walkout set to start at 1pm and end at 5pm.

Rail

February 5th-6th: Calabria-based Trenitalia staff will strike from 9pm on Sunday, February 5th to 9pm the following day. 

A list of guaranteed services in the region is available here.

February 9th: Staff from Lombardy’s Trenord will take part in a 22-hour strike – from 2am to 11.50pm – on Thursday, February 9th.

Empty train platform in Codogno, Lombardy

Staff from Lombardy’s regional railway operator Trenord will strike for 22 hours on Thursday, February 9th. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

It’s currently unclear whether Trenord will operate minimum services on the day. Any information regarding the strike will be released on the following website page

February 12th-13th: Trenitalia staff in Emilia-Romagna will strike from 3.30am on Sunday, February 12th to 2.30am on Monday, February 13th.

A list of guaranteed services in the region is available here.

February 19th: Veneto-based Trenitalia staff will strike from 9am to 5pm on Sunday, February 19th. 

Guaranteed services are available here.

On the same day, there will be no service between Milan’s Milano Centrale station and Paris’s Gare de Lyon due to a strike from staff at France’s national railway company SNCF.

READ ALSO: Trains and planes: Italy’s new international travel routes in 2023

February 20th: Trenitalia personnel in Lombardy are expected to strike from 9am to 5pm on Monday, February 20th. 

Guaranteed services haven’t been made available yet. 

You can keep up to date with the latest strike news from Italy HERE.

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