OPINION: Why Italy’s famed Chianti area must now switch to more sustainable tourism

OPINION: Why Italy's famed Chianti area must now switch to more sustainable tourism
Sunflowers cover a hill in the Chianti region of Tuscany in July 2019. File photo: AFP
As Italy's tourist hotspots get ready to welcome visitors again, Laura*, a guest house owner who has lived in Tuscany for 30 years, argues that now is the time for towns like hers to take a more balanced approach.

Together with my partner, I run a small guest house in our own home, in a popular tourist town in the Chianti area of Tuscany. I've been here for 30 years. This year we're in dire straits as we have no income for the foreseeable future.

The area of Chianti, and its three main towns in particular, live and die by tourism. Due to the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting shutdown, we are now in a state of calamity.

These areas now really need to take a good look at what their economy is based on, and take this opportunity to re-evaluate.

READ ALSO: Will Italy's tourism businesses ever fully recover from the coronavirus shutdown?

Do we really want to continue with the hordes of coach parties traipsing through our town every day in the summer? The vast amount of resorts that are continuing to appear with swimming pools and en suite bathrooms that the Chianti area just does not have enough water resources to satisfy? The useless object shops that replace the usual everyday shops, which means, come the end of the season, the town is pretty much deserted, apart from the supermarket and the weekly market?

Ours is not only a tourist town. There is also the other side – that of small agricultural activities that are not connected to tourism, but seem to be ignored in this desperate rush to return to normality.

Many parts of the famously beautiful Italian region of Tuscany rely heavily on tourism for income. File photo: AFP

I wonder why our comune isn’t thinking about investing in more renewable activities that will offer a future to local people and their children, instead of agonising about when we can open our doors to visitors again?

At a virtual meeting last week of local tourist businesses with our mayor, I did not hear one person say “how can we diversify the local economy?” “how can we help make this a thriving, local town once again?”

No, everyone was saying “I want to open by the end of May, because I have bookings that I don’t want to cancel.”

READ ALSO: Italy's tourist towns suffer under coronavirus lockdown

No-one mentioned a potential second wave of contagion, or the risk to more vulnerable people in our community. People have even written to Italian president Sergio Mattarella, Tuscany's regional president Enrico Rossi, and anyone else they can think of to ask for help in relaunching this economy. Tourism has broken down the sense of community here.

Our little family too depends totally on tourism, and we have therefore contributed to this terrible imbalance – although we have tried to encourage our visitors to be more conscious of what they consume and take away from the local community.

READ ALSO: Will it be possible to travel to Italy again from June 3rd?

I would like to see a lower impact, slower tourism – minimum stays of five nights, more collaboration between the structures and the local authorities, fairer pricing, and many other things.

As Italy looks at restarting tourism for summer, this could have been the moment to discuss how to move forward.

As it is, I fear that people are intending to hike up their prices and seek out a more ‘elite’ class of tourist, i.e. one with more money to spend, thus filtering out the “hoi polloi” and resulting in an even clearer distinction between the wealthy people who come to “experience the real Tuscany” and those of us who have to survive here.

*The writer wished to remain anonymous due to safety concerns

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