INTERVIEW: Here’s how much tourism Italy can expect to get this year

Italy is restarting tourism again from June, but how many visitors will actually come back this summer? The Local spoke to the president of Italy's National Tourism Agency to find out.

INTERVIEW: Here's how much tourism Italy can expect to get this year
Tourists walking in central Rome on May 18th, as many of Italy's lockdown rules were lifted. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Italy's tourism sector, and its economy as a whole, has taken a major hit as visitors stay away this year due to the coronavirus outbreak. Huge losses were reported as travellers cancelled their bookings even before Italy shut down in early March, when all but the most essential travel to Italy became impossible.

The resulting economic hit to one of the world's most-visited nations is profound. Tourism employs an estimated 4.2 million people in Italy – just under a fifth of the entire official workforce. The tourism sector accounts for 13 percent of Italian GDP.

Up to 60 million foreign visitors came to Italy annually in the past few years, and until the coronavirus outbreak, that figure was only expected to keep growing. 

With Italy now planning to restart tourism in June, many hope this will be enough to keep tourist businesses afloat. But will visitors return in the same numbers? And if so, when?


Giorgio Palmucci, President of Italy's National Tourism Agency (ENIT), told The Local that hundreds of thousands of people are already planning to return to Italy in the second half of 2020 – with Brits and Americans leading the charge.

“At the moment there are 300,000 reservations, a provisional figure which we hope will keep growing,” he said.

While travel within the EU, including to and from the UK, is allowed from June 3rd – with no quarantine requirements – there's still no confirmed date from which tourism from outside Europe will be possible.

The EU's external borders are currently closed to non-essential travel until at least June 15th.

Rome's Spanish steps in August 2019 (top) and March 2020 (bottom). Photos: AFP

But once it is possible to travel again, Palmucci expects “a rapid recovery of international tourism from distant markets, especially in the States.”

“Flights [between the US and Italy] have already been announced by some companies such as Alitalia for example,” he said, adding that last year, Italy had 4.4 million visitors from North America, a figure which had increased by seven percent year on year.

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

“For the European market, the British are expected to be among the first to restart tourism into Italy,” he said.

Italy had 6.4 million British visitors last year – an increase of 6.3 percent on the previous year, he said.

Though there has been a lot of attention focused on airports reopening and flights resuming, Palmucci pointed out that air travel accounts for “only a part” of international arrivals, with “over 50 percent of foreign visitors arriving by car.”

The ban on interregional travel was lifted on June 3rd, the same day as European travel was allowed again. With italians also avoiding holidays abroad this year, Palmucci expects this will mean the already-large domestic tourism market will grow.

Photo: AFP

“Normally Italian tourism is split, with 50 percent foreign tourists and 50 percent Italian visitors,” he explained. “An increase in domestic tourism is expected this year, which will dictate the first signs of recovery.”

As for more long-term changes to the industry, Palmucci said we can expect tourism in Italy to become “greener and slower”.

“Post-Covid crisis, there will be an opportunity to tackle the issue of sustainability and a new way of proposing and experiencing tourism,” he said.

Many Italian residents, visitors, and even those working in the travel industry say now is the time for change, with many of Italy's tourism hotspots famously struggling to deal with overtourism in recent years.


Palmucci described the relaunch of tourism in Italy as “an opportunity for all operators in the sector to raise quality standards, and to carry out the renewals and adaptations that the sector requires, with the advance of innovation and environmental policies.

He added that “many areas which had to deal with overtourism will have the opportunity to direct these flows into lesser-known areas.”

While Italian tourism may look somewhat different in future, Palmucci predicts that, in economic terms at least, it may not take too long to get back to where it was last year.

“I think that the results of 2019 can be achieved in 2022,” he said.

Whether Italy's hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-focused businesses will be able to survive until then remains to be seen.

READ ALSO: 'This won't be a normal summer': How the EU hopes to save the holiday season

Member comments

  1. I understand the need for positive news these days. Very key. But with all due respect, I cannot see how Mr. Palmucci expects tourists from US to be returning any time soon.

    “Flights [between the US and Italy] have already been announced by some companies such as Alitalia for example,” he said, adding that last year, Italy had 4.4 million visitors from North America, a figure which had increased by seven percent year on year. – I assume this relates to the recent announcement by Alitalia that it is resuming flight to NY – that’s one US destination. The largest airline in the world, American Airlines, cancelled all direct flights to Italy until October 25th and then only from Philadelphia. It used to fly directly from 6 US cities to Rome alone.

    Many in the tourist industry will not be able to wait until 2022 to achieve results of last year. And can’t imagine local Italian tourism will help make the difference in the meantime. Just take a stroll through the centro historic of Rome and look and listen.

    A very sad time indeed. Somehow, most will get through this but real hardships are yet to come. I am personally getting tired of unrealistic comments and wishful thinking from people in “leadership’ positions.

  2. I agree with the previous statements, but allow me to add that if social distancing and authoritarian measures are required then the entire tourist outlook will continue to be dim. No one is interested in sitting in restaurants being served by masked waiters or walled off with plastic while enjoying one’s meal. The same goes for having your temperature taken or herded along like cattle with some attendant barking orders to not get too close while in a queue. These draconian restrictions were meant to ‘flatten’ the curve and if these become the new ‘normal’ [I hate that term] then, thanks, but I and many others will simply stay home.

  3. I agree with Luigi above. I have my flights & residences booked for mid-October 2020, but if I won’t have access to the museums and more importantly, the people and the personality of the small towns, I will be forced to delay. But I really hope to be there in October!

  4. I too have serious doubts about the US market. Traditionally in the advent of any major crisis the Americans tend to stay home. Not the least being they can hop in a car and be in multiple attractive destinations. I wonder if the 300,000 reservations include those that have been booked in previous months and most of them will not be taken up.

  5. I have yet to find any news about when the U.S. State Department will lift the “do not travel” advisory for travel to Europe. Americans will not be able to travel to Europe for tourism until the advisory level drops to level 2 (at level 4 now). Health insurance, travel insurance and the like is unlikely to cover anyone going from the US to Europe under an advisory. And quarantine upon return would be required. Quarantine might also be required upon arrival. So it is impossible to visit yet.

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Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels to discuss the latest Covid situation in China - so could this mark the return of vaccine passports and travel restrictions?

Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Several EU countries including France, Italy and Spain (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) have already imposed travel restrictions on arrivals from China, over fears of new variants of Covid-19.

The countries announced their restrictions – mostly amounting to compulsory tests and masks – on a unilateral basis at the end of last week, but there have been calls for greater co-ordination at an EU level.

There is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures, with an insider telling Politico: “The idea is to harmonise, but without being extremely prescriptive.”

The meeting has been called by Sweden, which now holds the rotating presidency of the EU. 

So what measures are likely?

At present the countries that have announced restrictions have only imposed testing and mask rules – there is no requirement to show proof of vaccination and no travel bans. All measures only apply only to travellers from China.

A meeting of the European Health Safety Committee last Thursday did not produce any concrete measures, with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides merely urging member states to coordinate quickly. It was after this that some countries announced their own restrictions.

If anything more concrete comes out of Wednesday’s meeting, it is likely to refer to testing or mask rules only and like the previous EU Covid travel policies, will be advisory for countries to follow.

Because borders are a national competence, countries can impose their own measures without having to consult the EU.

Despite the introduction of the EU digital vaccine passport, countries never managed to entirely co-ordinate their travel rules during 2020 and 2021.

In most EU countries the health pass or vaccine pass apps remain active, and could be used again if necessary. 

Will there be travel bans?

At this stage more draconian restrictions – such as the ‘red lists’ or ‘essential travel only’ rules of 2021 seem unlikely.

Most EU countries have a high level of vaccine cover, so would probably only resort to travel restrictions if new variants – against which current Covid vaccines are not effective – emergence in China (or any other country).