San Giovanni in Galdo – with a population of around 550 – received more than 2,000 applications from all over the world for a week's stay in one of its traditional central Italian hill-top houses.
The village association announced it would offer up to 40 free holidays in one of the local homes left empty by depopulation and within days saw “hundreds and hundreds” of applications pour in, organisers said.
In total over 2,000 applications representing 5,000 tourists were submitted since the scheme launched on June 12th, local cultural association Amici del Morrutto told the local press, likening the response to “an enormous hug, a gigantic display of affection from the whole world”.
While applications are now closed, it hopes to inspire other towns across Molise – a region often overlooked by both Italian and overseas tourists – to launch similar initiatives.
“We have a list of more than 5,000 people who have expressed interest in coming to Molise for a holiday,” the association said.
It plans to invite mayors from nearby provinces to join a network of small villages offering free accommodation in abandoned houses, thereby making it possible to host “thousands of people who will visit our region, buy our products, frequent our restaurants and businesses and, once they've returned home, act as ambassadors for Molise”.
The scheme aims to help put shrinking villages on visitors' radar despite the lack of hotels or tourist infrastructure, helping to boost the local economy while making use of hundreds of properties lying empty.
It's the latest attempt to tackle a problem that plagues rural towns all over Italy. Other areas have tried offering tax breaks to retirees bringing foreign pensions with them or – most famously – selling off abandoned homes for €1.
- The parts of Italy that are offering incentives to tempt tourists back
- Why moving to southern Italy with a foreign pension could cut your tax bill
- 'We're Covid-free': Remote Italian village aims to tempt buyers with one-euro homes offer
Last year the region of Molise offered up to €24,000 to people who would commit to run a business for five years in one of its small towns or villages, drawing interest from all over the world.
The central region is Italy's second smallest by both population and size, and sees many of its younger residents leave for opportunities elsewhere.
Even some of Italy's best known tourist destinations are offering incentives to draw visitors this summer after a months-long coronavirus lockdown and amid an ongoing ban on tourism from outside Europe. Regions including Sicily and Piedmont are giving discounts on hotels, flights and guided tours in a bid to tempt tourists back.
Meanwhile San Giovanni in Galdo will select 40 applications representing some 200 lucky visitors to stay seven nights free of charge between July and September.