‘We’re really feeling their absence’: Amalfi Coast braces for a summer without US tourists

With its white and multicoloured houses perched on the mountainside above the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean, Italy's Amalfi coast is an ideal holiday location – but it is suffering.

'We're really feeling their absence': Amalfi Coast braces for a summer without US tourists
Beaches in Amalfi are emptier than usual this year. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The beauty of the villages of Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi is world famous, but today the normally bustling streets are practically empty. With fewer boats bobbing around the harbour and no traffic jams on the coast road leading to the villages, it has an air of low season.

The problem is a lack of visitors, particularly from across the Atlantic. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic means that tourists from the United States – where cases continue to rise – are not currently allowed into Europe.

READ ALSO: Italy's latest travel rules, explained

“In previous years we had 80 percent foreign tourists, and half of those were from North America,” the head of the local tourist association, Andrea Ferraioli, told AFP.

Agricultural union Coldiretti estimated that their absence will cost the Italian economy €1.8 billion ($2 billion) this summer. Some 13 percent of Italy's GDP comes from tourism, a key driver of jobs in the country.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

On the Amalfi coast near Naples most of the small family businesses only opened in early June due to Italy's long lockdown, while the region's many luxury hotels only opened this month.

Perched on the rocks in Positano and with a spectacular sea view, Le Agavi hotel welcomed its first guests on July 1st. But greeting them were only half its usual 110 employees.

“We had exceptional occupancy last year, around 93 percent, but now we're at around 60-65 percent,” said owner Giovanni Capilongo.

IN NUMBERS: How important are American tourists to Italy?

But reservations were in from tourists from the United States, Canada and Australia for September and October, Capilongo said.

“They account for [on average] 82 percent of our guests and we hope that the market can take off again,” as international flights resume, he said. Hotel operators hope that since the season started late, it may continue longer into November.

Meanwhile, Italians who usually account for only five to seven percent of guests are today the majority.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Among them were tourists Mario Bocci and his Brazilian wife Elisabeth De Assis, who said they usually go abroad on holiday.

“So many foreigners come to Italy, but we Italians don't make the most of its beauty. We've rediscovered it,” Bocci said.

READ ALSO: Most Italians want American tourists to stay away this summer: poll

A handful of tourists were making the most of the balmy early evening with a cocktail at Positano's Palazzo Murat, an early 19th century architectural jewel. Although only around a quarter of the hotel's rooms are filled during the week, the hotel manages 80 to 90 percent occupancy at the weekend, “with lots of Italians,” said co-owner Tanina Vanacore.

US tourists have flocked to Positano – where colourful cliffside homes overlook the clear blue waters – for decades, Vanacore said.

“Americans gave Positano its grandeur and today we're really feeling their absence.”

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Despite the challenges for those in the industry, the few visitors appeared to be enjoying themselves, without the usual crush of tourists.

“I feel very lucky to be here when there's nobody,” said London doctor Ravi Solanki, 27. “I can enjoy the village and everything it offers, almost like it's my own.”

READ ALSO: The parts of Italy where fewest tourists go

Generally, smaller businesses have slashed their prices to compete, but luxury hotels have only slightly reduced prices, so as not to devalue the services.

Other businesses like cruise operators have had to adapt as well, said Andrea Russo, sales manager for luxury cruise specialist Plaghia Charter. “We try to offer more accessible services,” she said, such as small group excursions at €60.

Today's tourists lack the larger budgets of US tourists, who don't hesitate to spend €1,200 a day for a 12-metre boat, she said.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The lack of US tourists has even altered working hours for restaurant staff, who begin serving dinner for foreigners in the early evening.

“At 9:30 [pm] there's nobody left at table,” said Armando Gambardella, owner of the Da Armandino restaurant in Praiano.

“With Italians, it's the opposite, they go for their siesta 6:30 to 7:00 and start eating at 9:00!”

By AFP's Céline Cornu

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”