‘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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Italy’s deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a trained pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.