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TOURISM

Italy’s economy suffers as tourist gems become ‘dead cities’

Just over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, Venice remains a ghost town. Portofino, a colourful playground for the jet-set on the Ligurian coast, and Varenna on the shores of Lake Como are also deserted. The coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on tourism in Italy.

Italy's economy suffers as tourist gems become 'dead cities'
A key sector for Italy is collapsing due to the pandemic. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Italy is the world’s fifth-most visited destination – and with a third wave now under way, there is no obvious end in sight to the tourism crisis the country faces.

The collapse in the number of tourists to Italy was jaw-dropping last year, with only 25.5 million foreign visitors spending at least one night in the peninsula, versus 65 million in 2019 – a drop of more than 60 percent.

That corresponded to revenue of only 17.45 billion euros, 26.85 billion euros less than the prior year, according to new figures from the Bank of Italy.

“The situation is really dramatic and everything must be done to revive a sector so vital for our country,” said the president of the Italian Union of Chambers of Commerce, Carlo Sangalli.

Nearly 100,000 companies in Italy’s tourism sector are at risk of bankruptcy, according to the research institute Demoskopika, with a potential loss of 440,000 jobs.

‘Even George Clooney doesn’t come anymore’

“The year 2020 was catastrophic for us,” said Marina Denti, owner of a leather store in Varenna, a picturesque fishing village on Lake Como.

She is still sorely lacking in foreign customers, especially big-spending Americans, an absence that saw her turnover drop by 80 percent last year.

“Even George Clooney doesn’t come anymore with this pandemic,” she said, referring to the area’s most famous homeowner, proprietor of an opulent villa on the other side of the lake, in Laglio.

Varenna, on Lake Como in Lombardy. Photo: Brigitte HAGEMANN / AFP

Before coronavirus swept across the country and beyond, tourism accounted for nearly 14 percent of gross domestic product for Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy.

The collapse of this key economic driver, with hotels and restaurants closed for months on end, helped plunge the country last year into the worst recession since World War II.

‘Venice has become a dead city’

“Deprived of tourists, Venice has become a dead city like Pompeii, it’s sad when you walk down the street,” said Anna Bigai, one of the city’s tour guides, who has only done a dozen guided tours over the past year.

Throughout Italy, overnight stays of foreign tourists fell by 54 percent to 184.1 million in 2020 and the outlook for 2021 remains bleak.

“International tourism in Italy should not return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023,” warned the director of the national tourism agency, Giorgio Palmucci.

READ ALSO: ‘New model’: How Florence and Venice plan to rebuild tourism after the coronavirus crisis

Even Portofino, a popular destination for celebrities and billionaires from all over the world, has not been spared. Its Rolex and Christian Dior stores remain desperately empty, waiting for the return of rich foreign customers.

“In 2020, we had the worst year in a decade,” sighed Emanuela Cattaneo, owner of a wine bar on the port, lamenting the absence of American and English customers.

The coast near Portofino in busier years. Photo: Olivier MORIN / AFP

Still, a few rare foreign tourists have enjoyed the unusual calm. Rainer Lippert from Heidelberg, Germany, came to Milan, where he and his family were admiring the view from the roof of the city’s Gothic Duomo.

“It’s fantastic to be here when there are not so many people around,” he said. “Given the circumstances it’s the best choice we could make.”

Within days of Lippert’s visit, the Duomo was once again closed for coronavirus restrictions.

READ ALSO: How soon can Italy hope to restart tourism this summer?

To try to get things moving again, Italian train companies will offer “Covid-free” high-speed rail links between Rome and Milan beginning in early April, a first in Europe. All staff and passengers will be tested before boarding.

The airline Alitalia launched a similar initiative last year on some domestic and international flights.

Despite current international restrictions on travel – and the fact that most of Italy is currently in some form of lockdown – Ryanair announced on Wednesday that the airline is expanding its summer flight schedule between the UK and Italy.

The Italian tourism minister has expressed that the country is keen to restart tourism as soon as infection rates fall and vaccination campaigns pick up pace. Since plans for a health passport are still in early stages, it remains too early to say yet when Italy’s tourism could re-start.

Find all The Local’s updates on travel to Italy here

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VENICE

EXPLAINED: How will the tourist-control system work in Venice?

Venice is introducing a new system to discourage day-trippers in hopes of curbing problems with overtourism in the popular hotspot. Here is what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How will the tourist-control system work in Venice?

After years of discussing a possible “tourist tax”, the city of Venice has confirmed it will make day-trippers pay from €3 to €10 for access to the city centre starting on January 16th.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the goal of the new tourism fee is to discourage day tourism at certain times of the year and encourage overnight tourism. Day-trippers will have to pay a fee, but those who stay overnight continue only to have to pay the city tax of €2 to €5, according to a government press release.

The Commission and the City Council will now examine the regulatory text for the final green light scheduled for the summer.

“We are the first in the world to introduce this system, and we are aware that not everything will work well from the beginning, but we will be ready to improve in the course of work. We want to guarantee the tourist the best quality of the visit and make sure that the city is able to give visitors all the services they need”, said Tourism Secretary Simone Venturini.

READ ALSO: After flooding and coronavirus, is it time Venice stopped relying on tourism?

How much will I have to pay?

The contributo di acesso, or access contribution, will cost from €3 to €10, depending on factors such as tourism numbers for the day and season.

The city will determine a certain threshold of tourists, after which people will be required to pay higher sums. Travellers are encouraged to book in advance to avoid price increases.

Does the payment have to be made in advance?

The government said that nobody would be denied entry to Venice, meaning a pre-registration is not necessary. However, the mayor said that those who book their visit in advance would be “rewarded”. The reward will likely discount the fee.

How will the system work? Where do I pay?

According to the City of Venice, the payment is an alternative to the city tax. It will be required from every person that goes to the old city centre of Venice, as well as other major tourist destinations and islands in the region.

READ ALSO: 16 surprising facts about Venice to mark 16 centuries of the lagoon city

A single payment guarantees access to the old town and the smaller islands.

Tourists will be able to pay through an online and “multilingual” platform where they will receive a QR code to present in case of controls. Tickets should also be available to buy in connection with public transport – so if you are arriving by train, it will be possible to buy the train ticket and the entry pass together.

Who is excluded or exempt from the payment?

There are several exceptions to the payment, according to the website. Among them are residents from the Comune di Venezia, those who work or study there, and those who own homes in the city.

Additionally, exceptions include those born in the Comune di Venezia, children under six years of age, people with disabilities and their accompanying person, public workers, volunteers, people visiting family members, prisoners, or attending funerals, and many others.

Residents of the Veneto region “up to the thresholds that will be set by a specific Council resolution” are also exempt.

Those who stay overnight and, therefore, already pay the city tax through their hotel or short-term rental booking are also exempt from the fee.

The city of Murano, in the metropolitan region of Venice (Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash)

What about people arriving on cruises?

Venice is a very popular stop for cruise ships and people visiting the city on a cruise tour will also have to pay the fee as they disembark in the old town. However, the City of Venice said they might determine a lump-sum measure in agreement with the relevant carriers.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

Which smaller islands are included?

Only one ticket and payment is required for those travelling to multiple islands, including Venice. The islands that are part of the group are:

  • Lido di Venezia
  • Pellestrina
  • Murano
  • Burano
  • Torcello
  • Sant’Erasmo
  • Mazzorbo
  • Mazzorbetto
  • Vignole
  • S. Andrea
  • La certosa
  • S. Servolo
  • S. Clemente
  • Poveglia

What if I simply don’t pay?

If you fail to produce proof of payment or that you are exempt from the fee, the sanction is from €50 to €300. The fine is the same in the case of people making false statements trying to obtain exemptions or reductions.

Additionally, visitors who don’t pay in advance will have to pay the full €10 fee.

For more info click here.

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