Italy’s tourism industry reports €120 billion loss in 2020

Italy lost a total of €120.6 billion over the course of 2020 due to the pandemic and restrictions on travel and tourism, the World Travel & Tourism Council has revealed.  

Tourism in Italy
Photo: Miguel Medina&AFP

The loss equates to a 51 percent decrease in tourism’s contribution to Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP). 

Only 25.5 million foreign visitors spent at least one night in Italy last year, in comparison to 65 million in 2019 – a fall of more than 60 percent.

The lucrative sector accounted for up to 14 percent of Italy’s GDP before the pandemic hit.

READ ALSO: How Italy’s ‘Covid-free islands’ vaccine plan hopes to save summer travel

The latest statistics released by the WTTC in the annual Economic Impact Report (EIR), suggest that a total of 337,000 people working in the travel and tourism industries in Italy have been left unemployed.

Nearly 100,000 companies in Italy’s tourism sector are at risk of bankruptcy due to the travel restrictions in place, according to research institute Demoskopika.

Gloria Guevara, President & CEO of the WTTC told “The situation could have been far worse if it were not for the government’s Cassa Integrazione Ordinaria scheme, which supported up to 80 percent of a worker’s salary and kept many people in their jobs whilst the Travel & Tourism sector continued to suffer”.

Photo: Vincenzo PINTO/AFP

The report also showed that domestic visitor spending had decreased by 49.6 percent, due to travel restrictions within the country, while international spending was down by 62 percent.

 “Another year of terrible losses can be avoided if the government supports the swift resumption of international travel, which will be vital to powering the turnaround of the Italian economy,” Guevara added.

 Based on the data, Guevara expects that the travel and tourism industry could recover this year, saying its contribution to GDP could increase by 48.5 percent if international travel resumes by June 2021.

READ ALSO: Is Italy’s crisis-hit economy set to improve in the coming months?

While Italy’s government on Friday set out a roadmap for some business reopenings, it has not yet given a firm date for restarting holiday travel in summer.

Under current restrictions, people living in Italy are currently prohibited from travelling between regions or towns for non-essential reasons, making even domestic tourism impossible.

Also on Friday, Italy’s state-run railway began operating the first “Covid-free” high-speed train service, which is among a string of initiatives aimed at allowing tourism to restart this summer.

Italy’s holiday islands are pushing for all residents to be vaccinated as a priority, Italian media reported on Monday.

Italian airline Alitalia last year launched Covid-tested flights on selected domestic and international flights.

While some travel restrictions still apply, US passengers are allowed to avoid spending 14 days in isolation if they travel on special flights from New York or Atlanta to Rome.

The EU’s Digital Green Certificates, due to be released in June, could help this to become a reality however Italy has not yet confirmed it will be taking part in the scheme.

The proposed Digital Green Certificates will have information on whether a traveller has been vaccinated or not, if they have received a negative test result, or if they have recovered from Covid-19, allowing them to travel throughout the bloc more easily, the European Commission website states.

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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).