Will tourism in Italy return to pre-pandemic levels this year?

With the weather warming up and the Easter holidays fast approaching, Italy's tourism sector is looking the healthiest it's been in the last two years. But are things really getting 'back to normal'?

Will tourism in Italy return to pre-pandemic levels this year?
Tourists arriving in Venice in July 2019. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Covid-19 closures and restrictions have battered the Italian tourism sector. With tourism accounting for a large chunk of the Italian economy, Italy suffered a particularly hard shock when the pandemic hit in 2020.

In 2019, before the pandemic hit, tourism accounted for about 14 percent of Italian GDP and nine percent of all jobs in the country.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about travel to Italy this spring

Some 96 million international tourists visited the country that year, and domestic and foreign tourism meant Italy was raking in an estimated €236 billion in direct and indirect contributions to GDP.

So high was the number of tourists arriving in Italy, in fact, that many major destinations were voicing concerns about overtourism and putting measures in place to manage the extreme overcrowding becoming a regular sight at peak times for travel.

The number of – and revenue from – international tourists was only expected to keep growing, mainly due to the rising number of arrivals from China, tourism industry groups said in 2019.

All that, of course, came to an abrupt halt in early 2020.

A visitor walks past the Spanish Steps on the Piazza di Spagna in the centre of Rome.

A visitor walks past the Spanish Steps on the Piazza di Spagna in the centre of Rome. Photo by Marie-Laure MESSANA / AFP.

Over the course of that one year, the country lost a staggering €120.6 billion as a result of travel and tourism restrictions – equating to a 51 percent decrease in tourism’s contribution to Italy’s gross domestic product (GDP) and leaving an estimated 337,000 people unemployed.

Despite Italy easing health measures somewhat over the past two summers, travel has remained heavily restricted for many, and the sector has continued to struggle on.

Tourism recovered slightly in 2021, but visitor numbers stayed far below normal as international travel restrictions remained in place for much of the year.

But spring 2022 brings more optimism, as the Italian government plans to drop almost all Covid restrictions by mid-June in a bid to lure back tourists and boost the economy.

“The summer will go very well,” Italy’s tourism minister Massimo Garavaglia predicted in an interview with the Corriere della Sera news daily on Monday.

“As far as Covid is concerned, from May Italy is playing by same rules as other countries and is on a level playing field, and our country will go all out: there is so much interest in Italy and we must organise ourselves to capture it”.

READ ALSO: What to expect if you’re returning to Italy this Easter

Statistics appear to show however that while Italy’s tourism industry is on the path to recovery, a return to full health is still some distance away.

The number of domestic and international tourists in Italy is set to rise by 43 percent compared to 2021, according to a new survey from the market research institute Demoskopika.

That means 92 million people – both Italians and foreigners – are expected to take trips over the course of 2022.

But this is still 29.6 percent fewer than the number in 2019.

The study said tourism expenditure in Italy is set to amount to around 26 billion euros this year, up 11.8 percent on 2021.

As for domestic travel, 51 percent of Italians – around 30 million people – are planning a holiday in the next few months, 90 percent of whom will remain in Italy.

However, Demoskopika predicted that Italy’s travel sector will need to undergo some “profound” changes before it can recover fully.

“Tourism as we have known it until some time ago is probably in hibernation,” stated president of Demoskopika Raffaele Rio in a press release.

OPINION: Italy must update its image if it wants a new kind of tourism

A tourist walks outside the Capitoline Museums in central Rome.

A tourist walks outside the Capitoline Museums in central Rome. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

“The system needs to undergo a profound transformation in terms of sustainability, to respond adequately to the new purchasing behavior of tourists generated by the pandemic emergency,” he said.

“Individuals, at the time of choosing the holiday, pay more and more attention to respect for local communities, to unique experiences immersed in the local culture, to avoiding the most popular destinations.”

Revenue from domestic tourism has meanwhile become increasingly important in Italy amid the pandemic.

This Easter, around 14 million Italians will be travelling within the country, with 25 percent taking an extra day off around April 25th (Italy’s ‘Liberation Day’, and a public holiday) to go on holiday, according to Italian hotel association Federalberghi.

The coast remains (only just) the most popular destination for Italians planning to travel at Easter, with 28.9 percent headed to seaside resorts, according to the Federalberghi survey.

Meanwhile, 28.7 percent plan to visit Italian cities of art and culture, and 16.4 percent to the mountains.


Come summer, Demoskopika’s survey estimates that more than half (57 percent) of people in Italy will go to the beach. Of the 10 percent of Italians planning on travelling abroad, only 3 percent will leave the continent, with the remaining 7 percent staying within Europe’s borders.

But for many people, things are far from ‘back to normal’ this year.

Travel will not be on the cards for 13 percent of Italian families surveyed due to a worsening of their financial situation amid the pandemic and the rising cost of living.

The war in Ukraine was also cited as a major factor in the decision not to travel this year by ten percent of Italians, while another eight percent said they would not be travelling due to ongoing concern about Covid and new variants.

Demoskopika also estimated that the absence of some 300,000 Ukrainian and Russian tourists this year will cost Italy almost €180 million in lost tourism revenue.

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EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

The EU has announced that its Covid travel certificate will be extended until 2023 - so what does this mean if you have a trip planned this year?

EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

Cleaning up the phone and thinking of getting rid of that Covid app? Just wait a minute. 

The European Union has decided to extend the use of EU Covid certificates by one year, until June 30th 2023. 

The European Commission first made the proposal in February as the virus, and the Omicron variant in particular, was continuing to spread in Europe. At that point it was “not possible to determine the impact of a possible increase in infections in the second half of 2022 or of the emergence of new variants,” the Commission said. 

Now tourism is taking off again, while Covid cases are on the rise in several European countries.

So the EU has taken action to ensure that travellers can continue using the so-called ‘digital green certificates’ in case new restrictions are put in place after their initial deadline of June 30th, 2022. 

What is the EU ‘digital green certificate’?

If you have travelled within the EU in the last year, you have probably already used it.

On 1st July 2021, EU countries started to introduce the ‘digital green certificate’, a Covid pass designed by the European Commission to facilitate travel between EU member states following months of restrictions.

It can be issued to EU citizens and residents who have been vaccinated against Covid, have tested negative or have recovered from the virus, as a proof of their health status. 

Although it’s called a certificate, it isn’t a separate document, it’s just a way of recognising all EU countries’ national health pass schemes.

It consists of a QR code displayed on a device or printed.

So if you live in an EU country, the QR code issued when you were vaccinated or tested can be scanned and recognised by all other EU countries – you can show the code either on a paper certificate or on your country’s health pass app eg TousAntiCovid if you’re in France or the green pass in Italy. 

Codes are recognised in all EU 27 member states, as well as in 40 non-EU countries that have joined the scheme, including the UK – full list here.

What does the extension of certificates mean? 

In practice, the legal extension of the EU Covid pass does not mean much if EU countries do not impose any restrictions.

It’s important to point out that each country within the EU decides on its own rules for entry – requiring proof of vaccination, negative tests etc so you should check with your country of destination.

All the EU certificate does is provide an easy way for countries to recognise each others’ certificates.

At present travel within the EU is fairly relaxed, with most countries only requiring negative tests for unvaccinated people, but the certificate will become more relevant again if countries impose new measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

According to the latest data by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, countries such as France, Portugal and parts of Italy and Austria are in the red again. 

The EU legislation on the certificate neither prescribes nor prohibits such measures, but makes sure that all certificate holders are treated in the same way in any participating country. 

The EU certificate can also be used for access to venues such as bars and restaurants if countries decided to re-impose health or vaccines passes on a domestic basis.

So nothing changes?

In fact, the legislation introduces some changes to the current certificates. These include the clarification that passes issued after vaccination should reflect all doses administered, regardless of the member state where the inoculation occurred. This followed complaints of certificates indicating an incorrect number of vaccine doses when these were received in different countries.

In addition, new rules allow the possibility to issue a certificate of recovery following an antigen test and extend the range of uthorised antigen tests to qualify for the green pass. 

To support the development and study of vaccines against Covid, it will also be possible to issue vaccination certificates to people participating in clinical trials.

At the insistence of the European Parliament, the Commission will have to publish an assessment of the situation by December 31st 2022 and propose to repeal or maintain the certificate accordingly. So, while it is extended for a year, the certificate could be discontinued earlier if it will no longer be consider necessary. 

The European parliament rapporteur, Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said: “The lack of coordination from EU governments on travel brought chaos and disruption to the lives of millions of Europeans that simply wanted to move freely and safely throughout the EU.

“We sincerely hope that the worst of the pandemic is far behind us and we do not want Covid certificates in place a day longer than necessary.”

Vaccination requirements for the certificate

An EU certificate can be issued to a person vaccinated with any type of vaccine, but many countries accept only EMA-approved vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Valneva and Janssen) – if you have been vaccinated with another vaccine, you should check the rules on the country you are travelling to.  

Certificates remain valid for 9 months (270) days following a complete vaccination cycle – so if you had your vaccine more than nine months ago you will need a booster in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

There is no requirement for a second booster, so if you have had a booster you remain ‘fully vaccinated’ even if your booster was administered more than 9 months ago. 

As of 1st March 2022, EU countries had issued almost 1.2 billion EU Covid certificates, of which 1.15 billion following vaccination, 511 million as a result of tests and 55 million after recovery from the virus. 

France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Austria are the countries that have issued the largest number of EU Covid certificates.