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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.

READ ALSO:

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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AMERICANS IN ITALY

US citizens in Italy now allowed to renew passports online

The US Department of State has announced a new scheme enabling Americans living in Italy to pay to renew their passports online.

US citizens in Italy now allowed to renew passports online

The US State Department’s ‘online payment program’ allows adult Americans in Italy to pay to renew their passport over the internet, according to a recent announcement published on the website of the US embassy to Italy.

The scheme means US citizens can now apply to renew their passport without having to make an in-person appointment at the US embassy or a general consulate in Italy, as was previously the case.

Applicants can pay the $130 renewal fee via the US government’s secure payment site and will then need to post their application documents to the embassy or a consulate (a tracked courier service is highly recommended).

Once the new passport is ready, they can opt to collect the travel document in person or receive it via courier, completing the entire process remotely.

The announcement states that the service, which opened on May 22nd, is open to US citizens over the age of 16 who are officially resident in Italy or the Republic of San Marino – with some restrictions.

To be eligible for the online payment service, applicants must have been at least 16 years old when their most recent passport was issued, and the passport should have been issued no more than 15 years ago and should have a 10-year validity period.

The applicant must have a valid Italian mailing address and be able to send their undamaged passport to the US embassy or one of the general consulates in Florence, Milan or Naples.

Parents can not use the service when applying for new passports for their minor children under the age of 16, but must continue to apply in person.

16 and 17-year-old applicants require parental consent and must make an appointment to apply in person, though they can still make the payment online.

The announcement highlights that the service is available only for the renewal of passport books, and not passport cards.

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