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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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TRAVEL NEWS

Nine things to know if you’re visiting Italy in December

From strikes and public holiday dates to the best Christmas markets and Italian festive treats, here are some things to know if you’re planning to visit Italy in December.

Nine things to know if you’re visiting Italy in December

December in Italy is nothing short of magical. Most cities light up with twinkling displays and local life is energised by enchanting Christmas markets, which turn even the most ordinary of urban landscapes into a cheerful wonderland. 

READ ALSO: Lights out: How Christmas in Italy will be different this year

So if you’re planning on travelling to (or around) Italy in December, here are a few things you should know before you go.

No travel restrictions

People who travelled to Italy last December were required to show proof of Covid vaccination, recent recovery from the virus or a negative molecular (PCR) or antigen test result in order to enter the country.

The above mandate expired on May 31st, which means that travel to the bel paese for any reason, including tourism, is no longer tethered to any health requirements.

As for the requirement for arrivals to complete an EU digital passenger locator form (dPLF), that was also scrapped last May.

Face masks required in healthcare settings

The requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport lapsed on Friday, September 30th.

However, Italy does still have a requirement to wear face masks in all healthcare settings, including hospitals and care homes, until the end of the year.

So if you’re planning on paying a visit to a relative or friend who’s currently staying in one of the above facilities, you’ll have to wear a mask. 

Anyone refusing to comply with face mask rules can still face fines ranging from a minimum of €400 to a maximum of €1000.

Current quarantine rules 

Italy still requires anyone who tests positive for coronavirus while in the country to self-isolate, with the minimum isolation period currently standing at five days.

In order to exit quarantine, the infected person must be symptomless for at least two days, and must test negative to a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test at the end of that period.

Testing should be carried out at a registered pharmacy or testing centre as the results of home tests are not seen as valid for this purpose.

Should the patient continue to test positive, they must remain in isolation until they get a negative test result. However, the maximum length of the self-isolation period has now been cut to 14 days, down from 21.

National strike on December 2nd

Travel to, from and across Italy will continue to be disrupted by strikes during the last month of 2022. 

The demonstration that’s currently expected to create the greatest amount of disruption will take place on Friday, December 2nd and it’ll be a 24-hour national strike affecting airline and rail travel as well as some local public transport lines.

You can check the latest updates before your trip in The Local’s travel news section here.

Local public holidays 

Italy has three public holidays in December. Those are:

  • December 8th – Feast of the Immaculate Conception
  • December 25th – Christmas Day
  • December 26th – St Stephen’s Day (or Boxing Day in English-speaking countries)

As you might have already realised, December 24th (Christmas Eve) and December 31st (New Year’s Eve) are not official public holidays in Italy. However, most local companies do give their staff both days off as a gesture of goodwill. 

It’s worth noting that on all of the above-mentioned days the country will pretty much collectively stop, with all public offices and nearly all shops remaining shut. 

People walk across a Christmas market in downtown Milan as snow falls on December 8, 2021.

People walk across a Christmas market in downtown Milan as snow falls on December 8, 2021. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Even transport services are usually very limited on the days in question, so, if you’re planning to visit around those dates, make sure to make all the necessary arrangements well in advance.

Christmas markets 

This Christmas looks set to be Italy’s first in two years without any Covid restrictions.

This means that the country’s traditional Christmas markets, a number of which were cancelled last year due to safety concerns, should be up and running again this December.

Italy’s most popular markets are located in Trentino-Alto Adige, the northern region bordering Switzerland and Austria – Bruneck, Bolzano and Brixen are all well known for their gleeful stalls.

That said, the northern mountain cities don’t claim complete ownership of Italy’s Christmas markets, as Rome, Perugia and Gubbio also have some of the best set-ups in the entire peninsula.

Galleries and museums’ special openings 

Most galleries and museums in the country tend to have special opening hours during the festive season, which means that you might be able to admire artworks by some of the most famous Italian painters and sculptors even on public holidays and as late as 10pm on some days.

For instance, in Venice, Palazzo Ducale, Museo Correr and Murano’s Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) will be open every day (public holidays included) in December, with their doors remaining open to visitors until 9pm on some dates.

As always, you’re advised to check the websites of the museums you’re interested in visiting to know what they’ll offer visitors in December.

Christmas light in a street in Rome

Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Christmas treats

The quality of Italy’s cuisine is no secret, but the country dishes out some of the best examples of its long culinary tradition over the Christmas holidays.

While the evening meal on Christmas Eve (known as ‘La Vigilia’) tends to be quite frugal, the Christmas Day meal is anything but.

READ ALSO: Six quirky Italian Christmas traditions you should know about

A pasta dish (tortellini, lasagne or baked pasta) is followed by a veal-, ox- or poultry-based second course accompanied by a variety of vegetables.

Finally, the festive meal is finished off with a scrumptious slice (more like, three or four for some) slice of panettone or pandoro.

Prosecco or another variety of sparkling wine is generally used to wash down all of the above.

Extravagant New Year celebrations

If you’ve never spent New Year’s Eve in Italy, you might be in for a surprise.

The Italians have a reputation for being a superstitious bunch, and some of the New Year customs can startle the uninitiated foreigner. 

READ ALSO: Red pants, smashed plates and bingo: Six reasons Italian New Year is awesome

Apart from wearing red underwear to fend off evil spirits and eating lentils by the bucketload to bring wealth and prosperity, some residents, especially in the south, throw crockery out of their windows to show that they’re ready for a new start in the new year.

An alternative tradition – which seems to be slightly more friendly towards passers-by – is crashing pots and pans together right by the front door to frighten away evil spirits.

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