Italy braces for Easter cancellations as food and travel costs soar

The rising cost of fuel, food and accommodation means this year’s Easter holidays won't be the return to normality many were expecting, Italy's consumer groups warn.

Italy braces for Easter cancellations as food and travel costs soar
The soaring cost of living has quashed hopes of a revival for Italy’s hospitality industry this spring. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Until recently, most people in Italy were hopeful, even confident, that the 2022 Easter holidays would mark the beginning of a return to normality and a much-awaited restart of the pre-pandemic way of life – from travel to family celebrations.

But judging from the latest reports from industry and consumer groups, this Easter will instead be marked by eye-watering price hikes for consumers and further financial woes for hospitality businesses.

Household budgets are being squeezed further this spring as prices rise amid the war in Ukraine and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

Italian consumer rights group Assoutenti found recent double-figure price increases for goods such as butter, oil, flour, vegetables, and pasta in the shops mean making a home-cooked Easter dinner will cost an average of six percent more than last year, Ansa reports.

Furthermore, 76 percent of consumers have noticed a significant increase in food prices, with 48 percent already trying to slash their supermarket expenses by switching to cheaper options in their carts, according to findings from polling company Radar SWG.

The situation isn’t looking much better for those heading to a restaurant for their Easter lunch. SWG found 66 percent have cut their budgets for eating out, while menu prices are forecast to be 5 percent higher compared to last year. 

READ ALSO: War and energy prices: Why the cost of pasta is rising in Italy

In some parts of the country the cost of the bill for a family meal out is set to increase by 10 percent, warned Italy’s National Artisans Union (Confederazione Nazionale dell’Artigianato), which represents craftspeople and small business owners.

If soaring restaurant prices seem to have already put many off eating out, sky-high fuel prices are expected to force many people to remain at home over the holidays. 

With petrol being up by an average 12.2 percent and diesel being a whopping 22.7 percent dearer than last Easter, one in three have already decided against travelling over the holidays.

The Italian tourism federation (Federazione Italiana del Turismo) said the government’s ’30 cents per litre’ fuel discount hasn’t produced the expected results.

The Federation’s president, Vittorio Messina, told La Repubblica: “Expectations for springtime tourism were very high. However, the recent increase in fuel prices has a bearing on the overall cost of travelling, and Italians, who have already been hit hard by the hike on household bills, have naturally decided to resize their budgets.”

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

Such budget cuts are expected to place further strain on the ailing Italian hospitality industry.

Hotel bookings across the country are presently down by 30 percent compared to last year, and big cities are once again being hit the hardest, tourism industry groups warned

In Rome alone, the number of bookings over Easter is nearly half of what it was in 2019 and a whopping 250 hotels are currently closed in the city

Milan doesn’t fare any better. “Out of 30,000 available hotel rooms, only 6,000 are currently booked,” said the president of Italian hoteliers’ association Federalberghi, Maurizio Nano.

“That is roughly 20 percent. This time two years ago, bookings were around 75 percent of the overall capacity.”

Hundreds of hotels in Rome have not reopened following closures during the pandemic. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

The ongoing war in Ukraine has considerably aggravated the situation. “From the start of the war, we’ve had plenty of cancellations,” said Giuseppe Roscioli, from Federalberghi Roma e Lazio.

Unfortunately, Federalberghi warned, the conflict has not only curbed tourism from Russia and Ukraine but has also prompted travellers from Northern and Eastern Europe to change their plans. Many American nationals have also cancelled bookings since the start of the war.

If a drop in consumer spending has already delivered a blow to hotel managers, increased costs are threatening to put the industry on its knees. 

Soaring gas and electricity bill not only mean households have less disposable income, but rising costs have forced many hoteliers to put up their prices.

READ ALSO: Rising energy prices: How to save money on your bills in Italy

So much so that, according to the latest data from Italian statistics bureau Istat, staying in a hotel or B&B is on average 8.4 percent more expensive than it was last year.

Rising accommodation prices might now make Easter travel inaccessible to many. According to a study by market research institute Demoskopica, travel will not be on the cards for 13 percent of Italian families this summer due to a worsening of their financial situation.

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What’s it like travelling through Italy’s airports now?

As flight disruption continues in Europe during the August holiday season, passengers tell The Local how Italy’s airports are faring.

What's it like travelling through Italy's airports now?

Strikes and staff shortages have made air travel problematic across Europe since early June, but airports in some countries have been much more badly affected than others.

There are reports of ongoing serious disruption everywhere from Spain to Germany, with at least 15,700 flights already cancelled across the continent this month.

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: Airlines cancel 15,000 flights in August

Outside of Europe, more travel chaos has been reported in Australia this month, while passengers travelling to and from the UK have suffered months of disruption and cancellations.

Despite some limited strike action earlier in the summer season, Italian airports by contrast appear not to be badly affected.

Between June 20th and July 24th, some 3,600 flights from Italian airports were cancelled, or 1.8 percent of national flights and 3.6 percent of international flights, according to data from Italian National Civil Aviation Agency ENAC.

The most cancellations (377) were recorded on July 17th, the date of Italy’s last transport strike.

Fewer Italian flights are likely to be cancelled in August, with no strikes planned. However, travel to and from the country hasn’t necessarily been a trouble-free experience for everyone this month.

Passengers wait in Barcelona’s El Prat airport during the first wave of Ryanair strike action in July. Photo: Pau BARRENA/AFP

“It’s clear that the Italian airport system has reacted differently to the difficulties, even if the recovery was sudden,” ENAC president Pierluigi di Palma said in an interview with Italian national broadcaster Rai.

“I would say that we are mostly suffering the consequences of what’s happening in continental airports.”

The knock-on effect of flight cancellations and delays elsewhere has caused some disruption for passengers in Italy, while things are particularly busy this month as the number of people travelling to the country has shot up, exceeding 2019 levels.

Tania Davis, 41, travelled from London Heathrow to Venice with her two children in early August and tells The Local that while she found travelling from Heathrow “stressful and chaotic” everything was “fine” on the Italian side.

“We arrived very late at night because our flight was delayed by just over two hours, but once we got to Italy coming through arrivals and then getting our flight home a week later, everything went smoothly. I can’t fault the airport. It was as busy as you’d expect at this time of year but the lines moved quickly.”

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Some travellers reported facing long delays going both ways, for different reasons. Reader David and his wife flew from Manchester to Brindisi in late July and back again two weeks later.

“We made the mistake of arriving at Brindisi for our flight home three hours before flight time as we had done on the way out, advised by Ryanair,” he tells The Local.

“We sailed through security at Brindisi, no staffing issues there unlike in Manchester where it took 90 minutes to get through.

“But our flight was then delayed, by three hours in the end. Arriving early just meant we had to spend even more time waiting in departures,” he says.

“t’s a really small airport and every flight on the board was delayed, so we were packed in like sardines in this small space with no ventilation.”

“The pilot said our flight was late arriving due to missing an air traffic control slot at Manchester,” he adds.

Other than delays apparently caused by disruption across flight networks, there have been very few reports of problems such as long security queues and lost baggage at Italian airports.

The government warned Italian passengers last month to take hand baggage only when travelling – but this was due to concerns about luggage being lost at destination airports, not at those within Italy.

Passengers wait at Rome’s Fiumicino airport during a strike airline company staff on July 17, 2022. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Italy has escaped the worst of the travel chaos “both for structural reasons and for the measures that the government has taken to limit the consequences of the pandemic”, writes Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

Airport staff shortages are not a major problem in Italy, where “there are generally more worker protections and restrictions on dismissal than in other countries such as the United Kingdom,” Il Sole explains.

Italy was also the only EU country to ban layoffs amid the pandemic, Il Sole points out, with the government in 2020 forcing airline companies to keep their staff on even when flights were grounded.

This ban lasted until 2021, when it was replaced with financial incentives for companies that refrained from laying off staff.

Di Palma said the government’s interventions meant “we have been able to stem the haemorrhage of ground personnel that occurred at foreign companies during the pandemic, saving precious resources”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s summer tourism boom driven by American arrivals

While this is good news for passengers flying to and from Italy’s airports this summer, the ongoing situation across Europe means some disruption to travel plans remains likely.

The passengers we spoke to advised anyone flying this month to pack light, dress for comfort, and “lower your expectations”.

If your flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, you may be entitled to receive compensation from your airline. Find more information here.

Have you travelled to or from Italy in August? How did your experience compare to those featured in the article? Please leave a comment below to let us know.