They came, they saw, they came some more. Italy and mass tourism have always gone hand in glove – or rather, to give a nod to the country’s cartography, foot in boot – and its name stands as one of the most powerful travel brands on the planet. History? Romance? Limoncello-hazed landscapes? Dome-clustered skylines? Those little backstreet trattorias that seem too perfect to be true? All found here, and in abundance.
There’s good reason, you see, why Las Vegas and Macao – two pleasure-traps thousands of miles from the Adriatic Sea – both have colossal luxury resorts modelled on Venice.
...the total contribution of tourism to the country stands at over €185bn, a figure that represents more than 11% of the nation’s overall GDP
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s 2017 study into Italy, the total contribution of tourism to the country stands at over €185bn, a figure that represents more than 11% of the nation’s overall GDP. The same study concludes that by 2027, tourism is likely to account directly for almost 1.6 million jobs in the country.
These kinds of statistics, of course, come at a cost. Headlines coming out of Italy in recent times have done an effective job of showing that mass tourism needs to be handled with serious care. From oversized cruise ships and overcrowded attractions, to overcharged meals and overwrought locals, the picture painted is often of a country groaning at the seams.
Time for a change?
It’s important to give perspective – Italy still offers a whole host of exceptional travel experiences where you won’t find yourself elbow to elbow with tour groups – but it’s also apparent that something has to change. What, exactly?
Maurizio Davolio, president of the Italian Association for Responsible Tourism (AITR), sums up the current challenges. “Italy’s cultural heritage is extremely attractive and the diversification and enrichment of the tourist offering is ongoing, but we have an absence or weakness of a state tourism policy,” he tells Click. “We have overtourism in places like Venice, Florence and the Cinque Terre, and there’s inadequate environmental protection.”
And it’s not just a matter of being able to control the sheer mass of visitors. “We need political awareness of the strategic importance of tourism and an adoption of appropriate strategies,” he continues. “There’s an absolute need to adapt the transport system – the roads, the ports, the airports – and to offer opportunities for professional training and updating.”
We need political awareness of the strategic importance of tourism and an adoption of appropriate strategies,’ Maurizio Davolio – AITR. Photo: Venice, Italy. Tom Podmore, Unsplash
Someone seems to agree. It was reported in January that Intesa Sanpaolo, one of the country’s largest banking groups, had struck a deal with the Ministry of Culture to €5bn euros into the tourism sector over the next three years. The intention is that the money will be used to fund changes in different parts of the industry, including restoration and redevelopment projects, training of tourism workers, development of related technologies and modernisation of accommodation.
Technology-wise, the mid-2017 launch of a free Wi-Fi app was surely a step in the right direction – even if early reviews have been mixed. The government-promoted Wi-Fi Italia was created to let visitors and locals connect at no cost to selected hotspots around the country – the vast majority of which, at time of writing, are in northern and central Italy.
These are, of course, eventful times in Italian politics. First indications from the national election results in early March show a coalition parliament as the most realistic outcome. How, or if, this might affect the long-term approach to tourism is unclear. What is clear, however, is the importance of involving the industry itself at the core of future plans.
The biggest risk for Italy, as for Europe, is complacency - Fabrizio Ajo, the European Tourism Association (ETOA)
“Defining what health or success looks like is very much something for tourism’s host communities to determine for themselves,” says Fabrizio Ajo, Italy representative of the European Tourism Association (ETOA).
“Residents’ groups and tourism operators are both asking for clearer, longer-term planning. Destination management strategies need to arise from greater and more constructive consultation with the stakeholders.”
In the opinion of Heather Green, Senior Purchasing Manager of Specialist Operator Citalia, the broader outlook is shaping up well – so long as sensible decisions are made. “Italy is currently doing really well as a tourist destination, owing to the fact that it’s considered to be ‘safe’ in the current climate,” she believes. “If the tourism sector looks to the future, doesn’t rest on its laurels, and is able to invest in its infrastructure and facilities then it will continue to enjoy positive growth.”
And ETOA’s Ajo sounds a similar word of warning. “The biggest risk for Italy, as for Europe, is complacency,” he concludes. “It’s essential we all remember that visitors have a choice.”
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- According to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s 2017 study into Italy, the total contribution of tourism to the country stands at over €185bn, a figure that represents more than 11% of the nation’s overall GDP
- The same study concludes that by 2027, tourism is likely to account directly for almost 1.6 million jobs in the country
- In mid-2017 a government-backed free app - Wi-Fi Italia - was created to let visitors and locals connect at no cost to selected hotspots around the country