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The Biggest Question for Italy’s Travel Industry: When Will Tourists Return?

italy, tourism, travel
EdZbarzhyvetsky on Deposit Photos

One year ago, Italy closed its doors – the first European country to impose harsh quarantine restrictions. The country has reinstated a regional travel ban between its 20 regions until Mar. 27. Some towns and villages are still on the red list, meaning they’re enduring the tightest restrictions because of infection rates. But with talks of a vaccine passport, will tourism return more quickly than expected? Business owners are hopeful.

“There was a very popular saying: Se non muori di Covid muori di fame, which might be translated as ‘hunger could kill more people than Coronavirus.’”

Andrea Scatasta was the proud co-founder of the High Italy agency, along with his business partner and friend Matteo Troiani. At the beginning of the pandemic, they tried to stay above water. 

“We went through a cost-cutting process in the last months in order to minimize the running costs,” Scatasta told Bold TV. 

Now, they’ve completely lost their business, with all tours canceled for 2020 and 2021, with only wisps of hope for 2022 – “sleeping and waiting for the resume of international travel.”

How great was the country’s loss? Name a more coveted travel destination than Italy. How many movies were made around its allure: Roman Holiday, Under the Tuscan Sun, Eat Pray Love and the list rolls on. Travelers from the U.S. alone typically contribute over $3 billion to the Italian economy in a year. International tourism is worth more than $58 billion. But Italy’s GDP shrank by nearly 9% last year, its biggest retraction since World War II. The Colosseum, which ordinarily ushered in 3,000 visitors every minute, saw mostly custodians and security guards. Picturesque Venetian gondoliers started delivering food.

420,000 Italians lost their jobs, forced to close their doors. “Smart working” – or as we Americans call it, remote working – became a new norm. But not every Italian had the flexibility to work online. Those in tourism, leisure and entertainment found trouble.

“Jobless people are feeling sidelined from the society … Their only income is given by the social unemployment benefits; their mood is down,” Scatasta said.

He found himself in the category of careers that couldn’t pivot. His small business, High Italy, was a ground supplier for small and medium-sized U.S. travel agencies and tour operators. As a contract manager and tour leader, he would make deals with suppliers such as hotels, restaurants, tour guides and tour leaders while leading his own travel groups throughout Italy’s centuries-old attractions and countryside. Business owners built networks through connections made over years and years. Can it rebuild?

According to The Local Italy, the country will review its COVID-related travel restrictions by April 6. Roberto Di Vincenzo, President of Isnart (National Institute for Tourist Research), told Tourism Review that he expects tourism to bounce back better than before. But new draws will bring people to travel: public health. 

“In the future, people will go to a country if they know it is safe if it has good welfare and good healthcare,” he said. “We must therefore use this time to govern the impetuous growth that will take place as soon as the pandemic is over.”

Italy’s National Federation of Travel and Tourism Industry urged the government to install a digital vaccination passport. The idea is that travelers would upload their proof of vaccination and other health documents into an app. On Mar. 1, the President of the EU Commission tweeted that they will “present a legislative proposal for a Digital Green Pass,” which would “facilitate Europeans’ lives.”

Scatasta told Bold TV that there is a lot of talk about vaccine passports, but vaccination is the priority at the moment. Italy has had delays in vaccine rollouts but now claims it will vaccinate 80% of the population by September, according to Reuters.  

One thing we’ve learned in the past year is that we never can predict what’s coming around the bend, especially in the ownership of small businesses. What can you do when your entire world is built around travel and the world changes before your eyes?

“I recommend to take a daily dose of travel dreams to add to our bucket list of destinations to visit when tourism resumes,” Scatasta advised.

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