Tourism

Italy counting on foreign tourists this summer as Covid restrictions ease

Streets of Florence, Italy prepare for the return of foreign tourists for the 2021 summer season.
Streets of Florence, Italy prepare for the return of foreign tourists for the 2021 summer season. © RFI / Sabina Castelfranco

A new decree by the Italian government significantly easing Covid-19 restrictions has brought fresh optimism as the country prepares to welcome tourists again for the summer. Bars and restaurants with outdoor tables reopened across most of the country at the end of last month while indoor dining will be allowed from 1 June. The curfew is to be pushed back in stages and will be gradually done away with by 21 June.

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As infections decline and vaccinations increase in Europe’s second hardest hit country, with a death toll from Covid-19 which has surpassed 120,000 deaths since its outbreak, beach and mountain resorts are getting ready to welcome travellers en masse.

Locals are pleased that the reopening of gyms has been brought forward to next Monday and wedding receptions can be held starting on 15 June.

The last venues to be allowed to re-open are indoor swimming pools, spas, casinos and indoor sporting events, as long as entry is limited to 25% capacity and not more than 500.

Art cities across Italy, which were particularly hard hit by closures, are looking forward to the return of foreign tourists.

The government has helped matters along by removing quarantine for arrivals from all European countries, Britain and Israel as long as a negative Covid-19 test is obtained.

Mixture of doubt and optimism

Not everyone however is convinced that recovery will be quick for the tourism sector. Monica Milandri runs a 14-room boutique hotel in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, a very attractive location with tourists from all over the world as it is a stone’s throw from the Uffizi Gallery, which reopened on 4 May.

“Our turnover has dropped 92 percent from what it was in 2019 and I doubt we will be able to reach those numbers again. Other small hotels like ours, in less privileged locations, will never be able to reopen”, she said.

Milandri added that some foreign visitors have started to return to Florence but for the time being its mostly Italians. “And Italians do not visit art cities in the summer, they prefer to go the sea”.

She is convinced hotels won’t be recovering from the pandemic knock until at least 2022.

Tourists taking a ride with a horse and carriage in the streets of Florence, Italy, May 2021. The country is hoping to see an influx of foreign tourists this summer as Covid restrictions are lifted.
Tourists taking a ride with a horse and carriage in the streets of Florence, Italy, May 2021. The country is hoping to see an influx of foreign tourists this summer as Covid restrictions are lifted. © RFI / Sabina Castelfranco

According to a survey by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) the travel and tourism contribution to Italy’s GDP in 2019 was 236 billion euros or 13.1 percent.

The figures dropped to 116 billion euros or seven percent, in 2020, due to the pandemic.

Worst is over

But as you walk in front of Florence’s cathedral, baptistry and belltower, there is a new bustle and energy that had long been forgotten.

Visitors are back in horse-drawn carriages touring the city wearing masks or queuing for an ice-cream as social distancing is still mandatory.

There is no doubt from the laughter that comes from people sitting in outdoor cafes that the worst of the last 15 months is over.

Now there is renewed hope that foreigners and big-American spenders will come back.

Three American airlines have Covid-free flights flying into Italy from US cities and as long as travellers have tested negative 48 hours before departure and again upon arrival, they will not be required to quarantine.

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