RI3SKA.COM – After the first wave of Covid-19 in May 2020, Italy has re-opened its tourism sector in the hope of economic recovery. Tourism is a deep-rooted part of Italian life. A historical study in 1991 conducted by two historians focused on the importance of tourism, especially on the Grand Tour: John Towner from Tyne Polytechnic in the UK and Geoffrey Wall, geographer and Dean for Postgraduate Studies and Research at the Faculty of Environmental Studies, University of Waterloo, Canada, stated that tourism activities in the world, especially in Italy, are actually rooted in the culture of the Roman Empire. Their research interests focused on the evolution of recreational land use and tourism impact.
Their argument was based on one of the first pivotal studies in the history of tourism, conducted by Friedlander (1965) on the life and behavior of society during the Roman Empire. According to this German researcher, the wealthy Romans – generally living in the city of Rome – usually had a second home in the bay area of Naples. According to studies conducted in the 1970s, this trend led to the growth of villas and road construction in the bay area of Naples.
Italy is well aware of the importance of its tourism sector, which is strongly entwined in its culture. Italians themselves strongly believe that their country is one of the most beautiful in the world; they are also known as a nation who love to explore and from the results of their travels they confirm that their own country is no less beautiful.
Italians are known to have an innate sense for beauty and they care for that beauty. Thanks to their genius in civil engineering and architecture, they were able to enrich the Italian landscape with spectacular monuments and architectural works that have remained to testify of its long history.
The combination of nature and hard work has made this country – with a population of 63 million people – able to attract 216 million tourists in 2019: 30 million of them visited Venice.
The tourism sector is the backbone of the Italian economy and lies at the foundation of its life philosophy but it was suddenly shattered by the corona virus pandemic. The world’s most romantic destination is estimated to have lost five million visitors for the Easter holidays alone in 2020.
Since Italy closed its borders and decided to focus on protecting its citizens in order to combat the SARS CoV2 virus through a total quarantine strategy, the tourist sector quickly lost revenue: in the March – May period of the Easter and spring holidays the loss was estimated at around 35 million euros and at least 50,000 people lost their jobs.
The Italian Statistics Agency ISTAT calculated that for the period March – May 2020 Italy experienced a decrease in visitors of up to 91 percent, or 81 million tourists and they hoped to improve this situation in the summer holiday season (June – August). However, in summer, the pandemic situation in the world was still so severe that Italy lost foreign tourists, especially from America, Britain, China and Germany as well as other countries: hotel occupancy only reached 63.9 percent of the previous year.
In May 2020 Luca Zaia, President of the Venetian Region, declared in a meeting with the Association of Foreign Journalists in Italy that activities in the region had been closed for 90 days, since February 21 but Venice was ready to reopen to the public.
“We are the first region to open up and open beaches because we want to pass on the message that we are truly healthy and as a tourist area we want to set an example for others,” he said.
By the way, Venice used to get 60 percent of tourists worth 18 billion euro. “And we are ready to welcome back tourists from different countries who have always come to Venice for a long time and regularly return for their summer holidays,” he continued.
He said reviving Venice’s tourism during the pandemic is not an easy task. “We know that in 2019 we were very unlucky, what with the incident of a cruise ship, then with the high-tide which caused floods that disrupted the environment and caused losses of billions of euros and then we were attacked by a virus,” he said.
But, he guarantees, Venice will rise and re-open and will appear even more beautiful than before. “Venice will always consider all aspects and ensure all social classes with a definite standard, we will also prepare for venues in stadiums, cinemas and various tourist locations to be comfortable for visitors,” he said.
In addition, tourist arrivals will also be controlled. “We will control all tourist arrivals, be it by air, train or boat travel so that everything be handled within the strictest safety standards and a breath of sustainable tourism because Venice is the only city like an open museum in the world,” he said.
KEEP VENICE PROTECTED
Reopening the taps of tourism during the pandemic, Zaia still emphasizes the principle of protection for the city, citizens and all the wealth and potential contained therein.
“Right now we will be protective of the city of Venice, its citizens and all its potential, especially since Venice is a world heritage site for civilization,” he added.
When asked about the opening of Italy’s borders with neighboring countries without the need to go through the quarantine process, Zaia said that his party would handle the tourism sector with full responsibility.
“Tourists from Russia, Germany, France can come here with a health document guarantee and we also offer good health care. To continue our tourism activities, we will focus on Covid-free tourism,” he said.
The Venetian Region with its capital city Venice has a territory of about 7 million square meters. Under Zaia’s leadership, the Authorities have been anticipating a possible outbreak since January 2020 – China announced their critical situation in December 2019. When on January 29, 2020 two patients from China were declared positive for Covid-19 at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital, the Region immediately established a task force, headed by Dr. Russo.
THE DREAM OF DEVELOPING SMART AND SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
In normal times, Venice has a problem with too many tourists: throngs of visitors pose a serious threat to the delicate tourist sector.
The local government of Venice is considering radical steps to reinvigorate the tourism sector in the face of the challenges of Covid-19. Deputy Mayor Simone Venturini, said: “Maybe it’s time to consider a softer model, even if it means physically limiting visitor numbers,” he said.
”This will be an opportunity to move towards smart tourism. With tourists taking their time to understand the beauties around them and staying away from hectic tours in peak season” he added.
He admits this step will be difficult given the city’s dependence on tourism. Venice unveils its contradiction: the streets that are usually crowded with tourists from all over the world are now empty and it seems that this beautiful city has returned to being the property of the citizens of Veneto, who usually have to share the city with hundreds to thousands of foreign tourists.
Over the past few years the heavy burden of Venice due to tourism has led some environmental activists in the city to research and oppose the pattern of tourism in Venice that every day makes this fish-shaped city look like a sea of humans. Not to mention the cruise ships in and out of the port of Venice that threaten the preservation of ancient buildings in the area.
Venice also has an odd population problem: the city is mostly occupied by tourists. Residents choose to leave the city and stay out of town or in suburbs because housing prices and rents are too expensive for local residents. And those who own property in Venice prefer to use their houses for business rentals and accommodation for tourists from all over the world.
For example, hotel room prices in Venice are much higher than in the city next to it, Mestre. Travel and tourism agencies chose to base their activities in Mestre which is only two minutes by bus or train from Venice; this is much cheaper than paying the cost of lodging in Venice. Drinking coffee in Venice is also expensive compared to the price of a cup of coffee in any other Italian city. The price varies depending on whether you actually sit at a bar table or have your drink standing at the counter, with different types of service classifications, making some tourists reluctant to drink coffee in the canal city.
Before the pandemic, tourists paid 80 euros for a 6-person 60-minute gondola tour, often only getting a 20- minute trip. Now gondoliers beg anyone to use their services.
Tourists sometimes come to Venice with a superficial approach, they just want to take pictures in front of the Basilica di San Marco and end up by feeling disappointed.
When the plague broke out and tourists were forced out of the city, the lagoon was like a ghost island, trapped in incomparable loneliness. “During the pandemic, only seagulls stop by in Venice,” said the tourism activists in an online interview with the Association of Foreign Journalists in Italy last May.
Jane da Mosto, who heads the nonprofit group “We Are Here Venice,” told CNN in Venice that in an attempt to get policymakers to understand the benefits of sustainable tourism for the city the group launched a campaign to keep the massive cruise ship invasion out to the historic port and is studying the possibility to prevent flooding like the one experienced some time ago.
She sees the pandemic as a turning point for the city and envisions a new Venice emerging in the post-pandemic world. “The new Venice that I dream of is one with fewer visitors and more residents,” she said. According to her, the problem of Venice is not the lack of tourists, but the paucity of permanent residents.
“With more residents, the city will better reflect the Venetian culture and the beautiful lifestyle this amazing city can offer, so that in the future visitors can enjoy Venice more deeply,” she said.
During the beginning of the pandemic until autumn the Venetian region was most successful in handling and fighting against Covid-19. The regional leader took the initiative to get all residents in the hard-hit village of Vo’ tested with Swab tests. This is the most important example together with that of South Korea. Another region in Italy that is also considered to have had a large part of the population tested is Lombardy with its capital city Milan.
In addition to its famous canal city, Venice, the Venetian region also has renowned coastal areas such as Bibbione and Jesolo which are visited by tourists from Russia, Germany and America as well as lakes such as Lake Garda and some famous rivers. And let us not forget the snowy mountain resorts such as Cortina. Last but not least, the beautiful crystals of Murano and various archaeological sites as the world cultural heritage.
Venice’s hard work has shown its results. Local and foreign tourists, especially from Germany have returned to laying out beach cloths and opening their sun umbrellas to enjoy the warm sun and the fresh local ‘spritz’, a cocktail based on prosecco from Valdobbiadene.
Rieska Wulandari, Translator and Editor : Claudia Magany and Nicoletta Costi