The pandemic hit the economy indiscriminately around the world, but the tourism industry was probably one of the sectors most affected by the lockdowns imposed by Covid 19.
The sector accounts for almost 10% of global GDP with 300 million people employed and before the crisis generated $9 trillion in value, $1 trillion in investment and $1.7 trillion in exports.
In Italy, tourism activities directly account for about 7% of GDP with almost 1.7 million employees: an important economic weight comparable in Europe to that of Spain and higher than that of France and Germany. There are many reasons for this success: the uniqueness of the artistic heritage, the quality of the food and wine, and the excellence of Made in Italy products.
Even in our country, tourist flows, following the health crisis, have undergone a profound shock: in particular, according to ISTAT data, incoming tourism decreased drastically in March 2020 compared to the monthly data of the two previous years, reaching about 1.1 million and in April 2020 the figure dropped to 809,000. In August 2021, the volume of incoming tourists to our country rose to almost 7 million, increasing compared to 2020 but remaining far below the 11 million of the pre-pandemic period.
Next 31 March, Italy will not extend the state of national health emergency and for accommodation facilities preparing to welcome tourists for Easter, which this year falls on 17 April, it will be the first test.
We spoke to Katia Hansel, Professor of the Master in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Rome Business School, about the recovery of Italian tourism:
“The season is getting off to a surprising start. Everyone, as in the pre-season, has the desire to jump on a plane to enjoy a holiday after some 26 months of suspended life. From June onwards, Americans, Australians and Europeans will arrive in Italy to visit Italy’s cities of art, Roma, Milano, Firenze, Venezia, Napoli with Pompei and natural beauty. Holidays on cruise ships are also very popular. It will be a very intense period, but at the moment it is difficult to make precise forecasts on incoming figures and on what will happen in the near future.
People are very hesitant, they often book at the last minute, they don’t plan in advance as they did in the past. Even after the state of emergency is lifted, there will still be some restrictions, regulations will still change and this uncertainty limits enthusiasm a bit. We have learnt to live with Covid 19, we are ready to show our certifications and we are willing to travel and that is the most important thing.”
Italy is one of the countries in the world with the oldest tourist vocation and offers an artistic heritage that few other countries in the world can boast: with 54 of the 1,092 UNESCO sites, it is the first country for places recognized as World Heritage Sites.
Moreover, Italy is characterized by the spread of Art Cities, ancient villages, museums and archaeological sites throughout its territory. This extraordinary wealth represents a real competitive advantage if it is true that the artistic heritage and natural beauty fuel the quality and competitiveness of Made in Italy, two sectors that interpenetrate and tell the story of Italian tradition, history, culture and society.
In fact, the so-called tourism products have a complex nature that includes not only the chosen destination but also some intangible features such as cultural and food and wine proposals that always arouse great attraction and can be trump cards in today’s situation of uncertainty, which also includes concern over the war in Ukraine.
In order to return to growth, tourism must overcome old stereotypes, seize new opportunities and enrich travel motivations. After the Covid 19 health crisis, holidays must necessarily convey a sense of “normality”, through the enjoyment of landscapes and the exploration of territories that are close to the usual destinations.
Consumer preferences are now oriented towards hiking, cycling and, more generally, all activities that take place en plain air. Italy and the future of its tourism, therefore are linked to the ability to invest in a new development model that draws nourishment from some of its strengths:its historical, artistic and landscape heritage and its continuity throughout the country.
“New tourists are looking for different experiences, they want to have fun. They feel the need to immerse themselves in nature and culture. Tour operators have the important function of guiding the choices that must satisfy all needs in order to return to discover places and cultures. For many, it has been really difficult in recent months to give up travelling and now they want to enjoy every single minute. The first tourists to arrive in Italy will be Australians and when Australians travel they do so for months, with the whole family, with the children. It will be a joy to see Italy’s monuments and squares, I’m thinking of the Trevi Fountain for example, filled with happy people again.”
As mentioned above, the concept of holidays and tourism has changed since the pandemic and has been enriched with new elements. We are currently witnessing the phenomenon of experiential tourism, which emphasizes the intimate and involving experience it can offer. In Italy, food and wine tourism is very much in vogue. This is a valuable opportunity to promote the products and traditions that make our country unique and to celebrate one of Italy’s great treasures: the table. An important asset for the image of Italy in the world, if it is true that the kitchen is the reason that collects the highest level of satisfaction, both among Italian and foreign tourists, after the artistic heritage and natural beauty.
“Food and wine tourism is very popular, because it combines knowledge of the territory with the experience of food, the culture of food, and we know how much foreigners love Italian cuisine! Often tourists do not stay in hotels but in large flats to fully experience the holiday which sometimes involves the whole family, sometimes even three generations: from grandparents to grandchildren. You buy local products, and together with a chef, who also gives cooking lessons, you cook Italian food, thus turning your holiday into a unique experience.”
The tourism sector is undoubtedly directly affected by digital transformation, and technology is set to play an increasingly crucial role in this sector. Digital tools will in fact play an increasingly decisive role in the inspiration and research phase of destinations because storytelling is highly evocative and acts on the emotional sphere by talking about a territory with images, posts, videos and podcasts published on social media.
“During the pandemic all tour operators interacted with social media, posted videos, told stories and kept the attention high through the key narrative of places. They found a different way of approaching tourists towards what I call the “Touch History”. Especially in our age, where experiential travel is so fundamental, now people have the great opportunity of digital tourism that allows them with a simple click to see stories, listen to podcasts and thus perceive the widespread beauty of the holiday they choose to live”.
Business & team coach, motivational trainer. After working with people from all over the world for 30 years, she specializes in Human Resource Management. She supports managers and staff of companies and organizations to grow on all fronts, using winning business strategies and sophisticated and innovative tools. She is an expert in tourism and hospitality management, managing two Tour Operators operating all over the world.