Italian tourism industry calls on government for dramatic change

Published on : Monday, February 16, 2015

etoa-logoItalian business leaders have demanded that tourism policy be overhauled or the visitor economy will risk continual decline.
At an ETOA seminar held at Starhotels Michelangelo in Florence, Cristiano Radaelli, Commissario Straordinario of ENIT (the national tourist board) said that Italy had experienced a decline in market share. Better infrastructure was needed, not just a friendly welcome.

Tourism accounts for 11% of Italian GDP and over 2.5 million jobs, yet it is still seen as an imposition by many residents who do not have first-hand involvement in the visitor economy. ETOA the European tourism association, plans to build on its research among industry and visitors by surveying residents about their opinions on tourism in Italy.

In October 2014 ETOA conducted a visitor perceptions survey. The results showed that while standards of welcome remain very high, poor planning and facilities are sending people home with a negative impression.

Radaelli was candid about the problems. Internet access is unnecessarily complicated for foreigners; relatively few visitors travel south of Rome despite the region’s great attractions; current legislation reinforces local and regional responsibility for tourism at the expense of a coordinated national strategy.

Italy has over 8000 communes with policy control over tourism; over 65 have access charges for coaches. The lack of coordination between local, regional and national bodies is an acute malaise that is preventing positive change.

Preparations for Expo 2015 in Milan have been widely criticised as inadequate. International awareness remains limited and Italy’s incoming industry seems to have scarcely been involved. What could be a great opportunity risks failure through poor planning and lack of consultation. In contrast, World Expo 2020 in Dubai already has a sophisticated web presence, and is being marketed worldwide.

Tourism marketing resources throughout Italy are also an issue. Carlotta Ferrari, Presidente, Convention Bureau Italia, observed that, while some cities had seen growth in visitor numbers, there was no national strategy for success.

Delegates at the seminar reflected on the mismatch between necessary long-term planning and short-term political calculation. Carla Benvenuti of Confindustria Firenze – Industria Alberghiera spoke of the need to align private and public sector needs. Every three or four years there is an election and politicians need something to show, but the political cycle is often too short to implement necessary decisions about infrastructure. Industry must make long-term investment decisions but, in contrast, overnight taxes increase with little notice long after the private sector has set prices.

Italy has also seen steep cost increases in recent years. Giuseppe Roscioli, Vicepresidente Vicario, Federalberghi, observed that Rome already has one of Europe’s highest overnight taxes, and this is set to increase. The sentiment of the meeting was too many people in charge of tourism know too little about it; that tourism remains a ‘Serie B’ priority for government when it has a ‘Serie A’ impact. It has great potential, but its problem is governance, and that needs political will to change.

Despite this, Radaelli stated that one of Europe’s top destinations for international visitors has the ambition to be to become No.1 again.

Tim Fairhurst, Head of Strategy and Policy reflected: “What we heard today was a warning from senior people in all parts of the industry. The potential for innovation, growth and jobs in Italian tourism is unmatched, but it needs a political response to be fulfilled. Meanwhile, as an international destination, it is fast becoming uncompetitive. This is a huge economic risk, and a poor reward for the warmth, hospitality and creativity for which Italians are justly famous.” Italy will remain a focus for ETOA, with various activities planned throughout 2015.

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