Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) in Milan Photo: IC
Plazza San Marco in Venice Photo: IC
Foreign tourism boosted Italy's economy in 2013 and 62 percent of international operators worldwide confirmed an increase of travel to Italy during Christmas and New Year's Eve holidays, a recent survey from the National Agency of Tourism (ENIT) revealed.
The positive trend gives a solid boost to an exhausted economy slowly emerging from the longest recession since World War II.
ENIT surveyed among major tour operators and travel agencies around the world in 18 European and 10 non-European countries. The 62 percent increase in demand for "Italian holidays" mostly involves countries outside Europe, but a positive trend was also confirmed by 55 percent of European tour operators and agencies, the survey showed.
Diversifying and widening Italy's appeal seems to be the secret of success. "We have doubled our efforts, trying to promote Italy in every corner of the world in 2013. Now good results are coming," said Andrea Babbi, director-general of ENIT.
Gino Acampora, managing director of an agency based in the southern city of Sorrento, near Naples, agreed. "The secret is varying your appeal. Italy has many attractions: culture, history, food and wine, wellness, nature of all sorts... everything that foreign tourists could love," Acampora explained to Xinhua. "Competition with other countries is also great, however, and Internet offers or self-made travels are also increasing. So you must be really good in attracting specific clients with 'ad-hoc' proposals," he pointed out.
Founded in the 1970s, the Acampora Travel agency works nation-wide and focuses on a target of medium and rich tourists. "Foreign inflow has been overall very good in 2013. We have had excellent results with Canada, the US, Australia, but also with Latin American countries. I would estimate by now the inbound flow will give us a 10-12 percent increase of profits," the manager added.
Italy is the fifth most visited destination in the world tourism ranking compiled by the United Nation World Tourism Organisation, after France, the US, China, and Spain.
More than 48 million foreigners visited the country in 2012, rising 2.5 percent in 2013. It is expected to grow further, by around 3 percent, in 2014, according to domestic forecasts.
These increasing figures are expected to give Italy's economy a most relevant breathing space, since tourism has always been a driving resource for the country accounting for 10.3 percent of GDP and 11.7 percent of jobs in 2012.
Expectations are being met, so far. Foreigners' spending during holidays reached 32 billion euros ($44 billion) last year, according to Italy's Central Bank, and revenue has kept growing in 2013, with a 3.3 percent increase between January and September compared to the same period of the previous year.
The positive trend, which is bringing the tourism sector near "pre-crisis" levels, is having another useful effect. "Improving results from foreigners has helped Italian agencies and tour operators to counterbalance the drop in domestic demand, which has been quite sharp in the last years," Acampora told Xinhua.
According to ENIT's survey, cities of art proved again to be the most favored destinations during year-end festivities including not only major cities like Rome, Florence, Venice, and Naples, but also smaller towns with a rich historical heritage like Perugia, Assisi, Siena, or Orvieto.
The second most popular destinations were ski areas in Northern Italy, followed by tour packages focusing on health and gastronomy. Packages offering different attractions combined, such as a cultural destination enriched with food and wine excursions and a luxury shopping tour, have also proved to be increasingly successful.
Germany is traditionally the first "buyer," with other European partners like France, Britain, Austria, the Netherlands or Spain coming behind. Yet the sharpest increase in foreign presence has involved extra-Europe countries and also "new markets" such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
For Christmas and New Year's Eve 2013 alone, the National Agency of Tourism's survey showed an increase of 20 percent in booking from Russia, around 20 percent from China, 8-10 percent from the US, 5 percent from India, and 3 percent from Japan.