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Italy losing ground in tourism

Di Antonio Caneva, 27 Maggio 2005

I do not think I am revealing anything new, considering the amount of attention given it by the media in recent days, when I say that according to Tourism World Organisation data, Italian tourism has dropped from fourth to fifth position in the world. Indeed, while the top three nations – France, Spain and United States – have successfully held their positions, we have been overtaken by China. Of course, with its recent opening to market economy, China has an enormous potential for growth, and it almost comes natural to just accept our demotion. If we read the figures, however, we realise that the three nations ahead of us have all improved their performances, whereas Italy, with 37 million foreign tourists (minus 6% from the previous year) registered a decrease in incoming tourist flows. It may be useful to remember that in the after-World War II period Italy held the top spot, and its position has been gradually eroded by countries which have been able to combine efficiency with promotion, thus building a value-generating system.
True, while seaside resorts are suffering, art towns are holding well, and smaller destinations are gradually emerging, but the perception is that tourism suffers from a more general malaise. There has been an ongoing discussion about the approach to tourist promotion in Italy (currently extremely limited); some would like regional governments to enjoy independent powers, though within a national coordination framework, while others believe that a central authority should manage tourist resources in concert with regions. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it is not so: this is what our capacity to promote our country abroad largely depends on. In the meantime……
Italy, suffering from a strong euro, is impaired by the weakness of some services that are essential for tourism: air transport, the railways and – no less important – the postal service. This latter I sometimes find astonishing. Through all the media they advertise innovative offers such as leasing, mass-mailing, and savings services, and then – as happened to us in February with the invitations to a conference – mail is delivered with a one-month delay, when it is of no use any longer.
In spite of difficulties, tourist enterprises do – commendably – invest; between a grumble and a flash of optimism, people cross their fingers and carry on, with the season at the doors.
Last week Enrico Franceschini closed his article in La Repubblica with the following words: “Politics is a puppet theatre and the economy is going to rack and ruin, – we Italians used to say – even in the worst of cases, we are always going to be number one in tourism; but if things don’t change, not even that is certain anymore”.
It makes one shiver. Let’s hope we are under a lucky star.

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