More than a year after the Covid-19 pandemic began, hope and positivity has returned to Italy. In 2020, the country witnessed economic, social and health setbacks, with the GDP falling by 8.9 per cent, the number of employees decreased by 456 thousand units compared to 2019, industrial production and turnover of services fell by 11 per cent, the people infected in Italy rose to 4.15 million while the deaths due to Covid totalled 124 thousand. In economic terms, the impact of the pandemic was disastrous in many sectors, especially in services, where in some sectors, turnover was almost zero — especially in the first phase of the pandemic - due to the containment measures introduced to limit the contagion.
Tourism is one of the sectors that was the first and most violently affected by the health crisis. The measures introduced to limit infections in the world have led to an almost complete cessation of tourism activities in a sudden, widespread and simultaneous way. According to the UNWTO, international tourist arrivals dropped by about 75 per cent, sending levels back to numbers that were witnessed nearly 30 years. In simpler words, a drop of nearly 1 billion in arrivals is estimated, with an economic impact worth around $2 trillion (2 per cent of world GDP); some 100 million jobs are at risk, especially among women and young people.
Engine of the global economy
The tourism supply chain — which in addition to the hospitality sector, also involves catering, transport, cultural and museum services — is worth almost 10 per cent of the global GDP and employs more than 300 million people (10.6 per cent of the total). Before the pandemic crisis, the value (direct and indirect) of the sector was approximately $9 trillion — $1,000 billion in terms of investments and $1.7 trillion in exports, which constitutes 27.4 per cent of the exports of services.
Italy is one of the main destinations for international travel and tourism is a fundamental sector for the country's economy. In fact, the sector is worth about seven per cent of GDP and employs 7.1 per cent of the total workforce (almost 1.7 million employees). Including direct and indirect effects, it generates almost 14 per cent of the total value added and employment (2019 data). There are 32,730 hotel establishments and 185,597 non-hotel establishments, with a flow of customers equal to approximately 437 million. On average, the number of stays is 3.3 nights (2019). Italy is fourth in Europe in terms of total number of visitors (after Spain, France and Germany), having a majority share of foreign tourists. Furthermore, the country ranks first for the number of UNESCO designated heritage sites with a score of 58, ahead of China's 56.
The limitations on travel within the national territory and from abroad, added to the total or partial closures of activities related to the tourism sector. This led to a fall in turnover, which at the minimum point of the first wave of Covid (April 2020) reached 95 per cent compared to the previous year. After the partial recovery during the summer months, there were renewed restrictions in the autumn season during the second wave of infections, making it necessary to strengthen the restrictions both in Italy and in other countries. This led to a new and profound, drop in tourist presences and turnover, which in some sectors exceeded 80 per cent compared to a year earlier. On average in 2020, the turnover of the tourism sector decreased by almost 60 per cent and the decrease in total tourist presences was more than 50 per cent compared to 2019. In the first months of 2021, the seriousness of the health situation inside and outside Italy prevented the reopening of the sector's activities.
The vaccination campaign, which has registered a clear acceleration in the last month, is bringing the first important results: in Italy almost 30 million individuals have been vaccinated with at least one dose and in the last week there has been a decline in new cases of contagion and hospitalisation approaching 90 per cent compared to previous peaks. The prospects in the short term are therefore improving also due to the simultaneous progress recorded in the rest of Europe.
The sector, despite many difficulties, is preparing to restart. But we must take into account some changes produced by the pandemic experience, not only in the organisation and strategies of tourism companies, but also in the behavior and choices of the travellers themselves, more oriented towards local tourism and more attentive to environmental sustainability.
The role of politics is to accompany these changes, starting first of all with the introduction of adequate measures to fill those traditional structural context gaps that place Italy in a backward position compared to its main competitors. According to the international rankings of the WEF, there is still a lot to do on infrastructures, digitisation, bureaucracy, transport and promotion of the country's image.
But something is already foreseen in the PNRR: in fact, investments of 6.68 billion euros have been allocated in the ‘Tourism and culture’ sector. Of these, about 3.4 are directly dedicated to tourism activities and are intended to improve tourist accommodation facilities with the aim of raising the competitive capacity of businesses and promoting a tourist offer based on environmental sustainability, innovation and digitalization of services. This is a first, important step to relaunch a sector that plays a crucial role in Italian growth. Without the restart of tourism, in fact, the necessary economic recovery that is hoped for by many is not achievable.
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