Priority actions for promoting Italian tourism
Our analysis of the Italian tourism industry shows a picture of a sector of great potential, but which is struggling to realise that potential to the full.
Over the last sixty years, tourism has witnessed changes and developments of inconceivable proportions, polarising into two extremes:
These two extremes are linked by a number of essential elements, including a focus on the quality of facilities and services offered, on the localities and the experience in general and the importance of time, which is limited, concentrated and not to be wasted.
Positioning of Italy
Italy ranks in top place among the countries most aspired to by travellers, but drops in the rankings when it comes to actual numbers. Italy ranks fifth in the world by number of international arrivals, with around 50 million tourists, and sixth in terms of tourist spending, equal to approximately $46 billion.
In the conviction that tourists would continue to visit Italy, attracted by the renown of its past, we have stopped investing in the present, a decision that is estimated to have cost the country in recent years around 2 per cent of GDP and 3 per cent of jobs.
Yet we are talking about the country with the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites (51), the country with the greatest number of hotel rooms in Europe and the Mediterranean country with greatest number of cruise-ship visitors.
The world scenario in which Italy as a tourist destination competes has changed profoundly in recent decades:
Italy does not appear to have fully adapted to these major transformations and has continued to lose market share over the last twenty years. Although the trend has affected all of the country’s most direct European competitors - France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain - it cannot be ignored that Italy has been affected by it much more strongly.
In 2015, Italy ranked eighth in the World Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index prepared by the World Economic Forum, trailing Spain in first place, France in second, Germany in third and the United Kingdom in fifth. It is above all contextual factors that mostly affect the country’s ability to attract tourist flows.
There is a lack of key infrastructure, such as airports, ports and high-speed rail, but also poor maintenance of the territory, hydro-geological instability, urban decay, the perception of high crime rates in cities, low levels of local public services and the inadequacy of digital infrastructure.
Issues for the sector
Besides the strong resistance that the general economic system appears to show towards enabling tourism to grow in line with the country’s potential, other major issues exist that are specific to the sector:
Accommodation services thus appear to cater inadequately to new tourists, who focus increasing attention on quality and sustainability:
While an overhaul of accommodation services is largely needed, there has been a worrying drop in the investment capacity of establishments. Yet an analysis conducted of hotels’ financial accounts clearly shows that the capacity to invest has been the key to overcoming the crisis that since 2008 has heavily penalised the sector.
All this is accompanied by complicated governance and a regulatory and administrative framework that is highly contradictory and unstable (over the last ten years, the organisational approach to the central administration of the tourism sector, today the responsibility of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, has changed six times).
The weakness of the Italian tourism industry emerges all the more when the focus is restricted to southern regions only. The South of Italy does not appear at all able to exploit the immense artistic, historical, cultural, natural and environmental heritage that it has. Accommodation services consist mostly of second homes and continues to cater overwhelmingly to beach tourists, a segment that is mature, of low added value and subject to strong competition from other countries with Mediterranean coasts.
Relaunching the sector
It thus appears that a turn towards greater quality can no longer be put off, through efforts involving all stakeholders in the Italian tourism industry and with special attention focused on the country’s south, which potentially represents an asset of great importance for the tourism sector of the country as a whole. To achieve this goal, the priority actions identified include: