After two years of pandemic and one month of war, here's how tourism will go for Easter

Tourism operators are looking forward to Easter 2022 after two years of pandemic and a month of war in Ukraine. Many flows from abroad are at a standstill, and so much will be focused on domestic tourism. And many Italians will rediscover museums, from the Uffizi down.

"Unlike the time of the Covid outbreak, there was not the shower of cancellations that characterized that period; with the war in Ukraine, American bookings stopped but all those scheduled in June and even through November held up. Perhaps it was due to the perception that the war was short-lived." And we hope so, too. The remark comes from Elena, a Florentine tour guide from the Icona Toscana Association, who a month after the start of the conflict analyzes with us the behavior of the U.S. clientele, adding also that the American universities present in Florence have all confirmed courses and have not stopped activities. Even the State Department, which is notoriously sensitive to these types of situations, has not issued an alert or return warning. So overall, overseas tourism should hold up but it will depend on the turn the international geopolitical scenario takes.

With Easter approaching, the long tourist season that was supposed to mark a return to normalcy after two years of a narrow-gauge pandemic should get underway but the outlook is again uncertain and we recorded the sentiment of insiders in this sector.

Theother half of the sky. The president of Federalberghi di Roma, Giuseppe Roscioli, confirms that at the beginning of the conflict there were no cancellations in large numbers for the U.S., only the first week, “but bookings stopped.” And as for non-European countries, half of the countries of the usual international clientele before Covid are missing from the roll call: “For the past two years, arrivals from Russia and satellite countries, China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, and South America have practically gone to zero, and it is hard to see when the recovery can start.” The difference from 2021 Russian clientele will be very limited "as even last year’s entries were already restrained by the type of vaccine used in their own country: in fact, Sputnik is not recognized by Italian health authorities." Before the pandemic, according to data compiled by Federalberghi in the capital, Rome had about 1 million Russian tourists a year, who stayed an average of 4 days each in hotels, where the average in Rome is 2.5 days. They were therefore valued for this and as high-spending capacity. For bookings during this period came the summer months that are now scarce hoteliers hope, given the uncertain times, in the last minute “since it has now become an established habit of the clientele,” Roscioli explains. A city, the Capital, that is already beginning to look ahead to 2025 with the Jubilee, which is seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for recovery, on par with an Expo, to be exploited and which will be the focus of next week’s ’Hotelier Day’ organized by Federalberghi and local institutions.

Giacomo Zaganelli, Dalla serie Grand Tourismo (2018)
Giacomo Zaganelli, From the Grand Tourismo series (2018)

Even for the national president of Angt, a tour guide association, Adina Persano, “there is no good news. In these two years, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese have literally disappeared, with Canadians and Americans a bit hesitant, and we were waiting for April to restart” at full capacity, but the combination of several factors does not make for good prospects at the moment. “With the war we see delayed the great return of the eastern countries.” Suffice it to say that airspace restrictions as trade retaliation against Russia poses problems for those who would like to come to Italy from the East. Cruises are starting up again, let’s see what will happen."

Istat has not yet published 2021 figures, but the numbers provided by Gianfranco Lorenzo, research manager of the Centro Studi Turistici, a partner of Confesercenti nazionale in analysis and research, give us a clear picture of the trend: in 2019, arrivals (i.e., the number of customers accommodated in accommodations) from Russia were 1.77 million in Italy, while presences (the number of nights spent in accommodations) was about 5.82 million. In the same period from the United States we recorded 6.1 million arrivals and 16.3 million presences in Italy. In 2020 the vertical collapse: from Russia about 288 thousand arrivals and the presences just one million while from the united states 407 thousand arrivals and 1.25 presences. “We have just completed a sample survey of 1,300 accommodation businesses throughout Italy and only 0.3 percent have bookings from Russians.”

A season that will focus on Italy. So it will be a season, the spring/summer season, that will rely on domestic and partly European tourism. “Domestically, the context is good,” the Florentine tour guide confirms, "and in my opinion for Easter we will replicate what happened for the November 2 holiday. A great return of Italians to the classic destinations that were usually very crowded. It’s as if they all had the same idea: to go to see the Uffizi, the Doge’s Palace in Venice or other essential places of our artistic heritage again, in this period where there is a lack of foreigners and no queues." And according to reservations for Easter, this seems to be confirmed, although hoteliers tend to point out that the accommodation system’s policy now offers free cancellation of reservations until the chosen date.

Among Italians’ renunciations is culture. SWG ’Radar’ data and from the Confturismo-Confcommercio Observatory in March analyze how much various factors influence Italians’ spending choices: first, it emerges that they will save on expenses especially "for the culture sector and the tourism supply chain. For tourism, on the basis of the approximately 60 million arrivals and 160 million presences in Italy in 2021 that continue to miss the roll call compared to 2019, combined with more than 22 million fewer trips by Italians abroad, confirm the crisis that still lives the sector, which has even less encouraging prospects ahead: among the first consumption cuts are, in fact, catering, vacations and culture, in which at least 60 percent of respondents say they have already changed their buying habits," the document reads.

“The first alarming figure,” writes SWG, "is recorded for Easter, with nearly 8 million Italians intending to leave of which only 4 million have already concretely planned. Even the travel choices make it clear how critical the situation is: short trips and within the region of residence for half of the vacationers; probably only one overnight stay and spending in the range of 200 euros per person all inclusive, while only 6 percent will opt for foreign destinations, compared to 13 percent in 2019. It is not the type of destination, sea or mountain, that determines the choices in this period, but the motivations: first and foremost, the need to “relax with one’s family” or experience “art and culture,” even if only by visiting a city of art or a village.

Meanwhile, in exclusive destinations such as Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany, frequented by Russian tycoons who have houses and yachts moored here in Versilia, as Repubblica has documented in recent days, one notices the scattered comings and goings of those who nonetheless manage to arrive with flights that stop over from Turkey or the Arabian Peninsula. They arrive here because they have interest and often wives with children who spend the winter in Italy making them attend international schools. A family area where mini vans are more rented than sports cars but where there is no shortage of helicopter rides to Chianti or different yachts each year to go to Cinque Terre. “Last year,” explains Versiluxury owner Pietro Bonuccelli, “Russians, but also Ukrainians, were there, with explosion from May and they had to fight cars and boats. The richest Russia is represented here, people who alone have personal assets valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, those that international sanctions aim to target and seize as economic retaliation. Giovanni Magrini, of Versilia Driver, explains that ”if we lose 30 percent, the boutiques will lose 50-60 percent. Now the Russians are flying for Dubai, someone from China-they are a good part of the market, but this year we will also have Arabs and Americans.“ Cancellations also for rental houses, even from those who had been vacationing here ”for twenty years. Fortunately, with the pandemic, the Italians have replaced them: those who used to spend 200,000 euros for a boat elsewhere are now staying here and saving money, but a whole market is at risk, from restaurants to interpreters," they tell from Forte dei Marmi Villas.

While Salvatore Madonna, owner of two luxury five-star hotels, the Byron in Forte dei Marmi and the Plaza hotel in Viareggio, two areas with a high vocation for Russian presence comments to Corriere: “Forte dei Marmi will inevitably feel the backlash of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis but my group has never invested in that kind of tourism. While the Russians here in Versilia were buying villas and hotels, we were going to the U.S. to make deals that today guarantee us the U.S. as our second market. Forte dei Marmi has become one of the most sought-after destinations precisely because of its Italian connotations and the appeal of the made-in-Italy lifestyle. It is precisely that which we need to preserve without being fascinated by the shortcuts of a rich tourism but far from our tastes, such as the Russian one.” In the meantime, it is necessary to face the new season that comes after a 2021 of great satisfaction also used to plan new investments. “Last year was one of the best seasons ever confirms Madonna , this allowed us to continue in the project started in 2020 when we took over a former hotel bordering our Byron. This will allow us, at the beginning of 2023, to double the number of our rooms and guarantee a series of more exclusive services. We will continue to diversify our source areas: that is the lesson that pandemic and war have left us. Our areas must maintain the Italian charm and raise the quality of services. The tourists will come.”