What impact will there be on the tourism of Russians and Ukrainians in Italy?

What impact will the war in Ukraine have on the tourism of Russians and Ukrainians in Italy? Operators make no secret of their concern. Here are the likely scenarios.

“Art cities do not restart with thousands of tourists eating a sandwich, we need to intercept those with spending power. That of a Russian visitor, on average, is ten times higher than that of an Italian.” He does not use half-measures, the national deputy vice president of Fipe, the Italian Federation of Public Establishments, and Tuscan president of Confcommercio, Aldo Cursano, confiding his concern in recent days to Repubblica. The fear of economic operators, especially of the resorts devoted to tourism linked to the cultural attractions of our country, is that with the war in Ukraine there will be repercussions on arrivals for the next season.

It is a family-size tourism, but above all it is a tourism that spends a lot and creates a considerable induced in services: from luxury mini-van rental with driver to travel comfortably in Italy to mega yachts to catering in all Italian declinations, from shopping for everything that represents made in Italy and the Italian lifestyle to entertainment. The Russians in our country have invested millions of euros to buy houses, 5-star hotels, building facilities and related services creating an induced activity that has also driven the local economy. Suffice it to say that in Forte dei Marmi there is a villa that is rented for 100 thousand euros a week and the facility’s website is only in English and Cyrillic. Not to mention the more “cheap” ones....

What is happening in Ukraine and the uncertainty about how it will end are already curbing the inclination to plan vacations and trips. And the indiscriminate increase in the prices of all kinds of goods, and first and foremost energy and fuel, will force that large section of tourists who used to come by car from central Europe to change their travel planning. But what scares hoteliers even more is a widening of the conflict at Europe’s doorstep, which, in addition to the horrors of a war itself, would also drive away Americans and Arabs.

Roma, turisti al Colosseo. Foto di Christian Sapetschnig
Rome, tourists at the Colosseum. Photo by Christian Sapetschnig

Previous. The attendance of Russians in 2021 had already plummeted because of the anti-Covid vaccine: in fact, Sputnik was not recognized by national health authorities and therefore those who had been vaccinated with it could not cross our borders. Therefore, to try to understand what perspective it will have on the system-country let us try to draw a sketch of the Russian tourist who may come to miss in the coming months.

First of all, theaverage age is high, they are mostly families who come in search of relaxation, to eat well and have fun, attend spas, staying in luxury or exclusive places and eager to discover Italy in its various facets. According to the study by Confimprese in collaboration with Nielsen Mobility, hospitality, culture and charm. Our Country Seen Through the Eyes of Others from April 2016, it can be seen that, among foreigners who visit the Belpaese, Russian tourists are by far the most satisfied with their last trip to Italy: enraptured by the artistic and natural beauty, the climate and the local food, they award Italy a grade of 9.2, well above the Italian average. He is, on average, between 35 and 55 years old, loves novelty, books his vacation at the last minute, has an increasing tendency to make his own arrangements, is interested in niche products, travels mainly in summer (46.5 percent) and is inclined to return to places he has already visited. The regions that Russian tourism prefers are, in order, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Lazio and Tuscany.

Another useful parameter to look at is offered by a study prepared by Global Blue, a company active in tax free shopping on Russian and Ukrainian tourists in Italy, to assess which Italian destinations are likely to suffer the greatest impacts. “In 2019,” reads the company’s note, “the last year before the pandemic, Russians represented the second nationality by purchases (12 percent of the total market) with interesting growth prospects, since their shopping had registered +8 percent compared to 2018. In the period January 2021/February 2022, as a result of the pandemic and Covid-related restrictions, the volume of tax-free purchases of Russians in Italy decreased compared to 2019, but this nationality still recorded a significant average receipt of €1,215 (+78% compared to 2019).”

Roma, turisti alla Fontana di Trevi
Rome, tourists at the Trevi Fountain

Art purchases. The discourse regarding the world of art and galleries is different: "They were not big buyers," explains Fabrizio Russo representative of the Historic Center of Rome for Confcommercio interviewed by Repubblica. “We are talking about 5 percent of purchases in art galleries, but the last ones I saw were three or four years ago.”

Art cities. “In 2021,” Global Blue explains, “the favorite shopping destination for Russian tourists was Milan, with 39 percent of total sales, followed by Rome with 17 percent of tax-free purchases. Also in the year just ended, Venice was the city with the highest average receipt: 2,060 euros, followed by Florence (1,837 euros) and southern Italy (1,739 euros). In 2021, Fashion&Clothing was the favorite product category of Russian travelers (87%).”

Ukrainians. “In the January 2021/February 2022 period,” Global Blue continues, “Ukrainian tourists, although less well-known in Italy than Russian tourists, recorded an average receipt of 1,088 euros, up 45% compared to 2019 (749 euros). In 2021, this nationality also favored shopping in Milan, where 43 percent of total tax-free purchases were recorded. It followed Rome with 16 percent of tax-free shopping compared to 15 percent in 2019. In terms of the highest average receipt, Florence was the city with the highest average spending budget in 2021: 1,678 euros, followed by Venice (1,567 euros) and Milan (1,520 euros). Also for Ukrainian tourists, the favorite product category was Fashion&Clothing 78% (86% in 2019), followed by Watches&Jewellery with 17% in (+8% in 2019).”

How many. The Russian component alone is estimated at 6 million presences annually: in 2019 there were about 1.7 million Russians in Italy for tourism, with 5.8 million presences (source: Istat) with an expenditure of 984 million euros (according to Bankitalia). Among the favorite destinations in addition to the big cities of art are Cortina d’Ampezzo, Sorrento, Capri, Versilia, Costa Smeralda, Argentario, Verona, Romagna Riviera, Taormina, and Puglia. In April 2022 alone, on the other hand, we will have to give up about 175,000 overnight stays by Russian tourists and nearly 20 million euros in revenue, warns Assoturismo-Confesercenti.

Where. According to Enit data, Russians prefer five provinces: Rimini (here, before the pandemic, 14.9 percent of total spending by Russian tourists in Italy was concentrated), Rome (14.9 percent), Venice (9.1), Milan (8.8 percent) and Verona (7.1 percent). As of April, Italian accommodation facilities will have to give up about 175,000 overnight stays by Russian tourists and nearly 20 million euros in turnover due to the war in Ukraine, Assoturismo reports. The Veneto region alone welcomed one million Russian visitors in 2019, which plummeted by 90 percent already in 2021 due to the pandemic and the non-recognition of Sputnik as a valid vaccine in Europe.

Veduta di Forte dei Marmi. Foto Wikimedia/Alerove
View of Forte dei Marmi. Photo Wikimedia/Alerove

Putin says. To get an idea of the kind of presence in Italy we start from the primary source to understand how our tourist destination was viewed by Moscow. In March 2015 it was Vladimir Putin himself who announced during the final statements with then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the end of the meeting in the Kremlin that about 900,000 Russian citizens visited Italy, leaving one billion dollars in our country while “our investments in Italy are worth 2-3 billion euros” against “more than 400 Italian companies in Russia, what represents more than a billion in trade,” the Russian president was quick to point out. And Enit - Italy’s National Tourist Board in 2019 announced that Russians love Italy even more than Spain, which has been overtaken by the number of trips.

In Rome, according to Confcommercio and Confesercenti, as reported by Il Messaggero, the turnover that could come from the million tourists from Moscow (staying about 4 nights, twice the average of other visitors) in 2019 is around 150 million euros.

That’s a disaster for the tertiary sector, which was counting on getting back on track with Christian Easter on April 17 and Pentecost on April 24. Of the same opinion is the CEO of Rimini Airport, who in an interview with Corriere della Sera rattles off some figures: “To understand what the impact is, just think that this year we had ten weekly flights from Ukraine and about 40 from Russia. Multiplied by 300 (passengers per flight) and 25 weeks, these two markets alone in 2022 would have cubed 300 thousand passengers.”

The cancellations are beginning to be felt. “The sanctions,” Vittorio Messina, president of Assoturismo Confesercenti, tells ANSA, “are set by governments, not by companies whose responsibility it is instead to comply with what is decided. But other than that, the problem doesn’t arise: from Russia, as well as Ukraine and all of Eastern Europe, no one is coming.... ”. In Sardinia and particularly on the Costa Smeralda, a favorite destination for Russian yachts that are now on the run, there is a red alert: in the island’s tourism market, Russia accounts for 1.5 percent in terms of presences, about 220 thousand per season. “In Sardinia alone the loss is 80 million, for the country of 984 million euros,” Ivana Jelinic, president of Fiavet, the travel agencies, echoes him. In Tuscany, according to Coldiretti, 200,000 Russian tourists were expected this year, concentrated between Easter and August, as many in Liguria, more than a hundred thousand in Puglia.

“Italians,” warns Ivana Jelinic of Fiavet again, “are beginning to revise their plans for the summer, increasing requests for Spain and Portugal, further away from the epicenter of the crisis, while Greece, Turkey and France do not arouse interest at this stage.” Result? “Our industry is in crisis, the pandemic has caused 80 percent losses in turnover. Our companies are without liquidity and they are not even in a position to take advantage of the facilities offered by the NRP,” she concludes lapidarily in her cry of alarm. And the scenarios that are constantly evolving at the moment do not bode well.

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