Culture and tourism are disconnected. A change of course is needed on tickets and other issues

The ticket increases at Ostia Park and Naples' MANN, decided without any communication, are just one of many occasions when culture has shown little respect for the public and tour operators. When it comes to programming, culture and tourism appear increasingly disconnected. And a change of course is needed.

On Wednesday, March 1, a post appeared on the Ostia Antica Archaeological Park ’s Facebook page announcing that as of the same day, “today, March 1,” new fares would go into effect. The increase is by as much as 6 euros, from 12 to 18, justified by the fact that the old 12-euro ticket was valid for one day and included only Ostia Antica while the new one is valid for 7 days and includes all the Park’s sites (4 other sites). On Friday, March 3, word came of theincrease in the MANN ticket in Naples starting the next day, March 4: from 18 to 22 euros (with two days validity instead of one). MANN publishes an average of three posts a day on its Facebook page: yet not a single post appeared to announce the increase. Another increase, of 5 euros overnight, had occurred two years ago; again, no communication on the museum’s very active channels.

Examples would be many; the two mentioned are only the latest. Last year, St. Mark’s Basilica increased the “skip-the-line” reservation from 4 to 6 euros at the height of the season. Sure, it is not a state monument, but it is by far the most visited site in Venice. And it denotes the same way of doing things. We do not want to get into the question of prices, whether they are fair or expensive, because there are conflicting opinions on this topic and much has already been said about it.

Here we are interested in pointing out another aspect: the total lack of communication, in advance, on the part of so many cultural institutions. The absence of notices and forewarnings denotes a chronic lack of respect, on the one hand toward visitors, because public places of culture increase tickets as in a supermarket you change the price of fruit, and on the other hand toward tour operators.

And above all, it indicates the total disconnect of the two worlds: tourism is based on planning, a term that continues to be unknown in the places of “Culture.” A world, this one, where we always arrive with permits and signatures at the last minute, exhibitions that open while they are finishing putting up panels, catalogs that sometimes come out after the openings. On the other hand, the tourism world has to have the accurate information an average of six months in advance, and foreign agencies go crazy because in Italy, every year, in December we still do not know, even at the most important sites, whether there will be increases the following year or whether they will suddenly introduce them mid-season. Much of the management does not seem to pose the problem that sudden increases in tickets could create inconvenience for those working in the industry.

The overnight increase in tickets is just one of many aspects of the sites’unreliability when it comes to “costs.” The other particularly egregious one is that of exhibitions, which result in significant price increases. In many monuments (in Rome Castel Sant’Angelo, Galleria Borghese and other very famous sites) we read that “the price of the ticket may vary in case of exhibitions”: it follows that we never know for sure the price of the ticket in the following months except when, at the last moment, the beginning of an exhibition is announced; which is sometimes even extended, obviously at the last moment. It is another element that makes us make miserable figures with companies and agencies when they want to organize visits and they ask for quotes and you have to answer, for example, “the tickets cost 12 euros, but if in June there will be an exhibition they will increase, but as of today we still don’t know when it will open and anyway in case what the final cost will be.”

Visitors to the MANN in Naples
Visitors to the MANN in Naples

All this then for exhibitions that often significantly limit the cramped spaces of ancient monuments where the walkable area determines the number of tickets that are always sold-out; or that limit and impede the view of the permanent collections, ruining the visit of historical places that are jewels in themselves; which cost so much in set-up and take time and energy away from already overworked officials; all only sometimes for remarkable scientific achievements, more often to achieve bureaucratic goals or to publish and sign yet another catalog.

The world of culture has been traveling on a track of its own for years and still does not conceive of the idea of having to relate to visitors in general and the world of tourism in particular. The economic strategy of cultural heritage seems schizophrenic: on the one hand, the price of tickets is increased, and on the other hand, the number of free days is increased. We had hoped that the new dicastery at the Roman College would mark a break in this direction, but instead it not only confirmed the free Sundays established years ago, but even increased them by adding April 25, June 2 and November 4. Does Minister Sangiuliano have any idea what the Colosseum, the Royal Palace of Caserta and other famous sites will be like on those three dates? Also in view of the fact that this year there is a “bridge” that includes June 2 and the first Sunday of the month.

Free days are an initiative certainly loved by most of the countrymen and especially residents, but in some of the most famous sites they put at risk the heritage exposed in a few hours to crowds unsupervised by insufficient custodial staff. From the point of view of the tourism sector, then, they even prevent people from visiting the most famous sites, keeping well away anyone who wants to see a monument like Pompeii or the Colosseum in minimally decent conditions; they amount to “forbidden” days, because tourists are generally forced to forgo visiting, as reservations are not allowed; when they book their trip to Italy, they do not know that their stay in Florence or Rome will coincide with a free Sunday and they have no idea what it entails. It is a curse for those in the industry to still be able to provide service without being inundated with complaints.

It is patently absurd to treat the Uffizi and the Bargello the same way, yet it has been done for years. We need differentiated strategies depending on whether these are places where visitors are lacking or where they are in supernumerary. We find it unconscionable that free days are being forced on all sites indiscriminately, and that the Ministry of Culture is not addressing the question of what such days entail for tourism.

This is not the place to reopen the debate on whether cultural sites should always be free for all or paid for, because it would take us off topic. At the moment in state sites young people, from all countries of the world, up to the age of 18 have free entry, while those in the European Community from 18 to 25 pay only 2 euros. In addition to these already protected groups, instead of the strategy of free Sundays that end up giving entry even to golden pensioners and tourists who would rather pay 50 euros than stand in line for an hour in the sun, in our opinion the state should ensure free entry to citizens with economic difficulties; and not on the first Sunday of the month, but when they want and can go there themselves.

Calculating, roughly, that a free day causes the Colosseum to lose at least 100,000 euros and that this figure should be multiplied by all the first Sundays and those of all the monuments in Italy, wouldn’t it be better to eliminate free Sundays and in their place create a “card” to be given to families with a certain ISEE, for free entry to museums when they want, without having to be crowded together to make “numbers” and to show that they are happy? Not to mention the fact that if you want to bring citizens (of all socio-economic levels) closer to museums, there are various virtuous strategies, some of which have already been implemented by many cultural institutions and could be increased everywhere (totally free municipal museums for residents, annual subscriptions to build public loyalty, discounts for couples, discounts for time slots, etc.).

We call on Minister Sangiuliano to reset everything and start again with new policies. And even then, would it be too much to ask that the world of cultural heritage dialogue with the world of tourism to find solutions (on tickets, reservations, gratuities, rules, openings, hours, communications, etc.) that are shared and optimal for all?

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