The New Tourism: Lessons from Italy

The colosseum in Rome and design for new structure next to it

by Jacopo Ibello and Valerio Mancini

37% of international travellers will choose Italy in 2023. As our colleagues at the Rome Business School report in their latest analysis, culture and major events are the real engines of growth in tourism. Perhaps Cyprus has something to learn from Italy!

Italy ranks among the most popular tourist destinations in the world (7th place, Mastercard data 2022) and the tourism sector accounts for as much as 14% of the country’s GDP, employing almost 1.5 million people (ISTAT, 2022). Culture is still what attracts the largest number of tourists. Rome leads as the most cultural city in Italy, followed by Florence and Milan. But it is actually Florence that excels in digital transformation and livability. In fact, tourists increasingly desire an experience that is attentive to sustainability, seeking ‘smart cities’ that are accessible and highly innovative in terms of digito-cultural usability.

In 2022, cultural holidays in Italy were worth EUR 17.1 billion (0.9 per cent of GDP): almost twice as much as in 2021 and just below the surplus in 2019 (1% of GDP). Both tourism revenues and expenditures almost doubled compared to 2021. In 2022, Italy was fourth in Europe in terms of presences in accommodation establishments, with a share of 13.4 per cent of the total of the EU countries. According to Demoskopika, almost 127 million arrivals and almost 442.5 million presences should be recorded at the end of 2023, with a growth of 11.2% and 12.2% respectively.

Boost of major events: the BNL Internationals, the 2026 Winter Olympics, and Rome Expo 2030

Major events are an opportunity to attract investment, generate public works, private initiatives and promote the image of cities. Currently, Rome is readying to host the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in May 2024, the country’s most important tennis event, which is estimated to welcome more than 300,000 spectators, generating a total induced revenue for the territory of 400 million euro (in 2022 it was about 285 million). Preparations are also underway for the Ryder Cup in September, the most important challenge between golfers from Europe and the United States, a meeting that will generate revenue for the territory of 513.4 million euro against an expenditure of 157 million, according to estimates by KPMG Advisory (2023).

Looking at even more relevant events in terms of impact, think of the induced revenue that could arise from the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics: 14 billion in revenue for the territory and 2.3 billion in total positive impact on the Italian GDP in the period from 2020 to 2028 are estimated, with a peak in the two-year period from 2025 of 350 million per year.

According to Jacopo Ibello, ‘Milan Cortina 2026 represents a great opportunity for the rebirth of urban spaces and for the redevelopment and modernisation of cities. However, there is often a lack of real collaboration and integration between sporting events, politics and the territory.’

In fact, without an integrated system of economic, natural, and above all human resources, and without coordination at all levels between public and private institutions, the beautiful one-shot event that merely acts as a showcase for an empty ‘container’ fails to express its full potential. This is why the Great Event should also be followed by a real planning strategy at territorial marketing level, Ibello concludes.

An event of even greater impact is Expo 2030, for which Rome has already applied. Valerio Mancini says that ‘it would be an important opportunity for Rome to strengthen its international image, attract investment and improve its infrastructure, as well as an opportunity for Italy to show the world its culture and strengthen trade relations with other countries. If Rome hosts the Expo there will be economic benefits estimated at around EUR 50 billion, as well as 300,000 jobs and urban regeneration.

The future of Italian tourism: large cities and food and wine in a digital and sustainable key

If already in 2022 we witnessed a trend towards open-air and sustainable holidays, trends for 2023 indicate a further shift towards conscious tourism, which pushes tourists to consider their trips from a more holistic point of view. The results are travel in the off-season or to emerging destinations, more conscious decisions on the choice of facilities and towards green means of transport.

According to Valerio Mancini, ‘the environmental sustainability of proposals will become increasingly important, given the greater interest on the part of tourists in nature and in discovering or rediscovering villages and small towns, where they can also combine cultural experiences or those linked to food and wine and, more generally, Made in Italy excellence.’ In fact, food and wine interests for typical Italian products and agri-foodstuffs alone move 1 tourist out of 4 (22.3% of Italian tourists and 29.9% of foreigners).

Despite the excellent premises and the reassuring data analysed within the research, it will therefore be increasingly important to pay more attention to tourists’ sensitivity, not only to issues such as sustainability, environmental impact, culture and food and wine, but also to their digital-tourist experience, nurturing users before they even reach their travel destination, and improving the accessibility of Italy’s cultural heritage once on site.

‘Although covid has wiped out the growth that the Italian tourism sector had earned over the last 20 years (+330 visitors since 2008 vs. -300% in 2020 alone), it has also left a legacy of positive initiatives that position Italy among the countries at the forefront of digitisation in the tourism sector,’ as Mancini puts it.

According to ISTAT (2022 data), since the pandemic 7 out of 10 museums (73%) have adopted online visiting modes. Smart destinations, those with telematic services for tourists, may represent the ideal environment to deploy the potential of technological innovations in this sector. According to ICityRate 2022 data, Milan, Florence and Bologna are at the top of the ranking of the smartest cities in Italy, which follow principles of sustainability, innovation and accessibility.

On a social level, on the other hand, according to the Regional Tourism Reputation Index (2022), the region most appreciated by users is Trentino-Alto Adige, with greater visibility, likes and followers on the official social pages for tourism promotion. Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna follow, and Molise, Campania and Calabria have not yet adequately invested in social media. For Lenstore (2022), the Italian cities with the greatest ‘social appeal’, based on the number of hashtags on Instagram and videos on TikTok are Milan (over 4 billion videos), Rome (over a billion) and Venice (800 million).

Italy, and this is true of other countries, certainly Cyprus, has to keep changing its tourist product and respond to potential visitors’ awareness, sensitivities towards, and expectations in terms of accessibility, digitalisation, sustainability, events and tourist facilities.

You can find out more about the report and the work conducted at the Rome Business School research centre here.

This Report was published on 3 May 2023 under the title The Impact of Tourism in Italy: The restart Between Culture, Sustainability and Major Events.

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