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Italy could do much better to boost tourism, say experts

2018/7/16 16:19:19   source:Xinhua

Italy's capital is densely packed with rich cultural and historical sites, including the Colosseum and the Pantheon. It boasts top restaurants specializing in the world's most popular cuisine. It has a vibrant nightlife, and picturesque piazzas.

So why is Rome only the world's 16th most visited city?

According to the Mastercard Global Destinations Cities Index, Rome attracts 7.1 million tourists every year, fewer than 15 other cities. The city attracts less than a third of the 21.5 million who travel to Bangkok, the top-ranked destination, every year. Dubai, in fourth, attracts twice as many tourists as Rome. The Italian capital is also ranked behind Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam, and Seoul.

"All the cities ranked higher than Rome are compelling in their own ways, but, like a lot of Italy, Rome does a very bad job at selling itself," Marco Brogna, president of the economics of tourism program at Rome's La Sapienza University, told Xinhua.

"When many people think of coming to Rome, they don't think of the Renaissance artwork or the architectural wonders of the city. They think the city is inhospitable, dangerous, and dirty."

The public relations problem is prevalent across Italy, which is just the fifth most visited country in the world, according to statistics from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO): France, the United States, Spain, and China all attract more tourists than Italy.

"Thirty years ago, Italy was the top destination in the world for travelers," Brogna said. "Now it has to worry about falling even further down the list."

Brogna said the problems began when Italy was slower than other countries in looking to attract tourists in the 1980s and 1990s. Then, in 2001, a plan to decentralize governmental decision making by handing it to regional governments made the problem worse: he said most regions proved to be poor promoters, and, even when it went well, there was little collaboration between different entities.

"The convention was that Italy was so beautiful and had so much to offer than it would sell itself," the professor said. "But that hasn't been the case."

Andrea Giuricin, a management professor and a transport and tourism analyst with Confturismo, an industry group, said the problem was amplified along the north-south divide that splits the country economically and culturally.

"The beauty of Calabria or the beaches of Sardinia are vastly under-appreciated," Giuricin said in an interview.

"Sardinia gets around as many tourists as Ibiza," Giuricin said, referring to the Spanish island tourist hub more than 40 times smaller than Sardinia. "The airport on Palma, on the Spanish island of Mallorca, gets as much air traffic as Milan's Malpensa Airport, the second most important airport in Italy."

For sure, the tourism sector remains an essential one in Italy. The UNWTO estimates Italy welcomes nearly 55 million tourists a year, accounting for around 11 percent of the country's gross domestic product. Brogna estimated that almost one out of every five Italians works in the sector.

But both Giuricin and Brogna said the sector could contribute much more to the economy. But the country must cut down on corruption and better improve transportation and public relations.

"It would be helpful to have a more organized air traffic system, as Spain does," Giuricin said. "Spain doesn't have a dominant air carrier bringing tourists in from distant countries. But it has efficient connections across the country and from across Europe."

Brogna said with better and more coordinated promotion and improvements in infrastructure, Italy's tourism sector has room to grow.

"Italy should be able to host twice as many visitors as it does without strain," he said. "But until the country improves its image, it's never going to happen."

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