EU residents explore Italy, take advantage of tourism bans

2 mins read

While quite a few countries made the list of those banned from traveling in Italy, visitors across the European Union explore sites once flooded by American and Chinese tourists.

The streets of Florence, Italy emptied within days after the government ordered a nationwide quarantine in March. As a way to deal with its spiking coronavirus crisis, PM Giuseppe Conte shut down the southernmost European country, except for its grocery stores, news stands, pharmacies and tabaccherie or tobacco shops.

Throughout the city’s corridors and in its massive plazas, a few scant souls walked. It would be that way for months.

When the country’s quarantine was lifted in early June, the question of the return of tourism became a central focus. Reportedly, in 2019, 13% of  the national GDP went to tourism. Added, 12.8% of jobs are in tourism or tourism-related. With such a large part of the economy dedicated to tourism, the country still has not lifted their ban for its largest demographic of visitors, American and Chinese tourists.

Nevertheless, the streets in Florence have begun to buzz with visiting pedestrians eating gelato and shopping once again. Slowly, Italy finds its feet. Though, it is a long way from recovering, their accommodations to neighboring countries show there is life after a pandemic.

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Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy. Photo credit: Kaia Shivers

Although the Italian economy has taken a hit due to low tourism, the country is relying on the EU for its visitors. On the weekend, Florence pops with Swiss and French dialects between Italian.

Key galleries, museums and historical sites have opened up again, but smaller spaces either operate with limited hours or are still temporarily closed. Albeit lower numbers at landmarks and public collections, locals are also enjoying areas that they once consigned as being heavily trafficked by foreign travelers. 

“I haven’t gone to the Uffizi (Gallery) in 15 years. I went last week and didn’t have to bump into thousands and thousands of people looking up or down, or in a group,” says Umberto, a resident in Florence.

During the summer, a lot of city-goers flock to the coast or countryside to escape the heat and flood of tourists. In a post-pandemic, some opt to stay in the urban areas and have begun to re-explore their locales.

“Sienna, the wine region is beautiful right now. And [the island of] Sardinia has miles of beautiful beaches with few people,” says Umberto who also expressed that it is “a wonderful time to go before the American and Chinese tourists return.

“Tourism is important to the economy, it just is good to visit places I have not been in a long time,” adds Umberto.

While EU visitors mostly flock to Italy from Thursday to Monday, the mid-week movement is generally slower, but a perfect time to explore without bumping into crowds.

Kaia Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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