The development of tourism in Italy and the role played by infrastructure

During the international economic crisis of recent years, tourism has continued to grow, bucking the trend seen in other service sectors. Figures from the UN’s World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) are clear: in 2015, the number of tourists throughout the world rose by 4.4%, continuing six consecutive years of growth and bringing the number of travellers to 1.1 billion. Figures for the first 4 months of 2016 show that this trend has actually been amplified, with international arrivals up 5% compared with the previous year. Asia and the Pacific, with an increase of 9%, have seen the biggest increase in international arrivals, whilst Europe, with 4% more arrivals, remains the most visited region. However, in recent months, safety concerns, linked to the recent terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Turkey, have had a significant impact on international tourism.  Even last year, in fact, saw a sudden shift in arrivals, away from the North African coast, Egypt and Tunisia, in particular, towards “safer” destinations in Europe and the Caribbean. In 2016, terrorist attacks in the heart of Europe have had a further impact on the geography of international tourism.

And Italy? Our country is seeing strong growth, with everywhere fully booked up for the current summer season, marking an increase of 9.5% in arrivals and revenue of €21.5 billion: around 55% are Italians and no less than 28 million overseas visitors. Italy is a great summer destination, which has always been at the top of every traveller’s list of places to visit, but is now seen as the most accessible and reliable and the safest. This trend, which began in 2015, is behind the boom in tourism from Saudi Arabia, with visitors from that country up 68%, and the increase in arrivals from the rest of Europe, above all Germans and French. Safety has undoubtedly played a significant part: the terrorist attacks in France, Turkey and North Africa have influenced the choice of Italian destinations. However, there are definite signs that the sector is picking up, despite the crisis, largely due to government policies designed to make the most of the country’s cultural heritage and focus on environmental sustainability. It is no accident that, in July, after months of consultations and meetings with stakeholders, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism gave its initial blessing to the new “Strategic Plan for Tourism 2017-2020”, which aims to improve the competitiveness of Italy’s tourist industry. The Plan was drawn up with the help of all the various stakeholders, including ministries, regional authorities, municipal authorities, the unions and trade associations, with the aim of reaching full agreement on a set of proposals for the sector’s development. One of the Plan’s key objectives regards the sustainability of tourist destinations, a concept that covers the quality of the services offered, the efficiency of transport and enhancement of the cultural, natural and culinary heritage of the various regions. 

The operators of transport infrastructure have a key role to play in the overall strategy for promoting tourism in Italy: the quality of transport services and the accessibility of tourist destinations are major concerns for travellers. In this sense, the Strategic Plan for Tourism envisages implementation of a “Special plan for tourist travel” by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, with the aim of ensuring that the country’s transport infrastructure is able to meet the needs of travellers. This will involve the following initiatives:

  • exploitation of the points of entry to the country (airports, ports, stations, etc.) used by international tourists. The aim is to present tourists with an improved and consistent image of Italy, through the organisation of cultural initiatives and by promoting the various regions at the main hubs, in partnership with operators and major transport providers;
  • improvements to local access to tourist destinations, both by developing intermodal transport and by creating a so-called “Soft transport network”, promoting walking and cycling, the use of footpaths, and the redevelopment of abandoned areas and buildings for tourist purposes (lighthouses, stations, roadman’s houses, etc.);
  • integration of the tourism and transport offerings, making infrastructure assets one of the attractions for travellers.

Implementation of the new Strategic Plan for Tourism and fulfilment of the infrastructure development goals set out in the “Special plan for tourist travel” will give the country an edge in an increasingly competitive global tourism market, with emerging nations growing fast. Moreover, the constitutional reforms due to be voted on by Italian citizens in the upcoming referendum envisage that the State will have sole responsibility for tourism, strategic infrastructure and major  transport and shipping networks, ports and airports of national and international interest, and the production, transport and distribution of energy within Italy. 

Major infrastructure operators, such as Atlantia, have embarked on important initiatives designed to make the country more attractive to visitors, offering innovative services, guaranteeing the safety and reliability of travel and providing cultural information on places along transport networks.  

Fiumicino airport is implementing a large-scale Airport Development Plan, with the aim of improving the standard of the services offered to travellers. In July of this year, the airport was ranked second in the EU, according to ACI - Airport Council International, the international association that measures the quality perceived by passengers at over 250 airports around the world. Rome’s main airport outperformed Amsterdam, Madrid and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, ranking just below London and on a par with Monaco. Passengers were particularly satisfied with the quality of security controls and the free Wi-Fi service, which was much appreciated by overseas tourists, the new e-Gates and the restyling of the passport control and baggage reclaim areas, as well as certain infrastructure works, such as the reopening of the Transit Gallery, directly connecting the Schengen and non-Schengen boarding areas.

Autostrade per l’Italia has devised a widespread information campaign to promote the many areas around Italy crossed by the motorway network it operates under concession. These areas are little known to the general public and are not normally included in the usual tourist routes. The project, entitled “You’re in a Marvellous Country”, aims to offer customers an original and exciting tourist experience and promote quality tourism by making the most of our country’s amazing artistic, cultural and environmental heritage and its wine and food. The initiative was run in partnership with the Touring Club and Slow Food, creating special information points at service areas along Autostrade per l’Italia’s network. Each area promotes original and innovative “on the road” itineraries (in total, over 250 itineraries and more than 700 places) with respect to classic tourist routes, designed on the basis of the time available to travellers. In addition to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, public sector participants in the project included regional and municipal authorities, who in fact play an important role at local level. 

The key innovations introduced by the government, in terms of the management and development of infrastructure, alongside the initiatives launched by major private operators such as Atlantia, confirm the commitment of all stakeholders to the tourism sector, considered key to the country’s economic growth.