Sicily’s regional government is offering to subsidise holidays on the island for both domestic and international visitors in an effort to kickstart tourism after the coronavirus pandemic. News of the scheme came days before a statement from the Italian government that it expects borders to be open to tourists this summer.
A financial pot of €75m of regional government money has been set aside to boost tourism following huge financial losses after the lockdown came into effect across Italy on 10 March. Current plans include subsidising visitors’ accommodation costs, offering one night of a three-night trip for free, or two nights of a six-day trip, as well as vouchers for cultural and heritage activities. The plans were detailed in an interview with Sicily’s tourism director, Manlio Messina, on Italian news show Mattino Cinque. There have been reports that the funding may also be used towards paying for up to half of the cost of flights, but this has not yet been confirmed.
Once the lockdown restrictions have been successfully eased further (without a rise in coronavirus cases), more information on how to take advantage of the offers will be posted on the Sicilian tourist board website.
Meanwhile, quashing what he called “fake news” reports that Italy may be closed to holidaymakers for the rest of 2020, Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture and tourism minister, told newspaper Il Messaggero: “I have never talked or ever thought of closing Italian borders to tourists for 2020. I am working towards the complete opposite, and proposed yesterday at a meeting of EU tourism minsters a uniform approach to managing infection risks. We are also starting bilateral talks with other countries that send a lot of tourists to Italy.”
Tourism revenue fell by 95% in Italy in March, according to banking group UBS, and the national tourism agency is forecasting a €20bn drop in tourist spending for this year compared with last.
This week Italy entered phase two of its lockdown, including the reopening of parks, and restaurants for takeaway meals. Some shops, museums and cultural venues are due to reopen on 18 May, and there is much discussion about managing social distancing on beaches and creating space for more outdoor tables at restaurants.
Although he ruled out closing the border, Franceschini added a note of realism: “I imagine, unfortunately, that international tourism will drop sharply this summer – both incoming and outgoing. So we are making a strong investment in domestic tourism, because this will be a summer of holidays in Italy … You have to adopt the right balance between safeguarding health and restarting economic and social life. It must be done with the utmost care. We’re moving one step at a time.”