Italy is the world’s fifth-most visited destination – and with a third wave now under way, there is no obvious end in sight to the tourism crisis the country faces.
The collapse in the number of tourists to Italy was jaw-dropping last year, with only 25.5 million foreign visitors spending at least one night in the peninsula, versus 65 million in 2019 – a drop of more than 60 percent.
That corresponded to revenue of only 17.45 billion euros ($20.6 billion), 26.85 billion euros less than the prior year, according to new figures from the Bank of Italy.
“The situation is really dramatic and everything must be done to revive a sector so vital for our country,” said the president of the Italian Union of Chambers of Commerce, Carlo Sangalli.
Italy is counting on Covid-free travel to galvanise Italy’s tourism sector
“The year 2020 was catastrophic for us,” said Marina Denti, owner of a leather store in Varenna, a picturesque fishing village on Lake Como.
She is still sorely lacking in foreign customers, especially big-spending Americans, an absence that saw her turnover drop by 80 percent last year.
“Even George Clooney doesn’t come anymore with this pandemic,” she said, referring to the area’s most famous homeowner, proprietor of an opulent villa on the other side of the lake, in Laglio.
Before coronavirus swept across the country and beyond, tourism accounted for nearly 14 percent of gross domestic product for Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy.
The collapse of this key economic driver, with hotels and restaurants closed for months on end, helped plunge the country last year into the worst recession since World War II.
To try to get things moving again, Italian railroads are offering “Covid-free” high-speed rail links between Rome and Milan beginning in early April, a first in Europe. All staff and passengers will be tested before boarding.
The airline Alitalia launched a similar initiative last year on some domestic and international flights. The mayors of Venice and Florence, cradles of art and history, meanwhile have joined forces to demand urgent aid from the government, claiming that without these two cities back on their feet, Italy will not recover.
International tourism might not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023
“Deprived of tourists, Venice has become a dead city like Pompeii, it’s sad when you walk down the street,” said Anna Bigai, one of the city’s tour guides, who has only done a dozen guided tours over the past year.
Throughout Italy, overnight stays of foreign tourists fell by 54 percent to 184.1 million in 2020 and the outlook for 2021 remains bleak.
“International tourism in Italy should not return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023,” warned the director of the national tourism agency, Giorgio Palmucci.
Even Portofino, a popular destination for celebrities and billionaires from all over the world, has not been spared. Its Rolex and Christian Dior stores remain desperately empty, waiting for the return of rich foreign customers.
“In 2020, we had the worst year in a decade,” sighed Emanuela Cattaneo, owner of a wine bar on the port, lamenting the absence of American and English customers.
Still, a few rare foreign tourists have enjoyed the unusual calm. Rainer Lippert from Heidelberg, Germany, came to Milan, where he and his family were admiring the view from the roof of the city’s Gothic Duomo.
“It’s fantastic to be here when there are not so many people around,” he said. “Given the circumstances it’s the best choice we could make.”
As if to hammer home the challenges faced by Italy’s tourist sites, within days of Lippert’s visit, the Duomo was once again closed for coronavirus restrictions.
The Italian tourism minister has expressed that the country is keen to restart tourism as soon as infection rates fall and vaccination campaigns pick up pace. Since plans for a health passport are also still up in the air, for now, it’s too early to say yet when Italy’s tourism could re-start.
The latest storms came just days after parts of the country were hit by devastating floods after torrential rains that ravaged entire villages and left 180 people dead, hundreds injured and with many still missing.
The flooding also caused damage in Belgium, where 37 people died, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
US prosecutors in R Kelly’s sex trafficking case say he had sexual contact with an under-age boy in addition to girls, and the government wants jurors in his upcoming sex-trafficking trial to hear those claims.
Federal prosecutors aired a wide-ranging raft of additional allegations – but not new charges – against the R&B singer in a court filing on Friday.
Jury selection is due to start August 9th in a New York federal court for Kelly, who denies ever abusing anyone.
The Grammy Award-winning singer is charged with leading what prosecutors call a criminal enterprise of managers, bodyguards and other employees who allegedly helped him to recruit women and girls for sex and pornography and to exercise control over them.
The charges involve six different women and girls, who are not named in court filings.
Now, prosecutors would also like jurors to hear about more than a dozen other people whom the government alleges that Kelly sexually or physically abused, threatened or otherwise mistreated.
Among them, the government says, was a 17-year-old boy and aspiring musician whom Kelly met at a McDonald’s in December 2006 and later invited to his Chicago studio.
According to the prosecutors’ court filing, after asking the boy what he would do to make it in the music business, Kelly propositioned and had sexual contact with him while he was still under-age.
And when Kelly was about to go on trial on child pornography charges in Chicago in 2008, the same youth told the singer he had access to a juror, and Kelly asked him to contact the juror and vouch he was a “good guy”, prosecutors wrote.
The filing does not say whether the youth did so. Kelly was acquitted in that case.
The boy also introduced Kelly to a 16- or 17-year-old male friend, with whom prosecutors say the singer began a sexual relationship several years later.
Kelly also filmed the two youths in sexual encounters with other people, including some of Kelly’s girlfriends, according to the filing.
Prosecutors wrote that the accounts of the boys and others would help show that the actual charges “were not isolated events and were part of a larger pattern”.
The multiplatinum-selling singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, is known for work including the 1996 hit I Believe I Can Fly and the cult classic Trapped In The Closet, a multi-part tale of sexual betrayal and intrigue.
Kelly’s private life has drawn scrutiny since the 1990s, and he currently is also facing sex-related charges in Illinois and Minnesota. He has pleaded not guilty.– AP
For some areas, the German Weather Service has forecast heavy showers or storms, bringing between 30 and 40 litres per square metre.
Amid further rainfall on Saturday afternoon, evacuation services to emergency accommodation were offered to communities in Rheinland-Palatinate who had been particularly badly affected by the flooding, German news site Merkur reported.
“The people will have to make the decision themselves,” said Begona Hermann, head of the relief teams in the west German state, explaining that the forecast rainfall was not expected to be as severe as that which devastated parts of Germany last week.
However, even lower levels of rainfall could still be a problem because sewage and drainage systems were not working properly because of the flooding.
Earlier on Saturday, police requested all volunteers working on the clean-up operation in the Ahr area to leave as quickly as possible for their own safety because of the difficult conditions.
This came after the police and the crisis management team asked the public not to travel to Rhineland-Palatinate to help out because there were too many people there.
“The population’s willingness to help continues to be undiminished and overwhelming,” read a Kassel police statement on Saturday. Due to the large number of volunteers who came to help out, however, roads in the area are now congested, it said.
Heavy machinery required for road and bridge construction, and for the restoration of the area’s water supply, was getting stuck in traffic jams, the press release said.
Vehicles for removing rubbish and construction debris, as well as emergency and rescue vehicles, were also unable to get through.