di Michele Collavite

Italy has been a staple tourism destination since the late 1700s, mainly due to the upper class tradition of taking a “Grand Tour” of Europe upon coming to age. Since then, it has quickly developed to be accessible to the masses, becoming the 5th most popular location in the world in 2019 according to the UNWTO. It is home to 55 world heritage sites, the most found in any country, and contains the world’s most popular tourism location: Venice, which alone accounts for 20 to 30 million yearly visitors. Due to its popularity, Italy’s tourism industry has become extremely noteworthy for its economy, 10-12% of its GDP to be exact (as of 2018). This has caused Italy to be put into an even more vulnerable position due to the latest catastrophe to have hit the world: Coronavirus disease 2019 (from now on referred to as COVID). COVID has hit the fast and furious, causing a never-before-seen set of responses and consequences. Now being defined as a pandemic, COVID is an infectious disease belonging to the Coronavirus family that causes respiratory problems, fever and tiredness. Although the disease is not highly deadly with a recovery rate of 95%, the main cause of worldwide panic is due to the speed with which it spreads and the fact that, as of August 2019, there is not yet a vaccine or cure other than waiting for the body to naturally deal with it. Having originated in China at the beginning of 2020, COVID racked up an immediate 40,000 cases within a month of being discovered and had only been found in Italy midway through February. However, the disease spiralled almost uncontrollably and Italy faced what was seen as the worst outbreak of Europe due to it being the first European country affected by the disease. After a month of deliberations and panic, the Italian government responded, shutting down Italy’s borders with a focus on the Northern part in which the disease had been initially prominent. This included mandatory quarantine for all members of Italian towns in the north, people only being allowed to go out to buy groceries and only when wearing facemasks which had been proven to decrease the spread of the disease whose primary method of spreading is through coughs of people infected by it. These measures are part of what is known now as “social distancing”, a term which has become ingrained in our minds and a very serious consideration for the tourism industry in the future. But why is COVID such a big problem in tourism? 

The first and most important reason is how infectious COVID is. Tourism being a service based industry reliant on contact with others means that it contains high risks of infection, and any person who could potentially have the disease would therefore have the potential of spreading it to a very large group. 

Also, following the idea of the spread being large, tourism is an international industry. This means that a person infected while travelling would potentially take the disease into a new area with previously no infected people. An example of a location which is greatly impactful for this would be an airport, as a person spreading the infection there would cause it to spread worldwide.  Due to the previous two points, travel restrictions imposed worldwide to slow down its spread and contain it. This is mainly important in Italy due to 50% of its tourism being from overseas travellers (I.stat 2018). It is also important to note that the restrictions in Italy were not only external, but internal, a large portion of the Italian north being labelled the “Red Zone” from which travel was restricted during the initial months of COVID. From a statistical standpoint, this would lead to an almost 100% decrease in tourism numbers in the northern part of the country, as well as a smaller but no less insignificant amount in the southern section.

The final major reason for COVID’s impact on tourism (and on other major industries) is our lack of knowledge on a timeframe. We still do not have a way to stop COVID from spreading, nor do we have a way of stopping people from being infected by it. This means that as long as the potential for infection is still a possibility, it will continue to be a problem. 

COVID has impacted Italian tourism greatly, halting its continuous growth suddenly and causing massive economic strain on the country. Although it is possible to see that there may be positive outcomes from COVID’s disruption of the industry, areas like Venice finally having the time to properly think about issues like overtourism which has been plaguing it for the last decade. A recent article from the New York Times has even estimated a completely new identity arising in the tourism industry: Regenerative tourism. This would involve, as opposed to Green tourism which attempts only to slow down the effects of global warming, the actual reversal of climate change’s worldwide effects. The author also estimates a large potential increase in small businesses, competitiveness based on pricing allowing them to potentially grab a larger customer base due to larger companies having to increase

their pricing to “make up” for their losses over the COVID lockdowns.  

It is not fully possible to estimate the full scope of COVID’s impact on the world, it being the first of its kind. However, further study will allow for us to improve our response times, as well as hopefully allowing the tourism industry to begin properly looking at alternatives and crisis management solutions for other events like this one in the future. Hopefully they will not be required.