Tourism continues to make an important contribution to the Italian economy. Including indirect effects, in 2017 it accounted for 13.0% of GDP and employed 14.7% of the workforce. Tourism industries directly employed 2.0 million people in 2018, accounting for 8.3% of employment. An estimated 216 100 businesses were operating in the accommodation sector in 2018. Travel exports represented 39.9% of total service exports in 2018.

In line with global trends, arrivals data for 2018 shows steady and positive growth. According to accommodation statistics, the number of inbound visitors totalled 63.2 million up from 60.5 million, (growth of 4.4%). International overnight stays rose by 33.2% between 2011 and 2018. The top inbound markets were Germany (19.3% of tourists), United States (9.0%), France (7.5%), United Kingdom (6.0%) and China, with the United States exhibiting strong growth, up 15.7% over 2017. The number of German visitors on the other hand was flat over the same period. Almost 60% of international arrivals head to just four regions: Veneto, Lombardy, Lazio and Tuscany. A total of 62.9 million domestic overnight trips were made in 2018.

The legislative framework for tourism in Italy has seen recent change as tourism was transferred from the Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Agriculture in 2018/19 coinciding with the post-electoral Government of 2018. Further changes in 2019 has seen tourism return to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism. It is expected that the Directorate-General for Tourism will be reinstalled with competence including agritourism, food and wine tourism, agricultural fairs and forestry policies.

The Directorate-General for Tourism in the Ministry sets the strategic policy agenda in co-ordination with regions and autonomous provinces, and supervises the National Italian Tourism Agency (ENIT) and the Italian Alpine Club. It provides aid and incentives to develop the tourism sector, certifies foreign professionals, manages relations with international organisations, and participates in the development of EU legislation. The role of ENIT is to market and promote Italy as a tourist destination. A 2015 statute transformed ENIT from a public body into a public economic entity.

The Italian Constitution devolves several key activities to the regions, including regulating tourism businesses, developing strategic marketing activities and managing the EU Structural Funds. Provinces and municipalities can also issue local regulations relating to the tourism sector.

Tourism receives support from the 2014-20 Culture and Innovation programme financed by EU Structural Funds. Of the total budget of EUR 490 million, a large proportion is allocated to the development of 60 cultural centres in five southern regions: Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily.

The government-controlled Tourism Investment Fund, launched in 2014, and managed by the National Investment Bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, has an increased ceiling of EUR 250 million, of which EUR 100 million had been invested by 2016. The fund operates as a bridge between public assets in need of development and the private real estate market.

The current policy framework is the National Strategic Plan for Tourism 2017-2022, which is based around four themes:

  • Culture and heritage: cultural and natural heritage should be enhanced through sustainable management practices and the innovative use of assets.

  • Competitiveness and employment: tourism competitiveness should be boosted to generate added value and increase the quantity and quality of employment.

  • Putting the tourist at the centre: the Italian tourism experience should respond to the demands and expectations of the market.

  • Integration and interoperability: the system of tourism associations and operators should be fully integrated, encouraging interoperability and partnership working.

Three strategic principles cut across all of the Plan's targets and measures:

  • Sustainability: a key element of competitiveness in tourism, which must conserve natural resources and landscapes and attract investment for their protection. A sustainable vision for tourism is geared towards sharing opportunities throughout the country and throughout the year, and bringing employment to new as well as established destinations.

  • Innovation: in relation to tourist destinations, business models, professional profiles, marketing, and the quality of services and products. Digitalisation is at the forefront of innovation, relating to the distribution of information, decision making by travellers and the expansion of information tools,

  • Accessibility: includes widening access to less-visited areas and giving all types of visitor the chance to benefit from tourism and fully appreciate the uniqueness of the destinations visited.

In 2016, the Ministry signed protocols with the Ministry of Economic Development and AGID, the Government’s digital agency, for the creation of new digital services for tourism, including Wi-Fi and large bandwidth networks. In a new commitment to tourism mobility, the Ministry has agreed a Special Plan for Tourist Mobility with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, with EUR 372 million available over the period 2016-2024, including EUR 90 million for investment in a ‘soft mobility’ network (e.g. cycle tracks, tourist rail services) and EUR 60 million for touring routes (Cammini), such as the Via Francigena and the Via Appia. This further develops the work begun during the 2016 Year of the Italian Routes, which had the objective to enhance the value of cultural routes.

The Tax Credit system for the tourism sector, namely the ‘Art Bonus Decree’, approved in 2014 and refinanced with EUR 460 million until 2020 aims to refurbish and modernise tourism establishments, is due to expire in 2020. It is hoped that this will continue into the future. A new hotel classification system with a special focus on sustainability and accessibility is in the process of being approved.

Greater emphasis has recently been placed from a promotional perspective on extending the national offer away from major attractions towards lesser known destinations. The objective is to diversify away from the popular iconic destinations and spread the economic benefits of tourism in both time and space by drawing on the inherent resources, history and uniqueness of places right across Italy. This strategy will develop products to meet niche interests, such as wine, sport, adventure and well-being, with new experiences offering local communities the opportunity to develop smaller scale tourism offers rooted in the place. This reflects market trends that see many visitors motivated to travel for a more personal experience centred around personal growth and self-actualisation as well as contributing positively to the places they visit.

ENIT’s 2020 marketing plan, therefore, draws on sustainable tourism principles to show the breadth of the offer. Some product strategies have been particularly successful such as cultural tourism linked to small Italian centres and smaller cities of art.

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