ROME - Tourists are back in Italy – a country that a few months ago was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, suffering nearly 35,000 deaths.
European Union borders have re-opened to tourists from a list of countries without the need to quarantine. But the United States is not on that list – much to the dismay of businesses in Italy.
With the tourism industry accounting for 13 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product, the Italian economy – already battered by the COVID-19 pandemic - is expected to suffer significant losses without American tourists who are also the biggest spenders.
Since the country began reopening its borders June 3, European travelers were the first to return and then starting last week, those from a number of non-EU nations followed. However, American tourists - the second largest group of visitors to Italy after the Germans - are still barred from entering the country, except for urgent reasons.
Today, the few American visitors seen in Italy often have a story to tell. Colleen Hewson, a retiree from the U.S. city of Detroit, and her husband came in March to visit the ruins at Pompeii only to find it closed due to the pandemic. They were caught in Italy’s lockdown, stayed, and were among the first to reenter the archeological site when it reopened at the end of May.
“We’re here on a vacation for our 30th (wedding) anniversary staying at an Airbnb (vacation home rental) with a local and he was nice enough to accommodate us until the lockdown was over and the ruins have opened,” Colleen Hewson said.
Expensive hotels popular with Americans such as in the Amalfi Coast area are bracing themselves for big losses this vacation season. Some have partially reopened, while others not at all.
Fifteen million Americans visit Europe each year, many of them during the summer. Their absence is a huge blow since they account for ten percent of Europe’s overall economy.
The EU’s decision to exclude travelers from certain nations, including the United States, is based on infection rates. Other major countries whose tourists are barred include Brazil and Russia. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea are allowed in.
Last week, five American tourists made the news when they were denied entry to Sardinia, another favorite destination with Americans. They were forced to leave Cagliari airport after flying into the Mediterranean island on a private jet.
The Italian government says 5.6 million Americans visit Italy every year, with July being their preferred month of travel. Aside from the more common destinations like Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan, many flock to the sea resorts like the Amalfi Coast and the major islands of Sardinia and Sicily – where the food and culture are named as the biggest draw.