‘We’re really feeling their absence’: Amalfi Coast braces for a summer without US tourists

With its white and multicoloured houses perched on the mountainside above the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean, Italy's Amalfi coast is an ideal holiday location – but it is suffering.

'We're really feeling their absence': Amalfi Coast braces for a summer without US tourists
Beaches in Amalfi are emptier than usual this year. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The beauty of the villages of Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi is world famous, but today the normally bustling streets are practically empty. With fewer boats bobbing around the harbour and no traffic jams on the coast road leading to the villages, it has an air of low season.

The problem is a lack of visitors, particularly from across the Atlantic. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic means that tourists from the United States – where cases continue to rise – are not currently allowed into Europe.

READ ALSO: Italy's latest travel rules, explained

“In previous years we had 80 percent foreign tourists, and half of those were from North America,” the head of the local tourist association, Andrea Ferraioli, told AFP.

Agricultural union Coldiretti estimated that their absence will cost the Italian economy €1.8 billion ($2 billion) this summer. Some 13 percent of Italy's GDP comes from tourism, a key driver of jobs in the country.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

On the Amalfi coast near Naples most of the small family businesses only opened in early June due to Italy's long lockdown, while the region's many luxury hotels only opened this month.

Perched on the rocks in Positano and with a spectacular sea view, Le Agavi hotel welcomed its first guests on July 1st. But greeting them were only half its usual 110 employees.

“We had exceptional occupancy last year, around 93 percent, but now we're at around 60-65 percent,” said owner Giovanni Capilongo.

IN NUMBERS: How important are American tourists to Italy?

But reservations were in from tourists from the United States, Canada and Australia for September and October, Capilongo said.

“They account for [on average] 82 percent of our guests and we hope that the market can take off again,” as international flights resume, he said. Hotel operators hope that since the season started late, it may continue longer into November.

Meanwhile, Italians who usually account for only five to seven percent of guests are today the majority.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Among them were tourists Mario Bocci and his Brazilian wife Elisabeth De Assis, who said they usually go abroad on holiday.

“So many foreigners come to Italy, but we Italians don't make the most of its beauty. We've rediscovered it,” Bocci said.

READ ALSO: Most Italians want American tourists to stay away this summer: poll

A handful of tourists were making the most of the balmy early evening with a cocktail at Positano's Palazzo Murat, an early 19th century architectural jewel. Although only around a quarter of the hotel's rooms are filled during the week, the hotel manages 80 to 90 percent occupancy at the weekend, “with lots of Italians,” said co-owner Tanina Vanacore.

US tourists have flocked to Positano – where colourful cliffside homes overlook the clear blue waters – for decades, Vanacore said.

“Americans gave Positano its grandeur and today we're really feeling their absence.”

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Despite the challenges for those in the industry, the few visitors appeared to be enjoying themselves, without the usual crush of tourists.

“I feel very lucky to be here when there's nobody,” said London doctor Ravi Solanki, 27. “I can enjoy the village and everything it offers, almost like it's my own.”

READ ALSO: The parts of Italy where fewest tourists go

Generally, smaller businesses have slashed their prices to compete, but luxury hotels have only slightly reduced prices, so as not to devalue the services.

Other businesses like cruise operators have had to adapt as well, said Andrea Russo, sales manager for luxury cruise specialist Plaghia Charter. “We try to offer more accessible services,” she said, such as small group excursions at €60.

Today's tourists lack the larger budgets of US tourists, who don't hesitate to spend €1,200 a day for a 12-metre boat, she said.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The lack of US tourists has even altered working hours for restaurant staff, who begin serving dinner for foreigners in the early evening.

“At 9:30 [pm] there's nobody left at table,” said Armando Gambardella, owner of the Da Armandino restaurant in Praiano.

“With Italians, it's the opposite, they go for their siesta 6:30 to 7:00 and start eating at 9:00!”

By AFP's Céline Cornu

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”