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‘New model’: How Florence and Venice plan to rebuild tourism after the coronavirus crisis

The mayors of Venice and Florence, Italy's world-famous cradles of art and history, published plans on Monday to help them rebuild on a "new model" of tourism.

'New model': How Florence and Venice plan to rebuild tourism after the coronavirus crisis
People at Florence's Ponte Vecchio in 2018. Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP

The plans, set out in a nine-page booklet, include more policing and more funds for public transport, but also better regulation for guides and for short-term accommodation rentals.

READ ALSO: Five crowd-free alternatives to Italy’s tourist hotspots

In the Decalogo, or “ten commandments” which was sent to the Italian government, the mayors set out ten things they would like to see happen as travel restarts. 
 
The two cities urged the government to give them more powers to regulate the tourist industry when travellers eventually return.
 
Their ideas could be adopted by other parts of Italy, he said, adding: “As soon as the borders reopen after the coronavirus emergency, the country must be ready.”
 
Even as most of Italy entered a new lockdown on Monday, Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella spoke of the need to look ahead to “a new model of tourism also linked to enhancing, promoting and protecting cities of art”.
 
Among the changes they called for was more power to limit the spread of Airbnb in their cities.
 
“The short-term rental phenomenon needs to be better managed, with clearer rules nationally,” the document reads, saying some operators were “hiding a business behind a rental” meaning the had an unfair tax advantage which allowed them to undercut registered hotels.
A street seller sets up at St. Marks’s Square, Venice. Photo: ANDREA PATTARO/AFP.
 
It also recognised that the unregulated tourist rentals can “generate problems in the area,” particularly if they are apartments in a residential building.
 
They also suggest limiting some commercial activities aimed at tourists and “preserving the craft and neighbourhood shops in the historic centres”, by limiting new store openings to those selling high-quality local produce and crafts, and bringing in rules on shopfronts to improve the appearance of city streets.
 
They also suggested stricter regulations for tour guides and banning “free tours”, where guides work for tips and are often unregulated.
 
The document said businesses run by “unskilled” and unregulated operators “weaken the country’s overall tourism offering”.

The mayors wrote that they also wanted instant fines for visitors caught vandalisng the cities’ streets or monuments, as well as “smart control rooms with increased video surveillance”.

IN PHOTOS: Italy’s cities fall silent under new lockdown

“The idea was born after listening to the speech of President Draghi on the day of his inauguration, in which he touched on the theme of the cities of art and the need for a new model of tourism”, said Nardella.

Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro emphasised that as “ambassadors of Italy in the world”, their two cities must lead the way.

Crowds mass at the Rialto Bridge, Venice in 2018. Photo: Venezia Autentica

Mass tourism had only been set to keep growing in Italy in recent years, leading to widespread concerns about whether cities like Florence and Venice would be able to cope.

In Venice, increased tourism had long been blamed for a rise in petty crime, from littering to vandalism, and the lagoon city famously struggles with pollution from the large number of cruise ships docking in the lagoon.

Before the pandemic, the centres of Italy’s most famous cities were usually swamped by tourists – so much so that they had in recent years brought in a range of measures aimed at reducing the ill-effects of mass tourism.

Authorities, tired of what they saw as bad behaviour from tourists, had cracked down on offences ranging from outdoor snacking in central Florence to cycling shirtless and brewing coffee in the street in Venice.

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Venice last year also delayed the planned introduction of a new tourist tax, intended to help cover the costs of keeping the city clean and safe after years of problems caused by overtourism.

Authorities in the canal city said the levy, targeted at day-trippers excluded from an existing tax on tourists staying overnight, will now not be implemented until 2022.
 
The city had just installed new ‘people counting’ technology as the crisis hit in February 2020.

With dwindling numbers of local residents left in central areas of either city. both Venice and Florence have been quiet since the pandemic arrived and put a stop to most travel.

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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