'Annus horribilis' for Italian tourism as Germans stay away

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The Independent Online

After a disastrous summer, with 90,000 foreign holidaymakers staying away and nearly 20 per cent of the millions of Germans who throng the Adriatic coast each summer voting with their beach towels, Italy is desperately trying to save its most important industry.

After a disastrous summer, with 90,000 foreign holidaymakers staying away and nearly 20 per cent of the millions of Germans who throng the Adriatic coast each summer voting with their beach towels, Italy is desperately trying to save its most important industry.

National symbols such as Fiat and Alitalia may be in the doldrums, but tourism seemed one industry where the bel paese could not go wrong. But astourism professionals flocked to Genoa this week for the tourism industry's annual conference, the headline in La Stampa newspaper yesterday declaimed: "The annus horribilis of Italian tourism." Ten years ago Italy was the top country in Europe for tourism - today it is the sixth.

Visitors to Italy's beaches are 15 per cent down on last year, with the southern region of Puglia, much hyped as the new Tuscany, seeing record falls in June and July of 30 per cent. Hotels registered 4 million bookings fewer than in 2003, and facelosses of €500m (£340m). The industry fears that up to 6,000 jobs may be lost - in a wider economy where employment is shrinking in most sectors.

Bernabo Bocca, the president of the hoteliers' federation, said: "The Italian tourist industry has just experienced the most difficult summer for 10 years. The prospects make one fear the reduction of employment and the closing down of some businesses."

Grim-faced delegates to the conference are demanding greater state investment in tourism: Italy spends €24.4m per year on the industry, compared with €102.6m spent by Spain, €73.6m by France, €45.4m by Austria and €35.5m by Britain. But they also want a more sophisticated vehicle with which to promote it than Enit, the bureaucracy-ridden central tourism body set up in 1919. They want a body to promote the interests of the regions as well as the nation.

The industry bosses hope to squeeze an extra €25m out of the government. They are very unlikely to get it: The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, in Genoa yesterday to attend a different event, reiterated his determination to cut taxes before the general election, which will require a tight control on spending.

There is also a feeling that the hoteliershave contributed to the crisis. A businessman in Milan with many German colleagues said: "The hotels have doubled their prices since the introduction of the euro - and they expect German holidaymakers not to notice.

"These are not wealthy people, they are workers for whom the Adriatic was their sunny backyard, and every cent counts. And they know when they are being taken for a ride."

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