NEW YORK -- Reports of the demise of Italy as a tourism destination
have been greatly exaggerated, according to tourism officials, who
say that the country has unfairly been tarred with the brush of the
According to the Italian Government Tourist Board, known in the
U.S. as ENIT, the country posted a 5% overall increase in tourism
during the 1999 Easter holiday over the same period in 1998.
Eugenio Magnani, ENIT travel commissioner North America,
credited pre-Jubilee fever, at least in part, for the boost, while
others point to successful promotional campaigns and a favorable
Magnani, who bristled at the suggestion that bookings to Italy
have fallen dramatically since the start of the conflict, said,
"There are no problems in Italy at all with regard to security or
"It is as safe as any other European country or as the U.S., for
One misconception, he said, is that tourists are avoiding
Venice, which, according to Magnani, shared in the Easter tourism
Cancellations of departures from Venice on the part of some
cruise lines may even have served to increase air arrivals of
visitors who can't get there any other way, he said.
"I think Italy has been portrayed unfairly," agreed Fred
Berardo, president of Central Holidays in Englewood Cliffs,
"Our bookings are about what they were at this time last year,
which is to say very strong," he said, adding, however, that the
numbers have fallen a little short of projections.
"We did expect an increase for the year, and it is not quite as
much as we predicted, but we do see very good activity for
He noted that the group department, in particular, has
experienced "tremendous increases in the first quarter."
Berardo, who also is chairman of the U.S.-based Italian
Promotion Council, said that other operators in the association
have reported "good activity and good numbers, especially in group
Like Magnani, Berardo credited the Jubilee for stirring
excitement among groups and religious organizations.
"The very strong dollar also contributes to make Italy a strong
destination," he said.
"The exchange rate is about 1,800 lira to the dollar, which is
the best rate I have seen in 10 years."
As to security, Berardo said, "Italy is a very safe destination,
and even though it has been mentioned [in the media] because of
NATO activity, it is not directly involved in the conflict as a
"Italy is far away [from Kosovo] even though it is in the
Adriatic, [and] the conflict [is not] currently affecting any
Italiatour reported a projected 25% increase for the year over
1998 based on advance bookings, according to Rosario Mariani,
managing director for North America.
"Our increases are primarily in FITs, Mariani said, attributing
the rise to the company's new emphasis on secondary destinations
"We have redone our brochure, offering more fly-drives, FITs and
opportunities to visit areas outside the main cities," he said,
citing Tuscany, Umbria, the lake region, Liguria, Cinque Terre and
Sicily as being especially popular.
"We did lots of promotional activity this year -- much more so
than last year -- and these are the kinds of programs people are
asking for," Mariani said.
He credits Alitalia's new service into Milan's Malpensa Airport
for opening up the increasingly popular northern Italy region.
As to Venice, Mariani said he has not seen a significant drop in
"It is too soon to say if [Kosovo] is having any affect on
business, but I am still averaging about 50 to 60 bookings to
Venice a day," he said.
"Maybe without the crisis in the Adriatic we would have had
more, but we will close the year on an up note."
Alitalia Airlines is optimistic about the strength of tourism
from the U.S., judging from the increase in the number of scheduled
flights from North America to Italy for the upcoming summer months,
according to Paolo Rubino, senior vice president and area manager
of North America and Mexico for the airline.
Chicago-based TourCrafters reported a 19% first-quarter increase
over last year, according to company president Mauro Galli.
"Italy is still in demand, especially among FIT and
special-interest travelers who know the country," Galli said.
"These markets have not been affected whatsoever."
The Parker Company, a Lynn, Mass.-based firm that specializes in
villa rentals, cooking schools programs and wine tours in Italy,
supports the theory that experienced travelers are the least likely
to be scared away from Italy over the Kosovo conflict.
"I read the papers, and I hear people saying that bookings are
down, but we are seeing a 30% increase in bookings over last year,"
said company president Mario Scalzi.
"The only explanation I can come up with is that people who rent
villas are more seasoned travelers who are not going to be drawn in
to this sort of negative publicity," he said.
"They know there is nothing going on in Italy that will affect
Apuglia, a region on the Adriatic coast that is home to three
NATO bases, has probably seen the most impact from the war due more
to the intermittent closing of its two commercial airports, one in
Bari and one in Brindisi, officials said.
"We've been somewhat weak in Apuglia, which is a great area to
visit and one which we are promoting," Mariani said, adding,
however, that this is a region not very well-known by mainstream
"Most of the people we send to Apuglia are probably second or
third generation Italians visiting relatives," Mariani said.