If there's one thing hotter than the heat wave in Europe this summer, it's travel to Italy.
Industry experts say that Italy has consistently been among the top destinations for European summer bookings since international travel returned in the spring, and travel demand soared to levels not seen since the start of the pandemic.
"Summer 2022 bookings for Italy have been extremely in demand with approximately 75% of my bookings since April being for Italy," said Melinda Fortunato, owner of Best Travel in Fairfax, Va.
Italy's tourism numbers are on track to recover this year, with international arrivals from Canada, Australia, England and Spain returning to 2019 levels, according to Confcommercio, an Italian organization that represents tourism businesses.
But it's Americans who the organization says are the number one market driving Italy's tourism recovery.
A recent Confcommercio survey found that about 2.2 million Americans are expected to visit Italy by the end of summer and projected to spend 2.1-billion euros between July and September, a 20% increase from 2019.
"Honeymooners, anniversaries and postponed trips from 2020 are most of the reasons for traveling to Italy," Fortunato said of her clients, adding that last-minute bookings have grown in recent months. "People are booking two months out instead of six to nine months out."
The Amalfi Coast has been the most in-demand destination for Fortunato's Italy bookings this year, followed by Tuscany, Rome, Florence and Venice.
"A few clients who have been to Italy before want Cinque Terre or Lake Como," she said, adding that most of her travelers are visiting two to three destinations during their visit and making good use of rail services in between destinations.
"We're doing tons of pre- and post-river cruise trips this year," said Frank Marini, CEO of Railbookers Group, a rail travel and vacation packager that specializes in customizable FIT itineraries.
Marini said that Switzerland is a popular starting point for travelers wanting to do a pre- or post-cruise rail extension tour to Italy because a number of river cruises originate or end on the Rhine River in Basel.
Railbookers offers itineraries to Italy's most popular destinations -- including Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Naples and the Amalfi Coast -- on trips that can begin in Basel, Geneva or Zurich following a river cruise.
Toni Lanotte-Day, owner of Toni Tours in Levittown, Pa., has also seen that market grow: she has an Emerald Azzurra post-cruise group of 20 visiting Italy's "bread basket" area of Venice and Bologna this summer. She is also taking a group of 18 to Naples and Sicily in October, a trip rescheduled from 2020.
Pietro Radiocovich, a tour guide who works for Lake Como For You, said tourism to the region has "really increased in the past 10 years, mainly from the U.S. and Britain, especially after Covid, where we're now experiencing a big explosion of tourism."