Italy will throw open its borders next month, effectively ending Europe’s longest and strictest coronavirus lockdown, just as the summer tourism season gets under way.
Both regional and international borders will open on June 3, with the government eliminating a 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving from abroad, it was announced on Saturday.
Such an opening is exactly what tourism operators have been waiting for, even if European neighbours so far appeared to be wary of the unilateral Italian announcement.
“We hope to work with the neighbouring countries, those who can travel by car,’’ said Gianni Serandrei, the owner of the four-star Hotel Saturnia near St Mark’s Square in Venice.
The hotel’s last guest, a determined couple of honeymooners from Argentina, checked out around March 11, days after Italy’s lockdown.
And when phones have rung in recent months, it has been with cancellations, with only a few reservations for 2021 trickling in.
With no clear indication of when more regular air traffic will resume, he is looking forward to further signals before committing to a June 3 opening. The caution may be merited.
Germany, whose border is about a four-hour drive from Venice through Austria, is instructing citizens not to travel abroad for tourism until at least June 15.
Officials in France made clear that they had sought a co-ordinated European effort on border openings, indicating Italy had jumped the gun.
During a visit to a Normandy beach, interior minister Christophe Castaner said on Saturday that European countries should work together in solidarity and held out the possibility of France acting to protect its citizens.
Another half a million jobs are at risk if the summer season does not take off, according to the association.
Judged by last year’s turnover, the virus lockdown and suspension of tourism activities cost the country 10 billion euros (£8.9 billion), the amount spent by foreigners in Italy from March to May 2019, according to a study by the national statistics agency ISTAT.
To illustrate the importance of arrivals from nearby countries, Eurostat figures show that French overnight stays in Italy hit 14 million last year, while those from Germany came in at 13.6 million, edging Italians themselves at 13.5 million. Spaniards were the top with 14.6 million.
Italy is hoping also to encourage domestic tourism, offering vouchers to lower income families to spend in Italian hotels, campsites and other establishments before the end of the year.
Not everyone is satisfied with the guidelines set out overnight by the government, which foresees the opening on Monday of bars, restaurants, shops, hairdressers and beauticians.
Restaurant owners in Milan protested in front of the main train station Saturday, saying that the rules remain unclear and that the entire sector needs more concrete help, including an abolition of taxes.