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Tourists are flocking to Rome, and most of them are Americans

by Andrea Marini

Lines in front of the Vatican Museums, lines to enter the Saint Peter’s Basilica, lines for the Colosseum.

These days, whoever goes for a walk in the center of Rome will find it difficult to recognize a native Roman amid the throng of tourists. Although the city has been hit hard by the recession (the unemployment rate rose from 5.8% in 2007 to 11.3% in 2014), one of the areas that has recovered more quickly is tourism.

According to EBTL (the tourist board that monitors Rome’s visitor data), in 2014 the province of Rome registered 13,043,567 arrivals (+5.6% compared to 2014), for a total of 29,527,178 overnight stays (+4.8%). In April, tourist arrivals grew by 5.7% (+4.7% in overnight stays) compared to the same month of 2014.

Thanks to the recent increase, the trend from January to April 2015 rose 4.7% (+4.2% in overnight stays). Bookings for the period May-June (+5% in arrivals and +6% in overnight stays) suggest that the trend is not likely to stop soon.

“Certainly in early May there was the stimulus of Expo Milano 2015. Many people who went to Milan stopped over in Rome as well for a few days,” explained Giuseppe Roscioli, President of Federalberghi Rome (the association of Roman hoteliers).

Not to mention that from December 8, 2015 until November 20, 2016, Pope Francis has announced a special Jubilee, with 25 million visitors expected in Rome.

Roscioli is cautious, nonetheless: “Being a special Jubilee, it will not have the same appeal as the one held in 2000. Numerous events will take place outside the capital. There will be a positive effect mainly in 2017: the Jubilee is a huge marketing phenomenon for Rome, Italy's capital city will be in newspapers around the world for a year.”

The driving force for tourism in Rome is mainly foreigners, who make up two thirds of the arrivals, and prefer staying in high-end 4-5 star hotels. American tourists are by far the most loyal to the capital of Italy: with 156,000 arrivals in April (up 6.5% over April 2014), they account for more than one fifth of the total number of foreign visitors.

The Germans came second, but much more distant (55,000 arrivals, +2.8%). There was exponential growth for the Chinese who, despite being just over 30,000, recorded a 35.8% increase in April.

Instead, rich Russian tourists, affected by international tensions between the EU and Moscow, are declining (-1%).

However, the growth in arrivals has not had a positive impact on the turnover of hotel companies, yet.

After the 2008 crisis, several Roman hotels have reduced their price lists by 40%, to compete for the few tourists on the market. And the increasingly fierce competition has not yet allowed them to raise prices too much: according to the latest ranking by Euromonitor International, in 2013 Rome was in 14th place among the most visited cities in the world, surpassed even by Seoul (South Korea) and Antalya (Turkey). In April, the revenue per available room in Rome fell by 5.4%, while in large European cities it increased by 11.4%. Only Moscow, with -17.4%, did worse.