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Central Italy’s tourism economy hit hard by earthquake

by Marzio Bartoloni and Laura di Pillo

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The damages caused by the earthquake and the cold snap are not only represented by the dramatic collapse of the Rigopiano Hotel in Farindola, in the heart of the Gran Sasso in Abruzzo, which was swept away by an avalanche.

There is other less visible -- but very deep -- damage, which could end up costing this area about half of its €9 billion annual income from tourism. The impact could go as far as to Rome, which in the perception of foreign visitors is in central Italy and therefore vulnerable to earthquakes.

In this quadrangle between Northern Lazio, Abruzzo, Marche and Umbria, there are gems like Valnerina region (from Amatrice to Norcia), hit by the earthquake and now dealing with a 90% drop or zero tourist arrivals, as well as world famous destinations such in Umbria – Assisi, Spoleto and Gubbio – which, although distant from the earthquake epicenter, have seen arrivals drop by between 30% (in November) and 50% (December).

The numbers have virtually wiped out the tourism boom enjoyed by Umbria until August 24 (+11%), when the first earthquake hit.

Even in Abruzzo - as shown in a preliminary report by Confindustria Hotels - arrivals have dropped 30-40% compared to August-December 2015, leaving the Abruzzo ski destinations worried about the beginning of the season.

Meanwhile, in the Marche region, destinations as Ascoli and Macerata record an almost total absence of tourists. The risk is that tourism flows continue to fall in the coming months, hurting the local economy.

According to calculations, the 10 hardest-hit provinces contribute with nearly €9 billion to GDP (including indirect revenues and investment), with 5.2 million arrivals, and 25,000 companies, which attract €600 million of spending only by foreign tourists.

“The government must study social safety nets for the sector to cover at least half of 2017 when they will feel the impact of this phenomenon,” warned regional Tourism chief Fabio Paparelli.

There are anger and concern among the Abruzzo hoteliers, who still have to reckon with the Aquila earthquake of 2009.

“We are reliving the trauma,” said Gianmarco Giovannelli, President of Federalberghi Abruzzo. “Mountain tourism is suffering a lot now. Such a serious impact on mobility and electric utilities was not conceivable,” he said, calling for “an extraordinary action plan to immediately clean up the streets and facilitate a return to normalcy.”

“The region is not on his knees as people think,” he said. “The coastal structures are not at risk, but there are difficulties that need to be addressed,” he added.

Until last August, the season was performing well: about 1.6 million arrivals.

“After the earthquake of Amatrice, arrivals declined by about 30%, especially in September,” he noted. Hotels have remained empty because of the snow emergency and the recent earthquake.

“In 2016, the drop recorded by the regional tourism sector has averaged 40%,” said Dario Colecchi President of Federturismo Abruzzo. The Abruzzo National Park, a jewel of regional tourism, as well as known destinations like Pescasseroli and Roccaraso, have taken a hit.

“In these hours Roccaraso recorded 50% of cancellations, and we are talking about a place with a strong image and important infrastructural facilities,” Colecchi said.