Cancellations are increasing in Italian hotels, including far from the foci of the new coronavirus epidemic, causing great concern among players in this key economic sector for the peninsula.
Since last week, Italy has experienced an explosion of contamination, making it the most affected European country with more than 500 cases and 14 deaths. More than half is located in Lombardy, the northern region which includes the economic capital Milan.
“We no longer have any reservations, only cancellations … The average occupancy of hotels in Milan at the moment is around 20% against 85-90% usually during this period,” local president told AFP. from the association of hoteliers Federalberghi, Maurizio Naro.
Milan hosts several international trade shows between February and April, including those for eyewear (Mido) and furniture, but all have been postponed due to the epidemic.
“For the period from February 24 to the end of April, there were one and a half million rooms canceled, which represents 200 million euros in turnover gone up in smoke,” said Mr. Naro.
He himself owns the Four Points by Sheraton Milan Center, where only 51 of 239 rooms were occupied on Wednesday: “It’s a disaster, we can resist for a few days, but then it becomes really difficult. Some of my colleagues have already closed for a few days or even the whole week. ”
– Venice, “ghost town” –
In Venice, the capital of the Veneto region (northeast), where around a hundred cases have been identified, the impact is also significant.
While hotel occupancy was expected around 95% this week, the carnival period, it is ultimately only 45%, the festivities having been suspended.
Michele Masnada, 52, who works in a bar, and Emanuele Tagliapietre, a 51-year-old gondolier, both consider the measures taken by the authorities “excessive”.
“People got scared and canceled a lot of hotel reservations and tour packages,” said Masnada. But “without tourism, Venice dies”.
“I have never seen Venice like that, deserted”, underlines the gondolier. “It brings (the economy of) Venice to its knees”.
The tourists present try to see things with philosophy.
“I am sad that the carnival was canceled before the end, but at the same time I am happy (…) to have the city for me (…) to take photos”, confides Jeff Hirsch, a photographer American.
“My only disappointment is of course that the museums and main attractions are closed,” like the Doge’s Palace, he notes.
For Muriel Debrosse, a French tourist, Venice, deprived of carnival and visitors, has “a completely different atmosphere, a bit of a dead city, a ghost town, but it’s still magic anyway”.
– “Psychosis” –
While tourism weighs 13% of Italian GDP, the cancellations also concern regions free or almost free from contamination, much to the despair of hoteliers.
This is the case in Rome, where more than 50% of the reservations registered until the end of March have been canceled.
The situation is even more serious in the mountainous region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (northeast), where however no case has been recorded.
“95% of mountain bookings were canceled until the end of March. For these three most popular weeks (for winter sports, Editor’s note), which had all been booked, we find ourselves one day at another without a client, “says Paola Schneider, president of the association of hoteliers in the region.
“There has been a general panic, a psychosis … People are convinced that the coronavirus is everywhere in Italy, they do not make any difference between regions”, criticizes the owner of the Riglarhaus hotel located in Sauris, at 1,200 meters above sea level.
She evokes a “dramatic” situation and calls, like all her colleagues, the government and the regions to take measures to support the sector and to communicate better to get out of generalized alarmism.
They were heard in part: Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio called tourists on Thursday to return, arguing that the homes were small, circumscribed areas: “Our children go to school. If our children go to school, so tourists and entrepreneurs can come too, “he said.