Italy hoteliers: US travel advisory ‘final blow’ to tourism

A man wearing a protective mask walks past the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) in Venice, Italy, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Authorities in Italy decided to re-open schools and museums in some of the areas less hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak in the country which has the most cases outside of Asia, as Italians on Friday yearned for a return to normal life even amid fears that the outbreak could plunge the country's economy into recession. (Claudio Furlan/Lapresse via AP)

A U.S. government advisory urging Americans to reconsider travel to Italy due to the spread of a new virus is the “final blow” to the nation’s tourism industry, the head of Italy’s hotel federation said Saturday.

Late Friday, the U.S. government issued a level three advisory — the second-highest level of warning — for the whole of Italy, saying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended “avoiding nonessential travel.”

Other major countries have only issued warnings about defined areas of northern Italy where most cases of the new coronavirus have been recorded. Italy currently has confirmed almost 900 cases, by far the highest figure outside Asia. There have been 21 deaths among people with the virus.

More than 5.6 million Americans visit Italy every year, the second-largest national group behind Germans, according to the most recent statistics. They represent 9% of foreign tourists in Italy, and are among the biggest spenders at an average of 140 euros a day for a collective total of 5 billion euros a year, the hotel federation Federalberghi said.

“We had already registered a slowdown of Americans coming to Italy in recent days,” Federalberghi President Bernabo Bocca said in a statement. “Now the final blow has arrived.”

With Italy registering the greatest number of infections outside of Asia, the Assoturismo Italian tourism federation has put cancellations in Rome at 90%. Venice, which was nearing recovery in the Carnival season following a tourist lull after record flooding in November, saw bookings drop immediately after regional officials canceled the final two days of celebrations this week, unprecedented in modern times.

Even before the U.S. advisory, the Italian government late Friday took action to help the tourism industry, delaying deadlines for tax payments and a moratorium on industry mortgages.

Bocca called the measures insufficient, and asked all levels of government to adopt urgent measures to guarantee cash flow to tourism operators to protect jobs and avoid ’’the collapse of an industry″ that operates 300,000 businesses and employs 1.5 million people.

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