ROME, May 16 (Xinhua) — Italy formally opened its borders on Sunday for restriction-free travel for visitors from some countries. While it appeared that few took advantage of the eased travel rules on their first day, businesses in Rome say they are ready.
Many streets, parks and squares in the Italian capital were full of visitors over the weekend — at least by the standards of the coronavirus pandemic. But most of those out under Rome’s cloudy skies were local.
As of Sunday, travelers from European Union (EU) member states, Britain, and Israel have the right to enter Italy without restrictions if they could show a recent negative coronavirus test, proof of vaccination, or they had recovered from the virus in the last six months.
The rule change gives business owners in Rome optimism about their prospects, in many cases for the first time in months.
“Nobody expected a flood of foreign arrivals the first day, but it will be nice to hear foreign languages in the bar again,” Marco Ciocci, a manager of a coffee bar with a view of Rome’s Colosseum, told Xinhua. “We’ve all struggled without tourism since last year. This is a welcome change.”
Anna Maria Spataro, a clerk in a clothing shop in Rome’s Campo Marzio district, agreed.
“I think one of the reasons I got my job was because I speak English, French and German, but I have to admit I have hardly used the languages recently,” she said in an interview with Xinhua.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced earlier this month at the Group of 20 Tourism Ministers’ meeting that Italy would begin welcoming foreign tourists in mid-May, about a month before the EU’s own Digital Green Certificate pass for tourists went into effect. Draghi’s decision came as coronavirus indicators such as the infection, hospitalization, and mortality rates improved over the last month.
The move Draghi announced formally went into effect Sunday for visitors from some countries. Travelers from other parts of the world can still enter the country as long as they follow quarantine rules on arrival, and those in the country must obey national health restrictions, such as the 10 p.m. national curfew and seating for bars and restaurants limited to outdoor areas.
That was welcome news for the country’s beleaguered tourism sector. Gianfranco Lorenzo, head of research at the Center for Touristic Studies in Florence, predicted during an interview with Xinhua soon after Draghi’s announcement that the latest reopening would be the beginning of the end of the pandemic’s effects on the sector.
“If there are no setbacks (related to the pandemic) I think we’ll see a gradual improvement from this point,” Lorenzo said.
The improvement will take time. Predictions are that the sector that accounted for 13-percent of Italy’s gross domestic product before the pandemic will have to wait until the second half of 2023 to return to 2019 levels.
Franco Strinati, owner of two coffee bars and one souvenir shop in Rome’s historic center, told Xinhua he hoped the country was already on the road to recovery.
“Today’s a beautiful day and the streets are full,” Strinati said. “It almost feels like old times. I hope we’ll look back at this period and see it as the early stages of a strong comeback for tourism.”
Anna and Cristina Lo Bianco, sisters and university students, told Xinhua they came into Rome’s historical center over the weekend from their home around 40 km north of the city to enjoy the famous landmarks before the number of tourists become overwhelming.
“The pandemic has been hard on everyone, socially and economically, but it has also been nice to have smaller crowds,” Anna said.
Cristina agreed. “I hope everything will soon go back to the way it was,” she said. “But I also want to remember this period when the tourists were all Italians.”