Italy, a tourist source of great importance for US incoming tourism, registered a slow flow decline in 2016. This was the recurring theme of the USA-Italy Showcase, organized by US Commercial Service and the Visit USA-Italia Association, held in Naples. Italy is the fourth most important market in Europe and the twelfth internationally.
According to the data released by US Commercial Service, in 2015, 1,039,000 Italians visited the US – a record number never reached before. The first data of 2016, however, shows a 5% drop in arrivals from Italy (January-August), but the annual departmental projections estimate that the decline in visitors will be altogether only 2%.
While the USA destination is confirmed as the favorite for long-haul trips by Italians, their favorite activity – shopping – ranks first, followed by cultural and historical attractions, and national natural parks. The best value for money is New York state, with 46% arrivals, followed by Florida and California, both in second place with 21%; third choice is Nevada state at 11%, while Massachusetts and Arizona are at about 6%. Among the cities, Miami enjoys the most interesting growth in recent years, except that in 2015, arrivals recorded an increase of 17%. New York remains the favorite city with an impressive 42% share, while Los Angeles and Chicago complete the ranking of the most beloved cities for the Italians.
In-depth analysis of the Italian traveler
Although the pick of arrivals is connected traditionally with the main yearly break-up in the month of August, travel-planning habits are changing. According to the US Department of Commerce, 34% of Italians consult the airlines directly, 21% make use of a travel agency, and 33% choose an OLTA (On Line Travel Agency); 13% plan their travel with the help of a National Tourist Office (NTO), while 23% rely on the advice of friends.
Also, the DNA of travel is undergoing a change. The popularity of the prepaid package fell in 2015 by 5.1% compared to 2014 – a sign that Italians are acquiring a more independent spirit and increased knowledge of the destination.
As for the target, the average visitor age is 37 for women and 40 for men. Galleries and museums revenue grew by 2% in 2015, guided tours lost 22%, while the visits to the Indians of America recorded a success, jumping to 80% in 2015, with over 80,000 Italians attracted by native traditions.
Promotion goes beyond the travel ban
Encouraging results are foreseen, especially in the development of new offers, provided this will not be threatened by new measures from the Trump administration.
Following the urgency of NYC & Co. to revisit the estimates on arrivals for 2017, there were 300,000 fewer arrivals to the USA – a decrease estimated due to the effects of the restrictions imposed by the new American president. This alarm bell that was not expected to be triggered by the most-visited city, confirms that the losses of international arrivals at a national level could be disastrous for the US.
Interviewed at US Showcase USA-Italy, Cathleen Domanico, Vice President of Global Trade for Brand USA, is very cautious, saying: “Our job is to promote the US, and this will not change with the travel ban. The states have so much to offer, and our job is to show the world and our partners our treasures. We have many repeaters to whom to suggest off-the-truck itineraries and many ideas for new proposals. Our offices, in 40 different markets, are at work to let visitors know what we can offer, promoting the US in a stronger way.”
On the threat of re-introduction of compulsory visa for US tourists to Europe, the Italian market could suffer a physiological erosion of at least 400,000 arrivals and a loss of 600 million euros in tourist spending. This is the default estimate obtained from studies that the EU Commission, through Euromonitor, makes periodically in cases of visas confirmed. The measure would, therefore, discourage travel to Europe at a rate of between -8 and -12% of US vacationers who yearly choose the old continent. It is certainly not just marginal damage for Italy’s tourism balance, which earns revenue from the United States every year of over 4.8 billion euros (Bankitalia 2015 data).
The case of the visa is at the forefront of international media, and the European Parliament is in fact oriented towards reinstating, even if only temporarily, the visa requirement for US citizens visiting the European Union for lack of reciprocity. Also, as explicit retaliation against the Trump administration that confirmed it does not want to grant visa exemption for citizens of five EU countries – Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus – Italian visitors then cannot take advantage of the Visa Waiver Program that allows a visitor to stay in the US for up to 3 months for tourism or business without requiring a visa, except via the ESTA online authorization. Lawmakers invited the EU Commission to act before May on this, before the opening of the summer season.
At present, US citizens can travel to all EU Member States without visas, but the United States has not granted the exemption for those 5 countries considered at risk. The EU Commission itself has already put the emphasis on the possible repercussions of the visa reintroduction for travelers from the states, which would cause serious damage not only to tourism but also to trade; damages that would be difficult to recover in a short time.
What is anticipated is an iron arm within the EU between those in favor of the visa and those who do not intend to spoil trade and tourism with a major partner like the United States.