Sicily Will Offer Subsidies To Tourists As Part Of Its Reopening Plan

Italy is still reeling from a long economic and social lockdown. The country went into a full shutdown on March 4th and only started (very slowly) reopening this week. That would have serious repercussions anywhere, but it’s particularly painful for a country that’s heavily reliant on tourism dollars to spur its economy. Tourism is responsible for roughly 13% of Italy’s total GDP and the country is fifth in total international tourism arrivals (the top four — France, Spain, China, and the US — are all significantly bigger, geographically).

With summer rapidly approaching and Italy’s economy in tatters, regional governments are trying to find a way to both open safely in a post-COVID-19 reality and draw people to their hotels, beaches, museums, and restaurants so the country can stay afloat. As part of this initiative, the government of Sicily — the sun-kissed island in the south of Italy — is offering a program to subsidize tourism this summer. The Sicilian government has set aside €75 million ($81 million) to buy hotel rooms and tickets to cultural and heritage sites around the island and give them away to tourists. In short, the government plans to offer people a third night for free in hotels after paying for two. If you book six nights, you’ll get two of those nights covered.

The funds will also go towards handing tourists free tickets to archaeological sites, museums, and other cultural destinations. There’s even talk of using the funds to pay for flight costs to get to the island. The overall plan is to make these deals available via the main Visit Sicily homepage as they become available.

These subsidies come with a strict set of social distancing guidelines that’ll be in place across Sicily (and Italy) for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the country’s lockdown of non-essential business and travel activities is slated to continue until May 18th.

While this initiative is mostly focused on domestic tourism and tourists based in Europe, it offers an interesting model for other regions around the world. How well it will work in Sicily this summer — and whether it will lead to a second wave of the outbreak — remains to be seen. Tourist crowds flocking to the island is a precarious proposition for locals; as is the continued closure of the tourism industry. The nation (and many others) will have to strike a balance while erring on the side of precaution.

(Via The Guardian)