by Alberto Aleo
Interview a Gianluca Manuzzi
Gianluca Manuzzi is CEO and co-owner of Viaggi Manuzzi Srl one of the top 5 travel agencies in Italy (source Sole24Ore). He also serves on the board of directors of Travel Specialist Srl, which is composed of 20 of the greatest business travel companies, with a cumulated turnover of more than €150 million. In addition, he is a member of the Welcome Travel tourism committee, which brings together more than 1,000 of the approximately 8,500 agencies operating in our country. Therefore we think Gianluca is the most qualified person to answer a number of questions about the tourism sector and to give us some advice on how to best manage a holiday in 2020.
The headquarters of Viaggi Manuzzi in the 1950s
How much is the tourism sector worth in Italy and how important is it to support it?
The tourism industry accounts directly for 13.5% of our GDP, i.e. more than €230 billion, plus all the many satellite activities related to it (just think of the catering industry, retail trade, logistics, … ), and gives work to almost one million people in our country. Twenty five million tourists come to Italy every year from Europe alone: the artistic and cultural tradition and the food and wine experience promote a positive image of Made in Italy, which has an indirect influence on the fashion, design and food industries. We are all aware of the importance of this sector and that is why from the very beginning of the health emergency there have been subsidies, although in fact these have often been delivered behind schedule or have proved difficult to use. The famous holiday vouchers for instance (which you can obtain if you have an ISEE – Equivalent economic status indicator – income below 40.000€/year) are definitely not cash you can use for your holiday. Therefore they don’t involve actual money; in fact they are tax credits discountable (in the next financial year) by the tourist facilities that should transfer the amount to the buyers. However the problem nowadays is the liquidity crisis of both clients and business operators, a situation which vouchers are contributing to worsen because of how they have been planned!
Germany, on the other hand, despite having a much lower touristic vocation than ours, introduced specific measures as early as April and actually managed to save tour operators with liquidity injections: for example it supported Lufthansa which has seen an increase by up to 20% in the German government shareholding.
What is the future of the tourism/travel sector and what are the strategies to relaunch it?
It is absolutely necessary to create an integrated system among central government, regions and businesses in order to agree on a joint action to attract both domestic and foreign tourists.
What penalizes us the most is the lack of coordination and the inability to create a “system”. Each region does it their own way, often competing against each other, with the result that the information given about the virus has been uncoordinated and contradictory. For example until the very last moment some regions threatened the need for a health certificate to have access to them! This has created a sense of mistrust and confusion in the consumers. Even now there are some very inconsistent situations: we move from the most restrictive recipes to extreme laxism! Once again the difference in behaviour results in disorientation and fear. However, despite everything I believe that the nature of the human being (and especially of us Italians) is an exploratory one. Our innate inclination to consider the world as our home won’t change; what will happen is that we’ll probably modify our habits as we did after the tragic events of 11th September 2001. We’ll have to get used to new security checks, to not bringing specific objects with us, to observing certain precautions. I want to emphasize that our sector is already very secure, for instance aircraft ventilation systems guarantee 99.7% pure air (data from Alitalia), almost like in a sterile medical room. The travel trend at least for this year is certainly proximity tourism, slower and more contemplative. Maybe this will make us appreciate “touch and go” holidays a bit less, and we’ll start focusing on quality rather than quantity in our tourist choices.
How will it be possible to travel safely this year?
Iceland offers a “high” example of how to handle the situation. The country has opened its borders to everybody but travellers are given a Covid-19 test upon arrival. The results are ready within 3 hours and are communicated directly to the tourists at their hotels. If you are positive but without symptoms, you might not be contagious. In this case they give you a serological test to determine whether you are dangerous for other people or not. If you get the green light you are free to continue your holiday undisturbed; otherwise you are quarantined at the country’s expense. By contrast, a few weeks ago several people arrived in Italy from Bangladesh and tested positive as they were travelling with false health certificates. In this case – without organization, security checks or sense of individual responsibility – we are at risk of deserving drastic restrictions affecting our constitutional right to travel and preventing our recovery. Safety begins from the correct behaviour of each one of us; I strongly recommend asking your travel agency for all the necessary information before leaving, reading carefully the government guidelines and the notes issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about every single country. Try to always book in advance and then follow the rules provided by on-site staff. Whatever they may say, Italy was one of the first countries to react to this health emergency and our accomodation and tourist facilities are also more prepared and responsive than many others.
What can each one of us do to foster this industry which is so important for our country?
There is a number of dangerous standpoints towards this sector. I’m referring for example to those who are promoting “stay-cation e holy-stay” as trends for summer 2020, implicitly inviting people not to travel. However let’s not forget that Article 2 of the Italian Constitution establishes the concept of “social solidarity”, which should be applied in this situation to support a sector which brings wealth to all citizens. Some companies in this sector have certainly contributed to create a sense of distrust of tour operators. The now sadly famous vouchers, issued by airlines in case of flight cancellations, were initially a valid tool to avoid liquidity crises. However in some cases they have eventually become an expedient for cancelling flights without any reasons other than commercial ones. Thanks to the coming intervention of the EU, vouchers can be redeemed, tranferred and have extended validity. All the security checks and protective measures for good and safe journeys are now available and must be used. Let’s keep in mind that the tourist industry is one of the key assets of our economy, it qualifies us and makes us known worldwide.
At the moment 85% of foreign tourists are missing in our art cities. Let’s go and rediscover them to help support the real strategic resource of Italy, the country which owns the richest cultural, artistic and landscape heritage in the whole world!
Moreover it’s an incredible opportunity to enjoy places and attractions which are normally hyper-crowded in a more intimate and qualitative way.
The great thing about a holiday is the emotions and the memories it generates. Working in this sector means having an impact on travellers’ memories and experiences, helping to improve their lives. That’s why we need mindful operators who dedicate all of their attention to their jobs, as well as open and receptive consumers.
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As Gianluca Manuzzi reminded us “Tourism did not cause this situation, but it risks becoming the sacrificial victim unless we, as individuals and members of a commnity, show concern, respect and tolerance and accept its changes”.
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