Visitors to the famous beaches of Italy can be a surprise this summer. Umbrellas will be placed far apart, hand gels will be available and even an electronic marking and ordering system has been proposed.
These are just a few of the changes that the resort is considering to be able to reopen in time for the peak season, as the country is slowly emerging from the tight lock that was put in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the challenges, Claudio Ambrogetti, who has been running the coast of Il Delfino Taormina for the past 15 years, remains optimistic.
“This is a difficult period for our city, but the beach company is ready to reopen as soon as we have guidelines,” he said.
Like many “bagnini,” or beach managers, along the sunny Sicilian coast, he hopes health protocols and long-distance rules – which still need to be signed before the shutters are lifted – will allow trade to begin in June, even if it’s a local possibility.
For small family beach businesses, many have run out of space, proposals including a minimum of 5 meters between umbrellas, a one-way tourist flow system, hand gel dispensers and routine toilet sanitation can prove expensive.
A view taken on May 12, 2020 shows a man demonstrating the use of wristbands for customers to enter sanitized bathrooms on a private beach in Jesolo, near Venice, northeast of Italy, as part of cleanliness and safety mesures against the spread of COVID-19 for next summer. , during the lockdown the country aims to curb the spread of COVID-19 infection, which is caused by a new corona virus. (AFP / Vincenzo Pinto)
Italy, one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic, is beginning to reduce restrictions, but Italians are still not permitted to travel outside their area and foreign travel is stopped.
“We are ready to reopen, but if tourists do not return, if the border is not reopened, and if the hotel is not filled, the costs of running the restaurant will not be sustainable,” said Salvatore Parisi, owner of Baronessa, one of Taormina’s top restaurants.
Tourism is important for Italy
Brussels is pushing to reopen the border for summer tourism, but the government might have to do it at a different pace.
Italy relies heavily on tourism, which accounts for 13 percent of GDP and employs around 13 percent of the workforce. This has been hit hard by the pandemic, which forced the border to be closed, restaurants and hotels closed and airlines to conduct ground flights.
Italian National Tourism Agency Enit said it will take three years for the industry to recover to 2019 levels.
According to the think tank Nomisma, around 500,000 summer jobs could be at risk this year due to contracting the virus, while 100 billion euros could be lost because holiday makers stay away.
Italy’s 8,000 km coastline, home to around 11,000 beach businesses, accounts for 37% of tourism revenue. That part is much higher on islands such as Sicily and Sardegna and the less wealthy south.
Until now the south has escaped the level of damage suffered by areas in the north, where the virus first attacked.
In the Isole Eolie area around Sicily there are only a few cases and the authorities have called for the creation of a Safe Zone to help get tourists back.
Christian Del Bono, chairman of the hotel association in the area Federalberghi, said the mayor of the city had sent a letter to Rome asking to set up tests and health protocols to filter the flow.
“Nobody thought of making money, our goal at this stage would not be bankrupt,” he said.
No more hugs
The rich northern region of Emilia Romagna generates around 13 billion euros from the beaches of the Riviera near Rimini, about 70 percent of tourist revenue. The beach owners are worried about their livelihood.
“This business is about shaking hands and hugging people. Now we have to settle for a little wave and smile on the mask,” Danilo Piraccini told Reuters.
He has run the Bagno Milano beach in Milano Marittima with his sister Silvana for years.
Piraccini hopes to start in June. With foreign tourists barely visible and long distance rules set to be eaten in business, he expects costs to be around 60 percent lower than last year.
The price might have to go up but the costs will go up too because he will need more people to clean the outside buildings, guard the beach and stop the little kids who are too close. Insurance costs can also go up if risks associated with COVID must be borne properly.
“But however we have to open even though it means losing money. We have no choice. The alternative is we lose clients,” he said.
Tourism, like other industries, is seeking help.
The Italian government last month approved an emergency scheme to offer more than 400 billion euros in liquidity and bank loans to companies hit by the coronavirus crisis.
On Wednesday, Rome agreed to a further decision to cancel tax payments scheduled for June.
But beach businesses are traditionally based on debt and cash flow, and some worry that delays in processing state-supported loans from banks can create shortages.
To manage the flow, we are urged to consider solutions including ordering systems and applications to establish time slots and electronic wristbands to calculate and control beach visitors.
To increase protection, one company has even offered to build a plexiglass booth for beach owners to create a safe space.
“We will come up with some innovative steps of our own but the plexiglass idea comes out,” said Piraccini. “You might not get coronavirus, but you will get everything from sunburn to fatigue.”
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