By Álvaro Caballero
Rome, Jun 23 (efe-epa).- The otherworldly images of a deserted Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain empty of selfie-taking tourists as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are now a thing of the past as visitors slowly return to Rome.
The Colosseum, usually bustling with tourists chattering in Chinese, Japanese and English, on Tuesday only had a handful of people most of whom were speaking Italian.
Italy reopened its borders on 3 June in an attempt to revitalize the tourist season but international visitors are still rare.
According to data from the Italian National Tourism Board (ENIT), flights to Italy this summer have plummeted almost 90 percent compared to last year.
The harsh impact of widespread lockdowns has meant hotels and tourist shops continue to suffer the consequences and many shops in downtown Rome are yet to reopen.
“Everyone is delighted to see the city empty, it makes it even more attractive for tourists, you can visit places that were impossible before,” says Martin, who has come with his partner from Germany by car and is enjoying walking through the deserted Imperial Forums.
“Flows from nearby countries” and road trips or train travel from places like Germany are the main sources of hope for the tourism sector, ENIT president Giorgio Palmucci tells Efe.
Thais, a Brazilian resident in the United Kingdom, took advantage of the current situation to fly to Rome. She has been in town for a week and has reveled in taking in an authentic experience of the city.
“I have been to the Vatican, in Trastevere and I have seen that everything is much emptier. Besides, all around me I only hear Italian,” she says as she waits behind four people, an unusually small queue, to enter the Colosseum.
Tourism from nearby countries such as France and The Netherlands is showing a slight recovery, whereas travel from China has seen a 99 percent drop between 1 June and 19 July 19.
Today, some of Rome’s most iconic monuments like the Trevi Fountain, where sex symbol Anita Ekberg took a midnight dip in the movie Dolce Vitta, and the Spanish Steps are almost empty.
Italians have been able to enjoy their cultural gems in an unprecedented way.
Orsola, who has traveled from Naples, says she was taken aback by the stillness and the number of closed venues in the city center: “I have never seen it like this, but I am also sorry for all the people who live off tourism.”
More than half of Italians will not travel this summer, but among those who will, 83 percent will have domestic holidays.
Hoteliers in Rome have pinned their hopes on Italian tourists but this will not be enough for other cities that depend heavily on foreigners, such as Venice (in the north) or Florence (central Italy).
Despite borders being open again, arrivals are scarce.
At Fiumicino airport, the largest in the Italian capital, 140 departures and arrivals were scheduled for Sunday, a far cry from the average of 948 daily flights in June last year.
Although many Romans are enjoying the calm city the pandemic has left in its wake, many fear it will take years to recover from the economic impact.
Foreign tourists are expected to leave 23.3 billion euros less this summer than in 2019, according to ENIT data.