green and tech interviews

“Italy needs to diversify its destinations” / GALLERY

Genoa - Gabriele Burgio is the manager who transformed the Spanish hotel chain Nh Hotels into an international group in the 1990s and 2000s.

di Alberto Quarati

Genoa - “The great Italian cities, I mean Rome, Venice and Florence, have truly reached their maximum limits. At this point it is necessary for our country’s system to consider how to better invest its tourist promotion resources.” Gabriele Burgio is the manager who transformed the Spanish hotel chain Nh Hotels into an international group in the 1990s and 2000s. Since 2012 he has been the president, C.E.O. and a shareholder of Alpitour, a company which is back on track after three years of restructuring, and is the leading Italian tour operator with a margin of €36 million and 1.1 billion in revenue. Burgio was in Genoa a few days ago for a meeting on tourism at the opening of the Deloitte offices at Piazza de Ferrari (WATCH THE GALLERY). The American consulting giant employs about 120 people in Genoa and is preparing the second phase of its Why Liguria expansion plan with the direction of its partner Eugenio Puddu.

Liguria is growing in the tourist sector, but the phenomenon of overcrowding is becoming more difficult to manage.

“Unfortunately this does not only occur in Liguria. The more I read the newspapers, the more I am convinced: there are several destinations in Italy that have already reached saturation, and we need to rethink our investments in those places. Paradoxically, our country, which has an unquestionable potential, in fact sees its tourist flows concentrated in a few places which are becoming more and more overcrowded and less enjoyable. It is a problem, especially for those who are seeing Italy for the first time and may have come from very far away...”

How can one address this problem?

“Liguria has the same problem with its mountain destinations: it has very high seasonal peak levels, and thus it is forced to structure its entire receptive capacity for those few summer months. As a consequence, the infrastructure, parking and everything else is calibrated to this type of flow. But the ideal would be a different system of seasons, more spread out, to receive greater, and perhaps more constant, volumes throughout the year. Of course this would primarily depend on the organisation of the holiday periods. It should be companies that incentivise their employees to diversify their vacation periods, because otherwise the holidays would not be complete, nor fully enjoyed because of the discomfort caused by overcrowding. It is a similar case to what happens in the mountains during the winter. In Italy, all the regions have the school ski holiday on their calendars around Fat Tuesday, with all that that implies in terms of the overcrowding of the towns and skiing facilities. France, on the other hand, spreads them out across different winter weeks, by geographical area, and this effectively contributes to a more constant flow and a longer season.”

So would changing the calendars be enough?

“It wouldn’t be enough: there is a time problem, but also a space problem. Many have reached saturation.”

But international tourism will always ask for more of the classic Italian destinations.

“That’s true, but why not invest more and better in alternative destinations? I can’t get used to the idea that today only 10-12% of international visitors in Italy go south of Rome. And yet we have the heritage of coasts, nature, and the climate of Sicily and Calabria. And alongside Venice, why not offer an itinerary through the medieval cities of the North East? Or, alongside Pompeii, invest in Herculaneum? Or even in the Abruzzo, a region that among other things needs a tourist revitalisation? The rebalancing would serve to attract those who are perhaps returning to Italy for the second time.”

Since last year your airline, Neos, has been linking China directly to Italy. Neil Palomba, the General Manager of Costa Cruises – a company with a deep understanding of the Asian market – maintained that the concept of “Italy” abroad is very different from the “Italia” of the Italians: one is a perception, the other is reality. How do we get from “Italy” to “Italia”?

“We would need five-year plans, or even ten-year plans. In any case, it would need to be managed at a centralised level: a geographical area should be chosen every year to invest in, to concentrate more of the resources on promotion, and launch it effectively into the market. With time, the alternative destinations will become more classical, better balancing our country’s tourist flows and most of all improving the quality of travel for those who come to visit Italy.”