|Italy, a land that continues to inspire writers, artists and casual visitors alike, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Travelers dream of visiting the monuments of ancient Rome, navigating the canals of|
Venice, savoring the arts of Florence, browsing and buying in the fashionable boutiques of Milan, wining in Chianti and dining in Bologna. They savor the vitality of Naples, the idyllic enchantment of Lago Maggiore, and the cliff-side trails of Cinque Terre. They love the lifestyle of la dolce vita and the Italians who inhabit it.
In the same way that Italy is a top pick for all kinds of travelers, for the seventh year in a row, Italy tops the list of Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Awards for the Best Selling Destination in Europe. No one is more appreciative of the “annual” recognition than Riccardo Strano, director of the Italian Government Tourist Board, and quite content to find that, “Even with the downward American economy, we are pleased to find that American travelers have not given up on Italy.”
He points out that, quite rightly, many visitors are containing their expenses by choosing two- and three-star hotels, B&Bs and city apartment rentals. At the same time, repeat travelers nowadays head not just for major cities but for smaller towns and villages, not necessarily for cost savings, but for more of a mix-with-the-Italians experience. And, of course, visitors with unlimited budgets go where they want, nowadays to Costa Esmeralda and Portofino, and to get away from it all, to secluded outposts in the Aeolian Islands.
Strano expects that well-priced packages for first-time visitors, who traditionally start in Rome and add Florence and Venice, will continue to be attractive to U.S. travelers in the coming year. And he confirms that Italy will continue to develop and promote many ways to discover Italy, focusing on expanding horizons for repeat travelers, who make up 40 pecent of the American visitor market.
“Travel agents serve a large part of this market,” says Strano, “often looking to tour operators for more ways to deliver clients the most in-depth country experiences Americans seek.” Without doubt, he reports, food and wine touring is the special interest darling: Tuscany, Umbria and Sicily are popular areas to enlist in cooking classes, as well as Emilia-Romagna, a legendary gourmet center with such tasty towns as Parma, Bologna and Modena.
One of the Italian Government Tourist Board’s major education tools for the travel agent community is its Italy Symposium. Every year, about 200 travel professionals originating from across the U.S. are given the opportunity to experience on site the attractions of a hosting region and meet with local suppliers to develop new programs and packages designed specifically for the U.S. market, and next year the host region is Puglia in southern Italy.
“Puglia is lost paradise now found, a southern region popular among Italian vacationers, as well as a growing audience of pace-setting American travelers,” says Strano. He points out that Puglia offers a range of vacation places and pleasures Americans love: Romanesque monuments in Bari, baroque Lecce, landmark trulli houses in Alberobello, Mediterranean beaches, the culinary delights of a home-based cuisine, accommodations in historic masserias, which are fortified farmhouses converted to stylish often luxurious boutique lodgings. He feels that Puglia “is going to be a discovery destination that American visitors will love and their travel agents will enjoy selling.”