Opinion: Tourism rebound in Italy is evident on the Amalfi Coast

The village of Positano on the Amalfi coast in southern Italy. The crush of tourists this summer has not only returned sales to pre-pandemic levels, it has surpassed them.FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/Getty Images

Halfway down the towering stone staircase connecting the ninth-century Duomo di Amalfi to the town square below, the bride and groom stopped, embraced each other and kissed.

The hundreds of onlookers sipping Pinot Grigio and slurping lemon gelato at outdoor cafes in the shadow of the imposing cathedral exploded into applause, hooting and hollering their approval. They erupted again a few minutes later when the couple drove off in a vintage Volkswagen Beetle convertible, waving and tooting the horn as they disappeared into the evening throng of shoppers clogging the narrow stone streets.

That, said one beaming onlooker, is love.

Like swallows returning to Capistrano, lovers are coming back to the Amalfi Coast to pledge their faith after a two-year pandemic-driven drought. In picturesque towns from Positano to Amalfi to Ravello, weddings are a positive sign that romance – and the economic benefit that comes with it – is once again alive and on display along the breathtakingly beautiful Divine Coast.

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“There are three a day here now,” said Tiffany Filocamo, who manages her family’s famous 50-year-old shop, Camo Cameos and Corals, on the piazza in Ravello, a few kilometers up the winding road from Amalfi and nestled among tiered lemon orchards.

As she speaks, a cheer goes up from a wedding party being photographed on the steps of the cathedral next door. Like so many of the tourists who have descended on the area this summer, they are Americans.

“It is very good for business,” said Ms. Filocamo, whose shop has counted celebrities such as Nicolas Cage and Sigourney Weaver and politicians such as Gerald Ford and Hillary Clinton among its customers.

She said the crush of tourists this summer has not only returned sales to pre-pandemic levels, it has surpassed them.

The rebound on the Amalfi Coast has been remarkable because, as with so many tourism-dependent regions around the world, the bottom here was so deep.

In the first year of the pandemic, Italy’s gross domestic product fell 8.9 percent, according to a report by Legacoop, an association of more than 10,000 companies doing business in Italy across a wide spectrum of sectors. The report described it as “the most catastrophic year in times of peace.”

Italy’s tourism sector was hit particularly hard, losing an estimated US$63-billion. In towns along the Amalfi Coast, local tourism and hospitality operators said business was down 86 percent in the first year of the pandemic – more than the 70-percent decline in international tourism tracked by the World Tourism Organization.

“It was a disaster for us,” said Gerardo Proto, an Amalfitano who returned to the town from a job as a hotelier in Switzerland to buy a local taxi service just before the pandemic hit. “Everything just stopped overnight.”

While 2020 was a write-off for his business, the summer of 2021 showed some signs of life, as travel restrictions eased enough to encourage some Europeans and a few Americans to visit.

This summer the floodgates have opened, he said, and the crowds are overwhelming. Most of the visitors he meets are from the US and Canada, a reflection of the relative strength of their currencies and pent-up appetite for travel. Visitors from the UK are also plentiful, he said.

“Yes, it is very good for business, but it takes more time to get to places,” he said.

Conspicuous in their absence are Russian tourists, Mr. Proto said. “We are not seeing as many as we used to.”

While weddings are a highly visible sign of recovery, they are not the only indications that the quaint towns nestled in the magnificent cliffs overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean have not lost their allure over the past two years.

Flights from North American destinations such as New York to Naples and Rome are full again. Restaurants are at or near capacity, with reservations required for many. Hotels are booked well in advance.

The boat docks in towns such as Amalfi are crowded with tourists eager to take boat trips to nearby Capri and Ischia – with stops at the Blue Grotto and Faraglioni rocks – and maybe a plate of Spaghetti alla Nerano, the signature dish at Conca del Sogno, a waterfront favorite of the Instagram crowd eager to see and be seen.

And then there are the megayachts. They are back, perhaps not as plentiful as in years past, but they appear every day anchored along the coast, as smaller rental boats buzz like bees between them.

For anyone curious about visiting, there are vestiges of the pandemic theater, such as masks, but they are few and far between. Flying from the US or Canada, there are no restrictions or tests or proof-of-vaccination requirements.

For people like Mr. Therefore, the lifting of pandemic restrictions goes well beyond economics. He said the worst part about the lockdown, when he and his two young children were at home learning and working via Zoom, was a sort of cultural handcuffing.

“We are a warm people,” he said of Amalfitanos. “You see someone you know and you shake their hand and hug them and you stop and have a coffee with them. You can’t do that with a camera.”

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