Among all the sectors most deeply and quickly hit by Covid-19, tourism is certainly near the top.
Italy – ranked first in Europe for its tourist hospitality services – welcomes millions of foreign guests and billions of euros of income every year. According to ISTAT, the Italian National Institute of Statistics, the predictions made before Covid-19 arrived foresaw 81 million arrivals and €9.4 billion euros of expenditure in the months of March to May alone.
DESERTED CITIES AND ALTERNATIVE ITINERARIES
In the middle of the lockdown, Facebook feeds and TV reports showed incredible images of emptied cities and quiet streets which are normally packed with tourists. Rome, Venice, Florence and many others have an even more poignant charm in this vacuum; they’re the emblems of the “great beauty” which Italy is so often identified with. But these ghostly images came at a heavy price.
Now that the majority of Covid-related restrictions have been suspended, it remains to be seen how people will behave, when they’ll feel safe, if they’ll feel able to spend some of their money on “superfluous” things, if they’ll make the same choices as they did in the past, flocking to beaches and cities, or whether they’ll opt for something different.
One of the many branches of the Slow philosophy promoted by Slow Food is called Slow Travel, and for the last few years it has been promoting an alternative idea of traveling. A new and different model, formed through contact and exchange with farmers, cheese-makers, herders, bakers, winemakers and food artisans. Together with the cooks who prepare their products, these people are the narrators and guides of their local cultures and traditions.
There are three defined itineraries already in place: one in Carinthia, Austria, one in the valleys of the Tanaro, and another in the mountains of Biella, the latter two both in Piedmont. But beyond these itineraries, there are lots of people in the Slow Food network who are working to promote a different, more sustainable style of tourism, far from the madding crowd.
SUSTAINABLE TOURISM AND CONTACT WITH PRODUCERS
I’m on the phone with Pierangelo Caponi. He’s from Pontremoli, in the highlands between Tuscany, Liguria and Emilia-Romagna. He’s dedicated years of work and research to the theme of responsible tourism, both through the Farfalle in cammino (Butterflies on the move) association and as part of the Sigeric cooperative. He’s also benefited from the energy and enthusiasm of the Slow Food Lunigiana and Apuana convivium and other Slow Food communities in the local area, including the community for the promotion of sustainable tourism in Lunigiana: the name of this hinterland between regions.
Unlike many others in the sector, they haven’t needed to reposition themselves, because their work was already in line with the future idea of tourism which these pivotal times have forced upon us all. “Yes, in a sense it’s the tourism of the future, but mass tourism will return. The super-crowded spaces will return, the cities under siege. Believing that everything has changed forever is utopian.”
Although it’s difficult to imagine some destinations suddenly becoming places of interest for mass tourism, it’s true that many of us – certainly more than ever before – have new curiosities and priorities, ones that may push us towards a different path. “Our area of interest for us is wide and diverse. In 100 kilometers we pass from the city of Parma through Busseto and the Val di Taro across the Apennines along the Cisa Pass, exploring Lunigiana and Garfagnana all the way to the coast of Tuscany and Liguria, from Viareggio all the way to Lerici and Levanto.”
TERRITORIES AND RURAL TRADITIONS
A vast territory which includes lots of tourist destinations. “The Cinque Terre are part of this area, but our intention, from the beginning, was to explore an idea of responsible tourism. For example, cycle-tourism experiences and enogastronomic routes with the chance to make direct contact with producers.”
Indeed, because the traditions and typical products of any area are an essential part of its sustainability. “In our area there are products – PDOs, IGPs, IGTs – and magnificent producers. We’ve even got a few Slow Food Presidia, like the Zeri Lamb, raised on their mothers’ milk and the pasture, which produces a wonderfully aromatic meat. Or the Artisanal Pontremoli Testarolo, a kind of unleavened bread made with a cooking method that is unique in Italy, and many more. The gastronomic products are among the most authentic expressions of a territory; they allow people to have direct contact with it. This idea of establishing a genuine relationship with the nature of a place may be key to understanding the tourism of the future.”
It may not be for everyone, of course, and there will be those who go happily about their lives without noticing the existence of this world, but for the lucky – or perhaps it’s fairer to say the curious – there are rewarding adventures on the horizon.
by Silvia Ceriani, [email protected]