With 94 million tourists per year (2019) according to ENIT, Italy is the third most visited country in international tourism arrivals, with 217.7 million foreign visitors nights spent and a total of 432.6 million visitors.
According to estimates by the Bank of Italy of 2018, the tourism sector directly generates more than 5% of the national GDP (13% considering also the indirectly generated GDP) and represents over 6% of the employed.
The main reasons people visit Italy are its rich culture, cuisine, history, fashion and art, as well as its beautiful coastlines, beaches, mountains, and priceless ancient monuments.
Italy also contains more World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world.
As of 2018, the Italian places of culture (which include museums, attractions, parks, archives, and libraries) amounted to 6,610. Active hotel businesses are 33,000, while non-hotel businesses are 183,000.
The tourist flow in the coastal resorts is 53%; the best-equipped cities are Grosseto for farmhouses, Vieste for campsites and tourist villages, and Cortina d’Ampezzo mountain huts.
People have visited Italy for centuries, yet the first to visit the peninsula for touristic reasons were aristocrats during the Grand Tour, beginning in the late 17th century, and flourishing in the 18th century.
Rome, as the capital of the powerful and influential Roman Empire, attracted thousands to the city and country from all over the empire, which included most of the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, mainland Great Britain (England), and parts of Western Asia.
Italy attracted traders and merchants from around the world.
When the empire fell in 476 AD, Rome was no longer the epicenter of European politics and culture; on the other hand, it was the base of the papacy, which then governed the growing Christian religion, meaning that Rome remained one of Europe’s major places of pilgrimage.
Pilgrims, for centuries and still today, would come to the city, and that would have been the early equivalent of “tourism” or “religious tourism”.
The trade empires of Venice, Pisa, and Genoa meant that several traders, businessmen, and merchants from all over the world would also regularly come to Italy.
During the height of the Renaissance in the 16th and early 17th centuries, several students came to Italy to study Italian architecture, including Inigo Jones.
Real “tourism” only affected Italy in the second half of the 17th century, with the beginning of the Grand Tour.
This was a period in which European aristocrats, many of whom were British, visited parts of Europe; Italy, Greece, and other Mediterranean places were amongst the most popular.
This was in order to study ancient architecture and the local culture.
The Grand Tour was in essence triggered by the book Voyage to Italy, by Roman Catholic priest Richard Lassels, and published in 1670.
Due to the Grand Tour, tourism became even more prevalent – making Italy one of the most desired destinations for millions of people.
Once inside what would be modern-day Italy, these tourists would begin by visiting Turin for a short while.
Although Milan was also a popular stop on the way, it wasn’t considered a must-see, and many simply passed through, or simply stayed for a short time.
If a person came via boat, then they would remain a few days in Genoa.
Yet, the main destination in Northern Italy was Venice, which was considered a vital stop, as well as cities around it such as Verona, Vicenza, and Padua.
As the Tour went on, Tuscan cities were also very important itinerary stops.
Florence was a major attraction, and other Tuscan towns, such as Siena, Pisa, Lucca, and San Gimignano, were also considered important destinations.
The most prominent stop in Central Italy, however, was Rome, a major center for the arts and culture, as well as an essential city for a Grand Tourist.
Later, they would go down to the Bay of Naples, and after their discovery in 1710, Pompeii and Herculaneum were popular too.
Sicily was considered a significant part of the trail, and several, such as Goethe, visited the island.
Mass tourism in Italy
Throughout the 17th to 18th centuries, the Grand Tour was mainly reserved for academics or the elite.
Nevertheless, circa 1840, rail transport was introduced and the Grand Tour started to fall slightly out of vogue; hence, the first form of mass tourism was introduced.
The 1840s saw the period in which the Victorian middle classes toured the country.
Several Americans were also able to visit Italy, and many more tourists came to the peninsula.
Places such as Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Sicily still remained the top attractions.
Like many other Europeans, Italians rely heavily on public transport.
Italy is a relatively small country and distances are reduced.
As the century progressed, fewer cultural visits were made, and there was an increase of tourists coming for Italy’s nature and weather.
The first seaside resorts, such as those in the Ligurian coast, around Venice, coastal Tuscany, and Amalfi, became popular.
This vogue of summer holidays heightened in the fin-de-siècle epoch, when numerous “Grand Hotels” were built (including places such as Sanremo, Lido di Venezia, Viareggio, and Forte dei Marmi).
Capri, Ischia, Procida, and Elba grew in popularity, as did Northern lakes such as Lake Como, Maggiore, and Garda.
Tourism to Italy remained very popular until the late-1920s and early-1930s, when, with the Great Depression and economic crisis, several could no longer afford to visit the country;
the increasing political instability meant that fewer tourists came.
Only old touristic groups, such as the Scorpioni, remained alive.
After a big slump in tourism beginning from approximately 1929 and lasting after World War II, Italy returned to its status as a popular resort, with the Italian economic miracle and raised living standards;
films such as La Dolce Vita were successful abroad, and their depiction of the country’s perceivedly idyllic life helped raise Italy’s international profile.
By this point, with higher incomes, Italians could also afford to go on holiday;
coastline resorts saw a soar in visitors, especially in Romagna.
Many cheap hotels and pensioni (hostels) were built in the 1960s, and with the rise of wealth, by now, even a working-class Italian family could afford a holiday somewhere along the coast.
The late-1960s also brought mass popularity to mountain holidays and skiing;
in Piedmont and the Aosta Valley, numerous ski resorts and chalets started being built.
The 1970s also brought a wave of foreign tourists to Italy in search of a sentimental trip Villoresi old charm -The Trip to Italy, since Mediterranean destinations saw a rise in global visitors.
Despite this, by the late-1970s and early-1980s, economic crises and political instability meant that there was a significant slump in the Italian tourist industry, as destinations in the Far East or South America rose in popularity.
Yet, by the late-1980s and early-1990s, tourism saw a return to popularity, with cities such as Milan becoming more popular destinations.
Milan saw a rise in tourists since it was ripening its position as a worldwide fashion capital.