A manifesto for Italy’s new government

Today’s Financial Times welcomes Professor Conte’s new Italian government cautiously. The cabinet brings together a mixture of populists and technocrats, young and old. All have to face the fact that Italy has almost the lowest estimated growth this year in the EU and its highest unemployment. The two go together, the FT’s pundits opine. Italy needs investment which calls for strategic planning.

Giuseppe Conte (L) shaking hands with Italy's President Sergio Mattarella in Rome.

This is what makes Italy’s tourist industry emblematic of Italy’s problems and opportunity. Compare Italy’s 1.5% growth of its PIL with changing visitor numbers at Herculaneum where I sit on the (new park) management board. Last year visitor numbers to the archaeological site grew by 16%. Our first quarter numbers for 2018 show 20% growth. Numbers are similarly growing at Paestum. Numbers mean significant revenues and the prospect of investment in employment. Strategic employment.

Tourist numbers are soaring thanks no doubt to political conditions in Turkey as well as North Africa. Italy has become the Mediterranean destination of choice.

But this industrial success is constrained by a lack of strategy. The new minister of culture and tourism needs to attract and direct visitors to smaller centres, away from the UNESCO world heritage sites. It needs, too, to help build local networks through national planning to help agricultural industries benefit from more dispersed tourism. Is this happening? No! At least not as far as I can tell.

The concept of strategy seems to be alien…

Let me offer a simple example:

As the writer, D.H. Lawrence once noted, the great Etruscan cemetery of Cerveteri is close to Rome, but it could be a million miles away. Rome needs to embrace this remarkable Etruscan centre, like it needs to embrace Ostia Antica, Hadrian’s Villa, the Villa d’Este and Caprarola and keep the city’s visitors for longer than the normal 2.5 days. Writing in 1927 in Etruscan Places Lawrence laments his problems with local transport. Has anything altered over 90 years? No! Making Rome’s 5-star-led comune and the PD-led regione of Lazio co-operate strategically to plan and invest in embracing these wondrous places as part of Rome and its region is apparently to ask the impossible.

In Rome, the Bay of Naples, around Florence, Siena, Venice, and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, Italy’s new government will be measured by how it grapples with networking (as the populists’ favourite tool facebook does) its sites, monuments and tourist infrastructure. It is not enough to be on ‘social..’ (as the Italians say). Twenty per cent growth at Herculaneum is amazing but only if the impact effectively creates employment for local communities and substantive investment in sustaining Italy’s treasures to keep them working for future generations.

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