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L'emergenza coronavirus e il comparto turismo in Italia: considerazioni di politica fiscale

Francesco Farri

The paper analyses the importance of the tourism industry for the Italian economy and the impact that the coronavirus emergency may have on the sector. The main tax measures relating to the tourism branch in Italy are revisited and the attention is focused on the fact that, except for some temporary measures, a true fiscal policy in favor of tourism has never been implemented in Italy so far. It is highlighted, instead, how the sector crisis caused by the health emergency requires the definition of adequate fiscal policy strategies to support this industry.

PAROLE CHIAVE: politiche fiscali per il turismo - tassa di soggiorno - emergenza coronavirus

Coronavirus emergency and tourism industry in Italy: tax policy considerations

Il saggio esamina l’importanza del settore turistico per l’economia italiana e l’im­patto che l’emergenza coronavirus potrà avere sul settore. Si ripercorrono le principali misure tributarie relative al comparto del turismo in Italia e si rileva come, con l’eccezione di alcune misure temporanee, non sia finora esistita in Italia una vera politica fiscale a favore del turismo. Si evidenzia come la crisi del comparto causata dall’emergenza sanitaria imponga, al contrario, la definizione di idonee strategie di politica fiscale a sostegno del settore.

Keywords: fiscal policies for tourism – tourist tax – coronavirus emergency

1. The importance of the tourism sector for the Italian economy

The tourism sector generates a turnover of approx. 146 billion Euros [1], equivalent to almost 9% of the Italian GDP. The added value of the sector is approx. 88 billion Euros, and it corresponds to over 6% of the total national added value [2]. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in January 2020 in China and, from February 2020, also in Italy and then in the rest of the world, has dramatically affected the world economy. Tourism is among the most impacted industries by the consequences of the pandemic. The lockout of most international borders, aimed at fighting contagion, has prevented the cross-border transits of both workers and travelers. Furthermore, the lockdown that many countries have imposed internally has also prevented domestic tourism from taking place. In Italy, in particular, the activities of hotels and restaurants were considered non-essential and, therefore, they were totally closed until further notice. For the quarter March-May alone, this implies a lower turnover for the industry, estimated at at least one fifth on an annual basis [3]. The losses, however, will not be limited to that, since in addition to spring tourism, summer tourism will also, unavoidably, be affected by the pandemic.

However, there is more. Tourism is an activity linked to well-being and serenity and implies, by its nature, a desire for openness to others. The coronavirus epidemic has humiliated these feelings in the spirit of the people and it is not certain that, even after the borders are reopened and the lockdown has ceased, the demand will re-expand as before. In this context, fiscal policy can play a fundamental role in safeguarding the industry's potential and it is therefore appropriate to verify the adaptations needed in the current framework to face this challenge, which is so delicate for the future of the Italian economy.

 

2. The pre-epidemic fiscal framework

According to UNESCO, Italy is the country with the highest number of artistic and natural beauties that may be considered World Heritage. This, although in terms of extension of land, Italy ranks only 72nd in the world rankings. The consequence of this, of course, is that in Italy there is a concentration of beauty which is unparalleled in the world.

The awareness of the beauty of the territory has its most positive profile in the formation of the national identity, but it also has a negative side. The negative side consists in a resulting tendency to believe that the beauty of the country promotes itself. In other words, it is not necessary to realize any specific political strategies to attract foreigners to Italy and to encourage Italians to spend their vacations in Italy. The thought that we are such a beautiful country is rooted in the population and there is a belief that everyone in the world knows us. As soon as anyone has the opportunity to travel, they will first visit Italy and its beauties.

That has caused a sweeping, substantial absence of forward-looking tourism policies in Italy. Two figures and two facts symbolically demonstrate it. The figures are that Italy, the first country in the world for UNESCO recognized beauties, ranks only at the fifth place for international arrivals (according to World Tourism Organization) and only 26th for tourism competitiveness (according to the World Economic Forum). The WEF also reckons that the reason for it is to be found precisely in the fact that Italy lacks laws and policies that can adequately support tourism. That determines high level of prices compared to the main competing countries with the same infrastructures (which the WEF defines as excellent in Italy), scarce attention to environmental matters [4] and security and not entirely adequate training of the workforce in the tourism sector. Two facts symbolically represent the causes of these faults. The first fact is the odyssey that the tourism sector experiences in finding its own place in ministerial competences [5]. The second fact is the substantial absence of a fiscal policy to promote tourism.

Under the first point of view, the task to elaborate and formulate political strategies for the formation of tourism was, at first, included among the general competences of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. Except that, in a turbulent and litigious country from a political point of view such as Italy always was, it is not difficult to understand how the various Prime Ministers always had to think about something else, that they considered more important. Over time, the competence on the subject of tourism ..


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