Tourism crisis in Rome

The end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, worsening economic crisis have taken their toll on tourism — even in Rome. In the first 11 months of the year 2008, the total number of tourists, from Italy and elsewhere, dropped 5 percent. The number of foreign tourists to Rome and the surrounding Lazio region was off 16 percent in November, compared with the previous November. Returns are not in yet for December, but they are not expected to be stellar, thanks to the poor economy, frequent cancellations and strikes by Alitalia, not to mention the rainy deluge before Christmas that almost put the Tiber out of its banks in the city’s historic center. Visits by Americans are expected to be off by 15 percent for December. Things were not any better at the Vatican, where the number of visitors to papal audiences dropped by half a million in 2008, to 2.2 million, reports NY Times.

Everybody suffers from economic crisis. The horse-drawn carriage drivers’ business has dropped about 35 to 40 percent compared to 2006 (the charge is between $65 and $135, depending on the route). The representative of the tour operator Globus, which offers 33 package vacations to Italy to foreign tourists, said business to Italy was off 10 percent in 2008.

At the Excelsior hotel, famous for the best martinis in Rome, people are losing jobs. At the Hotel Danieli in Venice, which like the Excelsior belongs to the same chain of hotels, workers went on strike on New Year’s Eve to protest proposed layoffs. Guests who had signed up for a Champagne and beluga caviar dinner were sent to ring in the new year elsewhere.

Starwoods hotels and resorts plan to lay off 650 of Starwood’s 2,200 workers in Italy. However, the company is not going to drop the rates. The Excelsior and Danieli are offering rooms for as low as $335 a night.

Indeed, for those who have money, this is the time to come to Rome. Crowds are more manageable, airfare is cheaper, and shops are offering major sales. Like retailers elsewhere, Italian shops slash prices every January, but this year they are doing so more aggressively than ever. On the upscale Via Condotti near the Spanish Steps, shops like Gucci and Prada are offering discounts as high as 50 percent. At Gucci the customers eyeing such items as a leather bomber jacket with a fur collar, reduced 50 percent from the initial price of $4,500 are almost entirely Russian and Japanese.