Italy is already a famous tourism destination in Europe as it hosts the highest number of Unesco World Heritage Sites. But the European nation leaves no stone unturned to promote tourism in the country and banks on Expo Milano 2015 to revitalise its struggling economy.

Tourism in Italy accounts for over 11 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), however, the government is willing to double this number in the coming years as it considers the expo a right platform to promote the country as a unique tourism destination.

Expo Milano 2015, which is dedicated to nutrition, food security and sustainable development, has the ambitious goal to attract over 20 million visitors from around the world during the six-month-long exhibition. The expo site is designed in a shape of an island surrounded by a canal and it will be covering an area of about one million square metres to entertain visitors from May 1 to October 31, 2015.

“We’re now less than a year from the opening of Expo Milano 2015. On the international front, the goal of 130 official participants has already been exceeded. To date, more than 140 countries and international organisations have signed up and the work on site is progressing according to schedule,” Piero Galli, general manager of the Event Management Division of Expo 2015, told Khaleej Times during his recent visit to Dubai.

“We’re also speeding up on the content front. We want to offer the 20 million visitors that we are expecting a high-quality experience, in which the wealth and variety of content in the pavilions is perfectly complemented by the innovative tools made available by the countries and by our technology partners.

“We aim to make Expo Milano 2015 a Digital Smart City — a model of hi-tech and sustainable urban development, which can be applied to different contexts and be adapted to local needs. We are also organising a programme of cultural events and entertainment that will take place at the exhibition site during the day [Expo by day] and at night [Expo by night] to make visits completely fulfilling and engaging,” Galli said.

The Italian State Tourism Board, or ENIT, the national tourism agency, has also launched various initiatives to promote tourism in the country. It participated at the Arabian Travel Market, or ATM, in Dubai earlier this month after a gap of three years to woo Gulf visitors towards Expo Milano 2015, which will be held under the theme “Feeding the planet, energy for life” to address the growing “food problems” across the globe.

“We have recently launched a new campaign called “Made in Italy”, which promotes our country as a unique tourist destination, capable of arousing desire, emotion and to meet the individual expectations of holidaymakers,” Riccardo Strano, director at ENIT for Asia and Oceania, told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the ATM.

He said the idea behind the Made in Italy brand is to create a symbolic transfer of values between the manufactured product on one hand and the tourist experience on the other, triggered by the “image-fabric” expedient and the combination of the words “vacation” and “Made in Italy”. The result is the double connotation of touristic Italy as a reliable brand, and as a “tailor-made” service, he said.

Elaborating new initiatives, he said the “Naturally Made in Italy” training and the “Made in Italy” advertising campaigns are only some of the activities the ENIT is implementing to promote Italy in the UAE and the Gulf region. “We keep organising workshops, B2B meetings, market researches, and fam-trips, like the one to the Sardinia region on the occasion of the last Sardegna Endurance Lifestyle, which brought seven tour operators and a journalist from the UAE to discover the Italian Island and its variegated touristic offer,” he said.

“Our goal for the coming months is to broaden our radius to the whole Gulf region, promoting Italy among the public and the operators of the tourism sector of countries like Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” Strano said.

“The GCC is in fact a fast-growing market with one of the highest per capita spending in the tourism sector; here, Italy is still not fully known for all its potential, and much can be done to promote not only its world renown art cities like Rome and Venice, or shopping and business destinations like Milan, but also for its spas, villages, mountains, lakes, coasts and island,” he said.

Strano said tourism plays an important role in reviving Italy’s economy and the government is taking appropriate measures to increase its contributions in country’s annual GDP. “Tourism in Italy accounts for over 11 per cent of its GDP. However, being home to the highest number of Unesco World Heritage Sites, Italy aims at doubling [this] figure in the coming years,” he said.

“Our country has an incredible and varied touristic offer, which is yet to be fully discovered. We believe the ENIT’s presence at the recent ATM and the activities organised during the four-day exhibition threw a light on the unique and incomparable beauty of the ‘Bel Paese’ as tourist destination,” he added.

According to recent reports, Itlay generated a turnover of Euro 73 billion through tourism last year as over 831 million tourists — including foreign and local visitors — arrived in the country, while foreign tourist spending was up 3.1 per cent to Euro 33.064 billion. Germany, with 15 per cent of the total tourists, remained a major source market for Italian tourism followed by France, Austria, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, among others.

According to official estimates, Italy’s public sector will invest Euro 1.3 billion in infrastructure projects while the private sector and more than 140 participants are likely to inject Euro 350 million and Euro 1 billion, respectively, in the Italian economy struggling to exit its longest post-war recession and counts more than three million citizens without jobs.

“We are convinced that promoting our country and Expo Milano 2015 in the main international tourist markets must go hand-in-hand. Thanks to ‘Made in Italy’ and the quality of Italian agri-food products, design projects and high fashion, our country itself has a strong appeal throughout the world; not to mention the extraordinary heritage of history, art and culture that every corner of Italy can boast,” Galli said.

“The experience, we are preparing for visitors to the universal exposition, will take account of and promote all of this. Expo Milano 2015 will be our calling card. This is why we are working with the network of Enit agencies and operators, with the top tour operators in the world and with the fledgling company Explora, dedicated to raising awareness of the tourism sector regarding the expo, so that a visit to exposition becomes the main leg of a journey of discovery of Italy’s regions,” he added.

“Bringing hundreds of countries and millions of people together around a single theme is a fascinating challenge for the world of tourism. This is the feeling I have had when talking with the major players in the sector during international trade fairs — from the WTM in London to ITB in Berlin — which we have attended together with the ENIT network.

“In our meetings with operators and agencies interested in becoming authorised resellers, we are focusing on five areas of interest: the universal exposition will offer ‘food for the body’, through the traditional cuisines of the countries; ‘food for the heart and the feet’, as a time for sharing and entertainment; ‘food for the eyes’, through the architectural beauty and technological innovation of the pavilions; ‘food for the soul’, with the commitment to reducing imbalances in the distribution of food resources in the world; and ‘food for the mind’, because Expo Milano 2015 is a global platform for the exchange and sharing of knowledge.”

“In other words, it is the multi-sensory experience derived from the perfect combination of these elements that moves the operators first and then, people from every part of the world, inspiring them to buy a ticket to visit the 2015 Expo,” Galli explained.

About the expo theme, he said food, innovation and sustainability are the main lines along which this multi-faceted project is being developed. The area of more than one million square metres that will house the country pavilions will become a technologically-advanced “citadel”, which is attentive to the use of energy, in which food plays a central role, as the theme that drives the visitor experience.

“Expo Milano 2015 is designed to be a platform for dialogue and debate among the countries, where each of them can put to the test their own technological and scientific experience to interpret the theme. The exchange of know-how and expertise will bring networks to life on a global scale, capable of producing value even after the event. Promoting good lifestyles, by encouraging the spread of good eating habits and expert practices in a context of sustainable development, is one of the objectives that Expo Milano is committed to achieving,” Galli concluded.

Tags: events, italy, milan
Photo Credit: Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta arrives at the construction site of Expo 2015, on the outskirts of Milan. Reuters