Italy is among the countries with the oldest tourism tradition and, in the early 1980s, when tourism was still limited to a small number of international destinations, its share of global tourist expenditure was second only to that of the United States. Italy boasts an artistic and natural heritage that is almost unparalleled at world level: at 54 out of 1,092, it tops the ranking of countries hosting Unesco world heritage sites.
More than 5 per cent of the country's GDP and 6 per cent of employment are directly connected to tourism.
In the last twenty years tourism has enjoyed a remarkable expansion at world level, driven by the reduction in travel costs and the growth in income levels, including in the emerging economies, which have enormously widened the pool of potential travellers. This increase in demand has been accompanied by the emergence of new destinations that have attracted a growing number of tourists.
Against the backdrop of these global trends, Italy's market share has inevitably shrunk, as have those of other mature travel destinations. While in part natural, this contraction has been more marked for Italy compared with its main European competitors.
Only starting in 2010 have some signs of recovery been recorded, in part driven by improved price competitiveness and the emergence of geopolitical tensions that have discouraged travel to many competitor countries which are now at higher risk of terrorist attacks. Foreign tourists' renewed interest in holidaying in Italy, especially for a cultural vacation, can certainly be counted among the distinctive features of this recovery. Conversely, there is a downward trend in tourist receipts connected to business travel, which is being affected by the slowdown in both the global and, to an even greater extent, the domestic economy.
The expansion recorded in recent years has been driven mainly by flows from non-EU countries. A growing share has been registered in particular for the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and China. Among European countries, there has been a recovery in the flows from France, the United Kingdom and especially Germany, which has consolidated its positions as the main country of origin of foreign tourists in Italy.
Starting in 2015, with the end of the most intense phase of the crisis, positive signs have extended to domestic tourism, for which the flows had displayed a sharper and more lasting drop during the crisis compared with cross-border tourism.