For many cities all over Europe, tourism is an essential part of their economies. Hard-hit by the Covid 19 pandemic, the sector is now ready to be reborn. Cities are planning ahead, trying innovative solutions and re-thinking how they are organised and what role to give tourism within their new realities.
In Florence, the capital of the scenic region of Tuscany and home to the famous – or rather infamous – Medici family, tourism is a powerhouse.
Around 14 million tourists visited the city per year until 2019 when the pandemic was officially declared. The following year, the city saw a decrease of 87% in visits.
“We were impacted very hard during the pandemic. Not only considering the tourism sector, but also all economic activities connected to it. Florence’s city centre is inscribed in the UNESCO list and is around 5km2. All the economic activity within the city centre was really hard hit,” explains Carlotta Viviani, Head of Economic Promotion and Tourism at the city of Florence.
From the city to the countryside
There are very few residents in the city centre of Florence therefore, restaurants, bars, shops, and almost all the economic activities based there were severely impacted by the pandemic.
Viviani notes that “in 2021 we had an increase in tourists – 47% increase – compared to 2020, but the tourist flows were mainly from Italy. The administration sat together with the region of Tuscany and the Metropolitan region of Florence and created a communication strategy for local and national tourists.
This coordinated effort was very important because the regional law, since 2016, divides Tuscany into 27 tourism areas and we were able to work together with 18 municipalities within the Florence tourism area. This helped more towns to increase visits – as they are in the countryside and the pandemic called for more outdoor activities.”
This led Florence to rethink its tourism strategy, focusing on promoting outdoor and sustainable activities in nearby cities in addition to sectors like arts and culture which have been traditionally heavily promoted.
“We developed communication tools around tourism paths. We promoted itineraries to be discovered by foot, bike, e-bike, etc. passing through the city, and the smaller municipalities nearby,” adds Viviani. Florence, like other touristic cities, was familiar with the issue of over-tourism. So the city saw the pandemic as an opportunity to manage its flows differently.
Viviani explains that Florence’s problem is that “95% of the tourism flows are concentrated in 5km2. We want to keep our 14 million tourists per year, but spread them through the city and the region, so that more tourists can also get to know the rest of the region.”
And that’s where the Feel Florence app – and website – comes in. Managed by the city of Florence, it shows tourist attractions in all 19 municipalities of the Florence touristic region.
“You’ll never find the Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, etc., on the homepage as a first suggestion because we want to promote different locations and points of interest. We have information on the famous touristic attractions, but we try to spread the tourists,” Viviani further explains. The city has partnered with the private sector, taxi drivers, and tourist guides to promote activities in different areas.
The whole idea is to promote the entire region and harness its full potential, without it representing a loss for the city of Florence. It’s about fostering a regional partnership in which everyone benefits.
Resilience and growth in Braga
Braga is the oldest city in Portugal, and it has experienced a boom in visits in recent years – that is until the pandemic started. Starting in 2012 the city surfed Portugal’s tourism wave, reaching a peak in 2019.
“During the pandemic, we continued to invest in tourism, changing our focus to national travellers,” explains Nuno Gouveia, Deputy Chairman of the Mayor, adding that “as a municipality, our role is to promote the city. We support local agents to promote tourism externally. In 2020 and 2021, we continued to invest in the promotion of Braga with a view to the post-pandemic future.”
This year things started to improve, with tourists coming back. Gouveia explains that “we don’t have concrete numbers from the beginning of the year, but we know that we are getting close to the numbers of good previous years, and we hope to increase these numbers by the end of 2022.”
During the pandemic, the city decided not to charge restaurants the terraces fees, leaving the occupation of public space free. This allowed them to remain open while abiding by social distancing rules. Braga also reduced fees for water use and promoted tax benefits for small traders.
With the post-pandemic recovery underway, Braga decided to launch a project to help companies capture and retain new talent – Working Braga. And, through InvestBraga, the city promoted campaigns for companies to make the transition to digital, for example helping businesses, particularly small ones, to make sales online.
The Portuguese government gave incentives to make these initiatives possible. “It helped us through resilience programmes helping the more classical industry,” says Gouveia.
As part of the Cultural Heritage in Action project, some cities started the discussion on how to manage urban tourism and develop practices to address changing consumer needs.
Their aim is to strike a balance between economic, social, cultural and environmental needs, including the protection of cultural heritage, and ensuring the mid and long-term sustainability of tourism.
This article is part of a series charting local recovery efforts made by cities all over Europe – cities want #MoreThanRecovery