ROME, July 2 (Xinhua) -- The borders of the European Union opened to visitors from beyond Europe Wednesday. Operators from Italy's beleaguered tourism industry are hoping the date proves to be the start of the sector's much-needed recovery.
Italy's tourism industry is normally among the country's most reliable economic drivers. But the national coronavirus lockdown put into place in early March meant tourism disappeared.
Wednesday's milestone was the latest in a series of loosening of travel restrictions. On May 18, bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen as long as they respected social distancing rules, and on June 3 Italians were first allowed to move between regions and visitors from most European countries could come to Italy without restrictions.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Tourism noted that more than 100,000 Italian families used their tourism bonus of up to 500 euros (563 U.S. dollars). But analysts say the tourism sector needs international tourists to survive.
The new rules allow visitors from parts of the world where the coronavirus outbreak is considered to be under control to come to Europe. Among countries whose nationals can visit are Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea and China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity. Not on the list -- at least not at first -- are travelers from Russia and the United States.
"I hope we'll look back and recognize this point as the beginning of a new phase," Mara Manente, director of the International Center for Studies on the Economics of Tourism at Ca' Foscari University in Venice, told Xinhua.
Manente said that last year Venice, where she lives, got 88 percent of its visitors from outside Italy. Other regions that depend heavily on international tourism include Lazio, the region that includes Rome; the southern island region of Sicily; and Tuscany, the region that includes Florence.
"Right now the tourism industry is trying to survive on mostly domestic tourists, which excludes 55 percent to 70 percent of arrivals normally represented by international travelers," Manente said. "We won't get it back all at once, but this can be the start of the recovery."
Gianfranco Lorenzo, the head of the research department for the Center for Touristic Studies, a not-for-profit organization that monitors the sector, agreed.
"The full recovery of the Italian tourism sector is going to take a great deal of time and work and it has to start somewhere," he said. "This is an important step."
Potential arrivals are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the reopening.
"Unless there is some dramatic news, I will come back to Italy this year," Tony Abraham, a self-described "Italy fan" who works as a radio station administrator in Toronto, told Xinhua. "But I want to see how the first couple of weeks go after tourists come back. If it all goes fine, I'll book my ticket for some time in the fall."
Kimberly Addonizio-MacQueen, a Vermont-based writer working on a book about Italian cuisine, took some of the same factors into consideration but came to a different conclusion.
"I was looking forward to my first trip to Italy later this year and was still thinking about going after the outbreak got under control in Italy, to take advantage of the tourist-free version of the country," Addonizio-MacQueen said in an interview.
"But I want to stay for a few weeks to do research and now I don't even know if the restrictions would let me make the trip," she said. "My husband and I decided it makes more sense to postpone until 2021 when I hope all the problems will be resolved." Enditem