ROME, May 8 (Xinhua) -- Italy's beleaguered tourism businesses breathed a sigh of relief when Prime Minister Mario Draghi said earlier this week that the country would reopen to international tourists by mid-May. But analysts said the country may still need to wait until 2023 before the tourism sector could fully recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tourism has long been the main pillar of Italy's economy. In 2019, it accounted for about 13 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). But the sector experienced a crippling effect with the country's first coronavirus lockdown 14 months ago.
According to Marina Lalli, president of Federturismo Confindustria, the country's travel and tourism federation, the pandemic cost Italy's tourism industry at least 70 billion euros (84.4 billion U.S. dollars) last year alone.
"It is good news that Draghi has invited potential tourists to visit Italy," she told Xinhua, recalling the prime minister's remarks during Tuesday's summit of Group of 20 (G20) tourism ministers. "But it will still require a great deal of work and time to undo the damage done by the pandemic to the tourism sector."
Gianfranco Lorenzo, head of research at the Center for Tourism Studies in Florence, agreed with Lalli, saying that companies in the tourism sector were "optimistic" despite everything they have been through.
"The sector has been hit very hard and its recovery will not be a fast one," Lorenzo said in an interview with Xinhua. "If there are no setbacks (related to the pandemic) I think we'll see a gradual improvement from this point on."
Though Lalli and Lorenzo agreed that the worst of the pandemic was likely "behind us," they also predicted that it would take until the second half of 2023 before the Italian tourism sector could return to its pre-pandemic (2019) status.
According to Lorenzo, the "eventual" return to that status - which would be marked by an increase in visitors from China and stronger emphasis on sustainable tourism -- would be gradual and uneven at best.
"Italy will remain one of the world's top tourist destinations," he said. "But we see that the pace of recovery differs across the world's regions. The pandemic won't be over until it is under control everywhere. This is why it will take so long for the tourism sector to recover."
According to Lalli, the arrival in Italy of visitors from faraway lands would signal the final stage in the sector's recovery.
"Domestic tourists already venture to rediscover their country," she said. "Over time, they'll travel further away from home and then visitors from other parts of Europe will also come. This process could start soon. Eventually, we will be able to welcome visitors from other continents as well." Enditem