Italy enjoyed an unexpected tourism rebound over the summer with more people taking holidays in the country than before the pandemic.
The revival was attributed to a boom in domestic tourism and the success of a Covid-19 “green pass” available to foreign visitors.
Six million foreign tourists were credited with breathing new life into Italy’s famous artistic cities such as Venice, Florence and Milan.
Including domestic tourists, the total number of holidaymakers in July and August was 23 million – compared to 18 million in 2019.
The result was “completely unexpected” and “defied all odds”, said the Italian business confederation CNA, which published the figures.
The return of foreign tourists served to “guarantee a healthy breath of fresh air” for Italy’s major cities, it said.
Good weather was thought to be one reason behind the rebound, after tourists flocked to Italy’s seaside resorts.
Some lesser-known Italian islands came into the spotlight after virtually eradicating Covid-19 on their shores, analysts said.
The island of Procida, Italy’s designated culture capital for 2022, declared itself the country’s first Covid-free island in May.
The business lobby also highlighted the islands’ emphasis on environmentally sustainable tourism.
Italy is one of the world’s most popular destinations, and tourism represents 14 per cent of the country’s economy.
While the majority of this summer’s tourists stayed in hotels across Italy, eight million stayed in campsites and other facilities.
Tourists travelling in Italy must show the green pass in order to dine at indoor tables and visit museums.
The pass is part of the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate scheme. It provides proof that a person has been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered.
Extended this week to long-distance travel across Italy, the pass has inspired some protests, although few showed up at train stations this week. About 70 per cent of Italy’s eligible residents are fully vaccinated.
Italy this week eased restrictions for British visitors, meaning vaccinated tourists with a negative test must no longer spend five days in quarantine.
However, mask rules were tightened in Sicily in the first new regional restrictions anywhere in Italy since late June.
Travel companies in Europe have campaigned for lighter restrictions in order to revive an industry that was battered by the pandemic.
The industry suffered another blow this week when the EU moved to tighten restrictions on travel from the US, where cases are rising.
The Airlines for Europe group described the move as extremely disappointing, with carriers counting on a revival in their long-haul passenger numbers.