Battle against overtourism: Italy gets separate ministries for Culture and Tourism

The famous Venice canal's are deserted since the start of the Corona pandemic. Image: rabbit75_cav (Canva) CC0

In February, Italy’s new prime minister Mario Draghi announced that the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism (MiBACT) would be split into two: Culture (MiC) and Tourism (MiT). By creating two dedicated departments, the Italian government hopes to support the cultural and tourism sector more. Both industries have been hit hard by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

In his speech, Draghi stated that Italy’s cultural heritage is at risk. ”The economic loss is enormous, but the loss of our spirit would be even greater”, Al Jazeera reported in February. Since tourism and culture are important economic sectors for Italy, the departmental split will have far-reaching consequences, Atribune reported. So how will this political decision affect Italy’s cultural heritage during the pandemic and in the future?

Burning Heritage

Giovanni Pescarmona

Breaking the department does not mean cultural heritage and tourism will go their separate ways from now on. ”Heritage needs tourism, and tourism needs heritage. But the balance is currently gone”, reflects European Heritage Youth Ambassador Giovanni Pescarmona. As a PhD candidate at the University of Florence and art historian, he has witnessed the catastrophic effects of over-tourism on Italy’s cultural heritage in recent years. 

”In Italy, we have a saying that our heritage is our oil. You can earn a lot of money from oil, but you need to burn it to do so. Currently, we are burning our cultural heritage for profit”, Pescarmona sighs. He refers to the destruction over-tourism caused in cities like Venice, Rome and Verona. ”The cities have become too expensive for many people to live and are designed for tourists to stay. Not for actual residents to live their lives.”

Since the start of the pandemic, millions of tourists stayed away. This revealed the devastating effects of mass tourism. ”The most polluting aspect is the transportation of people”, Pescarmona explains. ”Our cities, towns and landscapes are not designed to put up with millions of tourists every year. Yet, the pandemic has shown that Italy’s heritage and tourism sectors depend on unsustainable mass tourism to survive.” France24 reported the effects of the pandemic on tourism in the video below (text continues below video).

Clean slate

For Pescarmona, the creation of two new ministries feels like a clean slate. ”Hopefully, this department can manage tourism in a better, greener and more sustainable way”, he says. ”Tourism needs to be spread across the country, and not only be focused in a few cities. Instead of only concentrating on international tourists, we should involve locals as well.”

Italy lacks policies to ‘rethink’ museums as social and participation spaces, instead of attractions

Giovanni Pescarmona

Making cultural heritage more accessible to everyone is one of the main challenges the sector faces, according to Pescarmona. ”We have so much heritage in Italy, yet so many can not afford to go and visit it”, he pleads. ”Not everyone has €25 to spend on a ticket for a gallery.” Not every museum is that expensive, and Pescarmona thinks the problem is bigger than just high ticket prices. ”The lack of a precise strategy on a national level to show tourists lesser-known cultural sites, is the main issue. Currently, Italy lacks policies to ‘rethink’ museums as social and participation spaces, instead of attractions.”

Poor communication

Professor Fulvio Cervini

Pescarmona hopes the future of Italy’s cultural heritage will be safeguarded by the new departments, but professor Fulvio Cervini questions the creation of the MiC. The full professor of History of Art at the University of Florence believes the division might show people that cultural heritage is not a subdivision of tourism. ”However, the new Ministry of Culture tends to create an all-encompassing bubble, where heritage is not so well highlighted”, he says. ”The new policy of the Ministry could end up rewarding cultural activities over cultural heritage, overlooking preservation and conservation.”

Cervini also mentions that Draghi did not communicate very well with experts, professionals and professors within the cultural heritage sector about creating the MiC. ”The problem is not so much the new name, but the political approach that has been used to make this choice”, he says.

The government should strengthen collaboration with the Italian Regions to handle the EU recovery funds more useful

Professor Fulvio Cervini

Draghi’s idea that dedicated departments can manage the EU Covid-19 relief funds better is also flawed, according to Cervini. ”The majority of the EU funds are governed by the 20 Italian Regions. The central state should strengthen collaboration with these Regions to handle the recovery funds more useful”, he pleads. ”That way, the government can help the cultural heritage sector more.”

Turning Point

It has become clear that these separate ministries face massive tasks to save the cultural heritage and tourism sectors. Both Cervini and Pescarmona agree that the MiC and MiT should get enough time to start working correctly. ”This split is an important turning point in cultural policy”, Cervini says. ”But for now, we have to hope that this decision will last longer than the current government.”

Source: Prof. Fulvio Cervini, Giovanni Pescarmona, Al Jazeera and Atribune (Italian)

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