It is a strange time to write about travel to Italy. The spread of the coronavirus — and the hysteria and uncertainty around it — is something I have never seen in the 20+ years that I have been writing about the country.
As of this writing, the CDC has listed Italy under a Level 3 Travel advisory because of the coronavirus. This advisory discourages “non essential” travel to Italy. In my opinion, all travel to Italy is essential. But this is no laughing matter.
The regions of Lombardy and Veneto have been placed under a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory. Milan and Venice, which have reported numerous cases of the COVID-19, are currently in the CDC’s “Do Not Travel” zone. The idea of being warned of traveling to Milan and Venice just boggles the mind. Meanwhile, businesses in Rome are seeing up to 90 percent cancellations, even though the capital has not (yet) been affected by the virus.
I am genuinely concerned about the livelihoods of my colleagues in the Italy travel industry. These are small business owners working in hospitality, guided tours, and restaurants who have spent their lives providing travelers with exceptional experiences.
The coronavirus reared its ugly head in Italy only about two weeks ago. But the repercussions — at least the economic ones — look to be long-lasting. I have heard from friends that were gearing up for a successful March, only to see bookings drop from 40 to one. Small businesses could be looking at bankruptcy if they miss a full month or more of visitors.
And this is the part that sucks. Small businesses — the mom-and-pop restaurants, the BnBs, the small-batch tour companies — are what make visiting Italy special.
I would travel to Italy right now in a heartbeat. No lines! Deep discounts! Empty planes! Photos from blue-skied Rome and other parts of the country show that life has been going on as usual. Everything is normal, they say. Now is the best time to travel to Italy, they say.
But I cannot blithely encourage others to get on a plane in light of the travel advisory. None of us know what the coronavirus will do or how bad it will get. I don’t want to make others panic, but I also don’t want to make light of the situation and assume this unknown virus is “just a cold.”
That said, if you have already have a trip planned in the next few months, I would definitely take a wait-and-see approach. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this will all be a distant memory before Easter (on April 12). But crossing my fingers is not going to make it go away. Praying won’t lead to a cure either.
I can understand travelers being fearful of contracting the virus and/or of spending their hard-earned money to book a trip and then having to cancel it. Travel insurance companies are, of course, keeping up with the times and re-writing their policies to exclude the virus. Not to mention, there are many uninsured or under-insured U.S. travelers who would have to contend with a terrible, for-profit healthcare system upon their return. But that’s a subject for another time and another blog.
I am seeing the trickle-down effect of the coronavirus panic just by virtue of having this blog. Site visitors have dropped by more than 50 percent. But I have seen an uptick in interest about Italy coffee table books. I guess when real travel isn’t viable, armchair travel must suffice.
With readers no longer searching for Italy travel ideas, I am wondering what to write about. Food? Fashion? Music? I know that this unusual period shall pass. But it feels odd, and slightly oblivious, writing about Italy travel when everything is on hold.
How are you dealing with the coronavirus situation in Italy? I would love to hear from both business owners and travelers.