Italy annouce a bonus for taking a holiday

With few tourists expected this year the beaches will not be overcrowded.

01-08-2019David Arquimbau Sintes - jma - E

"This summer we will go to the beach." Who said this? President Armengol? Balearic tourism minister, Iago Negueruela? National tourism minister, Reyes Maroto? Prime Minister Sánchez? The answer is none of them. It was in fact Lorenza Bonaccorsi, who is the undersecretary at the Italian ministry of cultural assets, of which tourism is a part.

Lorenza's optimism is founded on the fact that Italy, unlike Spain, has a plan with something concrete to it. This plan has yet to be approved, but an aid package to be announced this month is expected to include this concrete item, and it demonstrates a difference between Italian thinking and the vagueness of that in Spain, where most of the talk is about "measures", as yet undefined. So many measures are there, or at least alluded to, that one wonders how far they would stretch if you laid them all end to end. Along the entire Spanish coastline plus the coastlines of the Balearics and the Canaries? Eminently possible, but there would be no one to do the measuring because there's no concrete measure to get them to the beaches.

Italy has come up with the idea of the "bono vacanze", a holiday bonus. It would only get paid for taking a holiday in Italy, but payment there would be. It could either be in the form of a credit on the next tax declaration or in cash, however this cash might be handed over. Six hundred euros. This is the size of the bonus that's being mentioned.

The thinking is pretty obvious. If people aren't offered some financial help, they won't travel anywhere. If no one travels, then tourism fails. If tourism fails, then so does a significant part of the economy. It is a vicious, self-destructive circle, and Italy seems willing to try something to break it. Paying people to go on holiday. What a remarkable idea.

Ok, so six hundred euros for a family may not be a huge amount, but it's something, especially if the holiday is relatively modest, e.g. at a small, family-type hotel in places that wouldn't be too far to drive to: "tourism of proximity", as Lorenza Bonaccorsi has put it. One presumes that there would need to be a system of verification to prove that, for example, a hotel had been stayed in, but this should be administratively simple enough to make the scheme viable.

This type of tourism is being referred to as a return to how holidays were in the 1960s and earlier. And for many it is exactly how they were. Driving from Surrey to Bognor or Bournemouth seemed to take all day - and probably did before there were motorways - but the distances weren't vast by any means. That was England, though; Spain is somewhat larger. Even so, four or five hours by car to get to a coastal resort? Hardly out of the question.

Rubén José Pérez Redondo of the Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid says that everything is going to be different this summer. The beaches won't be occupied by foreign tourists; they won't be overcrowded. There will still be the anxiety, but he stresses that the summer culture in Spain is largely associated with the beach. And so it is. References to "playa" (or "platja" if you prefer") are constant. The beach is summer, and for Professor Pérez, an expert in tourism history, not going to the coast and to the beach for a few days would be difficult to contemplate.

The anxiety, the good professor adds, will lead to people feeling safer the closer they are to home. They have more control, and they wouldn't have to rely on planes, themselves a source of anxiety. But if this is the case, then where does it leave Majorca and the Balearics? In Italy, there are going to be low, set fares for travel to Sardinia in an attempt to boost national tourism to the island. A similar proposal has been made for the Balearics. But will people feel it is too early to get back on a plane or a ferry, once the airports and ports are open, that is?

The Italian bonus idea can work for the mainland, but can it for the islands? In Majorca, let's face it, the majority of the population lives by the coast, and there are any number from the interior who have holiday homes by the sea. The bonus would be pretty irrelevant. Something else concrete would be needed, and as yet there isn't anything; just "measures".

A return to how it was decades ago? Almost certainly. We'll be going to the beach this summer (if and when confinement ends), and there'll be room aplenty.

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