Beach tourism ups and downs: Why Puglia needs to diversify

A tourism destination such as Puglia that depends heavily on a single season for the bulk of its visitor-generated revenues should pay attention to the latest news about the adverse impact of bad weather and economic recession from the Sindacato Italiano Balneari (SIB), a Rome-based association that represents approximately 10,000 Italian beach-related businesses.

And if there was ever a good reason for Puglia to continue to work toward diversifying its tourism industry, even in its traditional peak summer travel season, this is it.

A just-released report from SIB states, “Summer: SIB, The Beach In Deep Crisis.” SIB attributes a “sharp decline in attendance at bathing establishments” to “adverse weather conditions in June and July.” It estimates that businesses in beach destinations throughout Italy have already lost more than 400 million euros. ANSA, the Italian news agency, reported that SIB members saw visitor arrivals drop by up to 70% in June and July, compared with the same period in 2013. As ANSA notes, SIB member operators rent beach chairs and beach umbrellas, furnish lifeguards and run beachfront bars or restaurants. The only bright spot in the new statistics was a slight upswing in arrivals by foreign tourists, particularly Germans and Austrians, but not enough to offset the drop in domestic beach travel.

“The economic crisis weighs heavily on beach holidays,” SIB President Richard Borgo said in a press release, but that “unfavorable weather conditions in June and especially in the month of July” was another significant factor. “Rain and more rain has forced many customers to stay away from the bathing establishments. He said this is “a real cry of alarm and pain.”

The worst conditions were reported by beach destinations in the regions of Campania (down 40% in June and 70% in July), Marche (down 35% and 60%), Liguria (down 40% and 50%) and Tuscany (down 35% and 50%).

Borgo told La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, “The debacle affects the whole tourism chain: fewer clients translates to the sea with empty tables in restaurants, hotels they need to do accounts with free rooms (and) shops with unsold goods.”

Fortunately for Puglia, the region’s weather in June and July was not as bad as in other beach destinations, and it in fact is enjoying a slight upswing in total arrivals because of foreign travelers. But just because Puglia was luckier than some others this time doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen here next time. And as we’ve noted earlier, this year’s Puglia summer beach season has not been off to a stellar start.

In their textbook Marketing Tourism Destinations, authors Ernie Heath and Geoffrey Wall state, “A region that is highly dependent on one specific geographic market for its demand may adopt a strategy of diversification, thereby reducing its dependence on one market.” Yes, Puglia attracts huge amounts of money from summertime beach tourism, but diversifying geographically beyond the beaches and the demographically beyond sun worshipers can generate enormous short- and long-term benefits to region’s tourism industry and its economy as a whole.

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