As Restrictions Loosen in Italy, Farmhouses Anticipate Tourism Boom

With about one-third of olive oil sales in Italy going to the restaurant sector, the shift of tourists to the countryside is likely to impact consumption.

May 14, 2021 7:34 AM EDT
By Paolo DeAndreis

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Restaurants and farm­houses in Italy are reopen­ing their doors to tourists after the emer­gency lock­down in place due to the Covid-19 pan­demic was par­tially lifted by the gov­ern­ment.

More than 170,000 small and large busi­nesses in the Horeca (hotel, restau­rant and café) sec­tor have resumed busi­ness through­out the coun­try in the last few weeks.

However, an analy­sis pub­lished by the farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion, Coldiretti, said lift­ing these restric­tions would not allow the sec­tor to return to nor­mal com­pletely. Bars and restau­rants have only been allowed to restart out­door din­ing and a nation­wide cur­few, span­ning from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., is still in place.

While the pro­hi­bi­tion on indoor din­ing will have the most sig­nif­i­cant impact on urban busi­nesses, the loos­en­ing of restric­tions has cre­ated new oppor­tu­ni­ties for farm­houses in the coun­try­side.

See Also: Greek Producers Await Reopening of Restaurants, Tourism

According to the lat­est pro­jec­tions, more than half of Italians will spend their hol­i­days in domes­tic food and wine tourism hot spots in 2021, pri­mar­ily in the coun­try­side.


The yearly report on the sec­tor, authored by Roberta Garibaldi, a mem­ber of the board of advi­sors of the World Food Travel Association, pre­dicts that the aver­age hol­i­day bud­get for 2021 will be com­pa­ra­ble to 2019.

Outdoor activ­i­ties are expected to play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the sum­mer hol­i­day sea­son, with 86 per­cent of tourists focus­ing on food and wine hol­i­days also show­ing inter­est in vis­it­ing farm­houses and 59 per­cent look­ing for hol­i­day stays in the coun­try­side.

The report also hints at the grow­ing inter­est in tra­di­tional food prod­ucts, which will also lead many tourists toward farm­ing hol­i­days,” focused on tast­ing local food and par­tic­i­pat­ing in pro­duc­tion activ­i­ties.

See Also: Agritourism is about to get real. There’s still time to pre­pare.

The shift of tourists from the cities to the coun­try­side and the con­tin­ued uncer­tainty of inter­na­tional travel may also pos­i­tively impact olive oil con­sump­tion in Italy.

The Italian Association of the Oil Industry (Assitol) esti­mates that about one-third of all olive oil sales in the coun­try were to restau­rants before the pan­demic.

The reopen­ing of many busi­nesses is likely to relaunch sales to the Horeca sec­tor, which suf­fered exten­sive eco­nomic dam­age dur­ing the repeated emer­gency lock­downs.

The fast pace of the vac­ci­na­tion cam­paign in Italy, com­bined with the government’s plans to re-open for national and inter­na­tional tourism and the poten­tial imple­men­ta­tion of a European-wide vac­ci­na­tion pass­port,” is stim­u­lat­ing a return to live events.

Last year, pan­demic con­tain­ment mea­sures led to the can­cel­la­tion of the tra­di­tion­ally rich spring cal­en­dar of wine and olive oil-related fes­ti­vals and events through­out the coun­try.

Many towns, where the local econ­omy depends upon olive pro­duc­tion, are pro­mot­ing a new ini­tia­tive called Merenda nell’Oliveta, which trans­lates to a snack among the olive trees.”

Their asso­ci­a­tion, Città dell’Olio, or City of Olive Oil, which rep­re­sents olive-pro­duc­ing munic­i­pal­i­ties nation­wide, announced that more than 40 towns are actively pro­mot­ing Merenda-related ini­tia­tives.

But we have room for more,” Michele Sonnessa, pres­i­dent of the asso­ci­a­tion, told Olive Oil Times. Subscriptions are still open, and, judg­ing from the grow­ing inter­est for this event, we believe that Merenda will be announced in more than 70 or even 80 cities through­out the coun­try.”


While the ini­tia­tive is thought of as a way to redis­cover social events and live com­mu­nity walks in the beau­ti­ful coun­try­side of our olive-pro­duc­ing dis­tricts, every local author­ity is in charge of its own ver­sion of the event,” he added.

Running from May 21 to June 27, Merenda will host tast­ing courses, edu­ca­tional work­shops, meet­ings with olive grow­ers, agron­o­mists, olive mills and his­to­ri­ans in at least 13 regions. Activities will involve read­ing olive oil-themed poems, dance per­for­mances, live music and the­ater events.

This is our first Merenda, but it comes on the heels of our estab­lished ini­tia­tives tra­di­tion­ally held in October when thou­sands of tourists walk through the Italian olive groves to see and par­tic­i­pate in the har­vest and keep in touch with a cen­turies-old cul­ture,” Sonnessa said.

Other out­door ini­tia­tives con­nected to local food and tra­di­tions are pop­ping up in sev­eral regions as well.

Near Lake Garda, spe­cial events have been announced for the upcom­ing weeks to meet the pro­duc­ers and taste extra vir­gin olive oil with the local Protected Designation of Origin cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and the many other local spe­cial­ties.

In Tuscany, Umbria and Puglia, asso­ci­a­tions and farm­houses are also relaunch­ing tra­di­tional events and announc­ing newly formed ones.

While a 2020 law that favors the devel­op­ment of olive oil-related tourism is fuel­ing opti­mism among local orga­ni­za­tions and agri-busi­nesses, the pan­demic con­tin­ues to hin­der re-open­ings.

Among the events still being side­lined by the pan­demic is Puglia’s Enoliexpo, which has already been delayed for sev­eral months. Organizers have now con­firmed that the 2021 edi­tion will not occur because of the uncer­tainty of whether national and inter­na­tional stake­hold­ers will be able to travel for the event.

Confirming the gov­ern­ment strat­egy, Prime Minister Mario Draghi told the par­lia­ment that his cab­i­net is aim­ing to re-open­ing the whole of Italy to tourism, both national and inter­na­tional… as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Draghi has also con­firmed that €114 mil­lion will be used to cre­ate a dig­i­tal hub” ded­i­cated to tourism and to assist in hol­i­day plan­ning from abroad.


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