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Italian clientele: the market is “al dente”

Despite the undeniable charm of their own country, Italian tourists hardly shun leaving the home front to explore the world. However, they tend to prefer neighbouring destinations – to the great advantage of border countries.While young people lend themselves most willingly to travel, with many school-related trips, the strongest growth could be observed among upscale clientele.

With a holiday departure rate of 52% and nearly 11 million leisure trips each year, transalpine clientele represent a market that needs to be relied on. Particularly for professionals on the Old Continent where 76% of all tourists who travel abroad go. Africa ranks second with 13% of arrivals, while South and Central America are making a spectacular entry onto the market with 6%, representing 80% growth in three years on much more modest figures. Finally, North America and Asia together account for only 2% of arrivals. The new generation shows a strong desire to travel longer distances.The evolution of Italian society, and its growing interest in discovery in particular, constitutes a major phenomenon for receptor markets. But the wavering economic situation does not permit longterm forecasts. The young generations, who have yet to be addressed in their near entirety, merit special efforts in terms of promotion and marketing.Long courier flights are more popular than in the past. Particularly to countries such as South Africa or Brazil which have done efficient advertising campaigns. Exoticism remains a key value for Italians for whom sun, particularly tropical sun, is a motive for departure that is stronger than ever. “It is true that we are sensing major development in overseas territories such as Martinique and even Tahiti which, however, remains an expensive destination,” confirms Michel Peyre, director of the Maison de la France for Italy.Nonetheless, it is in Europe that the battle is raging to gain Italian favour. According to the 2006 report by Maison de la France, their priority destination remains France with more than 17% of all Italian tourist arrivals worldwide last year, followed by Spain (10.9%), Germany (8.6%), and Greece (6%). The rest of the world shares the remaining 21% of clientele from the Boot. On the other hand, France’s lead must not overshadow the fact that it is the only leading destination that has seen a drop in arrivals since 1999 with visitors down by 3%. “This is mostly due to competition from less expensive beach resort destinations such as Croatia, Tunisia, Turkey... while it is true that the volume has dropped slightly, this is offset by an increase in consumption at the destination, with a concentration on higher socio-economic levels and upscale clientele,” reasons Michel Peyre. Better still: the luxury market has been exploding for a few years now, and these are the destinations that are the forerunners on this niche and showing the best growth. Quality is thus gaining on quantity. On average, an Italian tourist spends some 880 euros during a trip abroad. The fact that higher socio-economic levels and city dwellers aged 30 to 55 constitute most of these arrivals cannot be ignored.As far as business tourism is concerned, a similar increase may be observed on up market and luxury segments as well as on combined congress-incentive stays. That is to say, original professional meetings where original entertainment and events are organized to break up the atmosphere. The peak periods are April-May-June and September-October. Business stays last 3 to 4 days on average. Italians benefit from thirty days of paid holiday each year while the younger, urban and active part of the population is quick to multiply the number of city breaks. For the French market alone, short stays represent 43% of arrivals. They leave more frequently, but for shorter periods than their predecessors. Based on the total number of arrivals, Maison de la France counts 60% tours, 13% beach resort stays and 6% mountain vacations.The Italian market has very different profiles depending on the supply market: those from the North take an average of 2.3 trips per year versus 1.2 in the South. "The entire region in the North, Turin, Bologna, Milan down to Florence, supplies 45% of trips," explains Michel Peyre. “30% are concentrated in the region around Rome, in the centre, while the South accounts for around 15%. It must be understood that in the various regions there are major differences in terms of unemployment and thus buying power”.Moreover, this buying power tends to be down overall, which is a concern for operators in receptor countries. Of course, demand for luxury products is in full growth, but it must not be forgotten that revenues for the middle and lower classes are stagnant. The country’s growth remains weak and specialists do not foresee the economy taking off in the short term...The disparities are not just geographic. The Italian pyramid of ages shows an increasingly aging population. The country already has 11.5 million senior citizens, meaning one in five, and this proportion could reach one in three by 2050! “I am not concerned about clientele who are senior citizens, who are educated, accustomed to travel and maintain close cultural and sentimental ties with France. We are watching those clientele that fluctuate the most. Today, young people in particular speak more English than French, which didn’t used to be the case. Much work needs to be done to valorize France in their regard, particularly through Internet, which they use a great deal”. It comes as no surprise that loyalty development programs currently concentrate on this age group, whose interest in tourism is on the rise. Culturally, word of mouth is extremely important. 42% of destinations are chosen based on advice from friends and family. Tour-operators and travel agencies represent only 8%, while the press, advertising and Internet account for around 12% already. Italian clientele, and the 18-35 year old age group, are more curious than in the past. Books (including fiction), travel guides, films and documentaries play an increasingly important role in preparing and choosing vacations.Nonetheless, we must remember that nearly 75% of Italians spend their holidays in Italy. Italy’s rich cultural heritage as well as its naturally sunny weather make it a prime destination for its inhabitants. But the significant increase in hotel rates in the Boot in recent years is dissuasive, causing a 12% drop in occupancy in 2005 as it sent many of its residents into the arms of other, very competitive Mediterranean destinations. This hotel industry must also work with an inalterable cultural fact: family vacations are a key part of Italian society and continue to represent a major part of holidays.Operators are well aware of another major characteristic of the market that is an obstacle for some and an exploitable advantage for others: the propensity of Italian tourists to spend their holiday at the same place year after year. In 2005, nearly 60% of them were clear about their intention to return to the last place they spent their vacation. Such loyalty is a godsend for destinations that succeed in establishing themselves.Tour operators are also observing an evolution in buying behaviour: the reservation period extends from April to June, with an increase in credit card transactions via Internet which now represent 10% of purchases. The web trend is not inconsequential: as in other countries previously, last minute reservations are now a veritable phenomenon that explains the increase in tropical destinations, which suddenly became more accessible.Among hotels, accommodations with charm are winning favour. Italian clients pay careful attention to cleanliness and appreciate flexibility, particularly when it comes to dining. “They eat late, although not as late as the Spanish, but nonetheless!” reminds Michel Peyre. Concretely speaking, lunch is often after 1:30 in the afternoon, and dinner around 9 or 9:30 pm. The rarity of fish and shellfish based dishes at certain destinations may be disappointing. They don’t like raw meat or when their cutlery is not changed between services... and even less the “so-called Italian cuisine” that is served at certain properties but only gains the favour of other clientele! “Reception is another aspect they are very sensitive to. They do not understand the coldness of personnel or the absence of smiles since that’s not the way things happen in their country”.The beach remains the top destination for Italians, but urban tourism doesn’t leave these great fans of shopping and outings untouched. “They appreciate all that glitters, the festive settings, but they are also attracted to the cultural aspect, the museums, the architecture, the exhibitions and heritage in general”. This is growing apparent from the high demand for low-cost flights to Europe’s capitals, to which companies such as easyJet or Meridiana are responding in force.Finally, operators ought to take into consideration another phenomenon that is gaining ground in Italian society: “benessere” or the quest for well-being that translates as a major concern for certain niches such as fitness centres, thalasso/balneotherapy, stays centring on spas and more generally the quest for “relaxation” and healthy eating. Outside culture and health, other thematic channels reveal potential: river tourism, religious tourism and winter sports, all three of which interest large portions of the population.The evolution of Italian society, and its growing interest in discovery in particular, constitutes a major phenomenon for receptor markets. But the wavering economic situation does not permit longterm forecasts. The young generations, who have yet to be addressed in their near entirety, merit special efforts in terms of promotion and marketing.

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