Italian tourist city misses massive opportunity
Ravenna and the whole of Romagna have a major opportunity to use their amazing heritage to benefit tourists and residents alike, but they are losing it
The city of Ravenna and its surrounding area of Romagna have one of the most astonishing treasure chests of heritage, culture and hospitality in the world, yet not only are they losing their current, waning tourism benefits but they stand to lose their bid to be European City of Culture in 2019 for which they must be current Italian favourites. What a shame!
Just look at what the area of Romagna has:
Its cultural cities include the extraordinary World Heritage city of Ravenna itself, world famous for its mosaics, which was three times capital of Italy and has no less than 8 UNESCO sites – the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (c. 430) , Neonian Baptistery (c. 430), Arian Baptistry (c. 500) Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (c. 500), Archiepiscopal Chapel (c. 500), Mausoleum of Theodoric (520) , Basilica of San Vitale (548) and Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe (549)- all of which are worth a day visit in themselves.
Add to that, in Ravenna alone – the tomb of Dante – the great Italian writer; the stunning Classense Library full of 1,000-year old books and illustrated manuscripts; the beautiful (but practically unknown) National Museum plus archeological sites with classical mosaics, and much, much more – all befitting a city that was a powerful, wealthy, international capital with a 250 vessel fleet before Venice was even thought about.
And, close to the city, in Romagna you need to add the ancient ceramic art city of Faenza, the historic salt-city seaside resort of Cervia, the delightful olive-oil hillside town of Brisighella, the lovely town of Lugo and the historic Bagnocavallo. Enough? What about adding the Romagna seaside resort of Rimini – the mother of all Mediterranean seaside resorts that practically started upmarket mass tourism in the 1960’s and is still a force to be reckoned with, still combining history with tourism.
To this great weight of culture and tourism, you should add the area’s astonishing ecotourism assets.
The extraordinary Po Delta Regional Park – gazetted by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in its own right in 1999 http://www.Parcodeltapo.it and http://www.Deltaduemila.net Here you will find massive pine forests, a salt pan, wetlands and literally thousands of bird species to delight the eye, the ear and the souls of birdwatchers, walkers, nature-lovers.
Unbelievably, too, Romagnola is the birthplace of Italian cuisine. You didn’t know? It has arguably the best cookery school in Italy as part of an unique foundation started by a Romagnolo man – Pellegrino Artusi . Artusi is known to Italians all over the world as the father of Italian cuisine and the Casa Artusi, originally a monastery and now a Cathedral of Good Food – is astonishing. The whole province of Romagna is known to insiders as having one of the top Italian traditions of great hospitality, fabulous food and delicious wine.
With this stunning range of tourism assets you would think that the whole area couldn’t miss. Think again – tourism figures for the whole area (excluding Rimini) are less than 1.4 million in 2012, down by 100,000 on the previous year. The Province of Ravenna does not publish tourism income figures or length of stay – but you can bet your bottom dollar that the majority are low-value day trippers not making a high contribution to the local community.
To date, also, the area has missed out on a major €137m EU Cross-border Development Fund (2007-2013) – only managing to capture some €245,000 from Adriatic IPA – and even then didn’t get their act together until 2011 for the last 2 years of the grant.
It is no wonder that local hoteliers are up in arms about the decision of the Ravenna town council to add a tourist tax, which will be implemented next month.
The reasons for this mis-management are understandable – lack of funding at national tourism level, lack of funding at regional level, lack of funding at province level, lack of funding at local level – and actually simply too many levels to support with no commercial partnerships.
It is a crying shame that such a great tourism opportunity, which could have great benefits for all, is being missed. As an example a recent visit to the National Museum encountered a space totally devoid of tourists. Why was this treasure-chest empty? It’s probably due to a dearth of promotion due to lack of funds. Similarly the majestic, world-class Classense library was empty too – another badly-promoted, badly-supported masterpiece.
The Ravenna bid for European City of Culture 2019 hopes to change this – one of its major pillars is tourism – visualising Ravenna as a city of art by the sea.
Its vision sees the city as full of international guests, with a re-built re-invigorated dock area – as a vibrant cultural, sustainable, communicative, transformative city – a world power once again.
And it is just possible that the city could get together all the various departments and stakeholders, grasp this prize and use it to recreate itself as other winners have. But to do so, the basic tourism issues need to be dealt with….
- At least the relevant stakeholders (state, regional, province and local government plus the local tourism and culture players) all the tourism stakeholders need to get together and talk to each other.
- An up-to-date tourism inventory needs to be created swiftly
- Romagna tourism needs to be reassessed and reinvented to target the massive benefits that are available – more employment, training, income, development, fun!
- Individual community-based tourism development projects may also create a massive mosaic (like the ones Ravenna is so proud of) of delightful tourism offers
- And all this must be integrated in the Ravenna2019bid
- And it needs to be done quickly
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