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Italy spends to lure tourists as crisis bites

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Written by editor

ROME – Italy launched a 10 million euro ($13 million) international advertising campaign on Tuesday to lure back tourists as the economic crisis hammers one of the Mediterranean country’s biggest indu

ROME – Italy launched a 10 million euro ($13 million) international advertising campaign on Tuesday to lure back tourists as the economic crisis hammers one of the Mediterranean country’s biggest industries.

Venetian canals, Roman ruins and Italy’s wealth of Renaissance art have long attracted travelers but the economic slowdown and weaker foreign currencies prompted a 5 percent fall in tourism revenues in 2008, tourism chief Matteo Marzotto said.

That loss of about 4 billion euros translated into a 0.3 percent fall in gross domestic product, he said. Tourism accounts for about 11 percent of GDP, and employs about 3 million Italians, making it one of Italy’s biggest sectors.

Predicting more trouble during the Easter holidays and an uncertain summer ahead, Marzotto on Tuesday unveiled a national advertising campaign abroad, the first in three years, to win back crisis-hit tourists.

“We’re in the middle of a war,” Marzotto, who heads the national tourism board ENIT, told reporters. “Despite having a good winter season, we expect problems during Easter.”

Tourism levels were expected to remain stable or slide further in 2009, he said.

Dubbed “Italia Much More,” the new campaign includes 15-, 30- and 60-second television spots featuring tourists posing by the Colosseum or Venice’s Grand Canal, or stumbling upon Italy’s lesser-known sights like unspoilt beaches and its ski slopes.

“Italy needs a campaign that goes beyond the usual stereotypes,” said Marzotto, noting that the lagoon city of Venice alone attracts as many tourists in a year as the whole of Italy’s southern region.

“‘Italia Much More’ means more exceptional sights, getting lost in Italy, seeing how we live the Italian lifestyle.”

The ads will be shown on national television in Italy’s main tourist markets — Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Britain, the United States and Canada.

The campaign marks a new direction for Italian tourism, which Marzotto has criticized in the past as being driven by too many local or regional marketing campaigns competing with each other at the expense of a coherent national campaign to draw visitors.

Italy has more UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites than any other country but tourism bodies have complained its competitiveness has been slipping.

A garbage crisis in Naples that won widespread publicity abroad and the bankruptcy of national carrier Alitalia last year has also weighed on the industry.