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A New Italy

Theatre in Centre of Como - Photo © Elisabeth Lang

When passing the Swiss/Italian border in Chiasso, on one side there was the Swiss Police without masks but within only 2 meters, everybody was wearing a mask, and that was Italy.

To my big surprise, there was no queue to get into the parking garage at the center of Como where usually during the summer, one has to wait until a car comes out, but the garage was empty.

How bizarre to see Como so empty.

A New Italy

Como – Photo © Elisabeth Lang

But it has some advantages, like no problem parking or grabbing a table for a coffee, but it was all very strange. Masks are obligatory everywhere, even outside with most of the people taking it very seriously.

In contrast, last year Lake Como was a booming non-stop base and had a record summer season. Hotels were running at 90% occupancy adding an increase of 11% in tourism arrivals and a boom of 14% in foreign arrivals.

During the first 3 months of 2020, incoming bookings promised to be another record year.

But that changed all of a sudden with the COVID-19 coronavirus ushering in a record-breaking wave of cancellations in March and April 2020.

Huge overseas wedding parties planned a year ahead were cancelled. Police were controlling to make sure that nobody left their houses, while Como and the entire Lombardy region went into lockdown from March 11 through June 4, 2020.

The sudden stop of tourism at a time when LARIO (the Lake Como region) was sailing towards another record number of tourist arrivals meant a total loss of 120 million euro in tourism within 3 months.

Over the last 10 years from 2009 to 2019, Lake Como has seen a steady increase of up to 32.8% in arrivals, procuring an income to over 23,000 tourism-related businesses and adding 20% of economic value to Lario. Why Lario? Because Lake Como in Western Lombardy is also known as Lario, after the Latin: Larius Lacus and is a lake of glacial origin in Lombardy.

A New Italy

Bellagio – Photo © Elisabeth Lang

Last week, the 2019 numbers give Lario’s international vocation, said Guiseppe Rasella, who is responsible for tourism at the Camera Comercio (Chamber of Commerce).

As far as arrivals go, Germany is leading with 239,000 which equals 18.4% of the total numbers of foreign arrivals. This is followed by the Americans at 156,000, equal to 12% and an increase of 22% for 2018, for a total of 22.8%; followed by the French at 119,000; the Swiss at 114,000; and the British at 110,000.

There are 1,319 active local units for the tourism sector in Lario, spearheaded by Como with 677 units.

But what is happening now?

The important fact is that zero coronavirus infections were reported last week. Big relief!

According to a study by ENIT (the Italian tourism agency), more than 48% of Italians will go on holiday this summer, but the majority – 83% – are staying in Italy.

A New Italy

Masks are obligatory in Italy – Photo © Elisabeth Lang

After the lockdown, initially many Italians would have liked to go away, but now they simply prefer to stay nearby home discovering the Bel Paese which was hosting guests from all over the world. The pace of recovery by destination will vary and will depend on the extent to which they rely on international source markets and the revival of consumer confidence.

However, this year will definitely be a revival of the old times when centuries ago rich people from Milan (50 kilometers away) constructed their palatial villas on the shores of Lake Como while people from the province of Como came for holidays on the lake.

In modern times, Italians tourists were hardly seen on Lake Como during the last decades – it was  more Cambodia than Como, more Berlin than Bergamo, and China was another interesting option.

In the meantime, celebrities from all over the world arrived and were buying villas around Lake Como,  while the international media went out to do Clooney spotting. Last summer, President Obama came and stayed with the Clooneys in Laglio and was accompanied by helicopters and 6 security cars for his very private visit.

A New Italy

Photo © Elisabeth Lang

The happy few and famous were flocking the narrow glitzy streets of Como and tourists were waiting patiently (sometimes for hours) to buy tickets for the ferry boat cruise.

This summer, everything is different. There is no waiting, no queues, and beautiful sites like the Villa del Balbaniello, Villa Carlotta, and Villa Olmo, etc., are easily accessible and should be on the must-see list.

A New Italy

Concordia – Photo © Elisabeth Lang

But where are the COMASCHI (people from Como) going for their holiday? Italy and Lario!

Rated the Most Glamourous Lake in the World last year by CNN, Indian tycoon, Mukesh Ambani, the head of oil-gas-telecom conglomerate Reliance Industries who topped the list with an estimated net worth of $51.4 billion for a 12th year in a row, celebrated the engagement of his daughter for one week on the shores of Lake Como. Over 700 special guests were flown in from all over world.

So, what made India’s richest man choose Lake Como as a venue for his daughter’s engagement?

Well, the lake is a beauty to behold, and its location, i.e., Italy, does not need an introduction. Very few countries in the world can  boast of rich culture, food, and architecture like Italy.

And its beauty is so intense with verdant hills and bustling with happening events, Italy always manages to be in the “tops” of all lists, writes Panchiali Dey from India.

Mega weddings are not in vogue this year due to the pandemic, and only a handful of guests are  allowed to attend, which has caused many wedding planners to go out of business. On top of that, only  very few airlines so far have put Milan back on their radar.

It was also learned that despite a slowdown of economic growth that caused more than half of India’s 100 richest people to lose money, Ambani has only gotten richer, adding $4.1 billion to his fortune in the past year.

This summer everything is different. There are no body guards, no Bollywood, no Hollywood, and Italians are the ones discovering their own Italy.

After coming out of the 3-month lockdown, well dressed women were waiting eagerly in front of shops to open in the morning. Only 3 to 4 persons were allowed in at a time after they first had their temperatures taken and hands sanitized.

A New Italy

Como – Photo © Elisabeth Lang

At the bar where I used to box myself through a bunch of chatting and laughing people ordering coffee, I feel lonely now. I am the only one there. It was catastrophic, said the barista, but slowly it is getting better. The man at the newspaper kiosk said in March and April he had not seen anyone at all.

But the magic touch is still there and has not gone away. It is good to be back in Italy.


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About the author

Elisabeth Lang - special to eTN

Elisabeth has been working in the international travel business and hospitality industry for decades and contributing to eTN for nearly 20 years. She has a worldwide network and is an international travel journalist.

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