Italy Italy Italy Italy

Tourism Italy

Tourism in numbers - Europe

Europe is the most important tourist region in the world. According to UNWTO, in 2006 nearly 55% of all international tourist arrivals (461 million) were on the “old continent”.Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region are the favourite holiday destinations in Europe. According to UNWTO, in 2006 about 165 million tourists visited these regions (11).

At present, the predominant summer tourist flows in Europe are from north to south, to the coastal zone. However, coastal and mountain tourism are the segments that are most vulnerable to climate change, and the Mediterranean region is the world's most popular holiday region: it attracts some 120 million visitors from northern Europe each year, the largest international flow of tourists on the globe, and their spending is in excess of EUR 100 billion (9).

Tourism in numbers - Italy

Italy is in third place in Europe and globally in fifth place in the ranking of favourite holiday countries. Foreigners account for 43% of overnight stays. The tourism industry generates just under 9% of GDP (11).

Vulnerabilities - Italy

Results show that in Italy tourism is one of the economic sectors that will suffer significant economic damages (3).

The fact that international tourism is already concentrated at a higher latitude leads to the assumption that Italy will be less disadvantaged by the effects of climate change. The shifting of tourist flows further to the north within Italy could continue, so that regions already having weak economies must be prepared for more serious setbacks (11).

Winter tourism

The following impacts can be expected on winter tourism (12):

  • severe impacts on winter sport resorts, especially on the Alps, because of higher temperatures, insufficient snow precipitation, lower reliability of snow cover and related shortened length of the skiing season;
  • loss of Alpine biodiversity, such as forests and glaciers ecosystems, considered as a touristic attraction;
  • additional stress on tourism infrastructure (e.g. resorts, ski lift systems), with higher costs for maintenance and risk prevention due to increased risk of hydro-meteorological extremes; also, possible tourist flows contraction because of more difficult access to mountain destinations and deterioration of transport systems or other infrastructures.

In the alpine areas temperature increase will lead to less snow and snow reliability, thus impacting significantly the winter tourism industry. An increase in extreme weather events will also decrease the attractiveness of alpine resorts, and increase the costs of maintaining and protecting infrastructures (3). About half the ski resorts are below 1,300 m. The location on the south side of the Alps means that even the higher-lying areas (e.g. in the Dolomites) are suffering from reduced snow reliability (11). The expected average reduction in income from winter tourism is estimated at about 10.2% in 2030 and 10.8% in 2090 for Italy (4,13).

Changes in mean winter snow water equivalent (SWE), the seasonal evolution of snow cover, and the duration of the continuous snow cover season in the European Alps have been assessed from an ensemble of regional climate model (RCM) experiments under the IPCC SRES A1B emission scenario (14). The assessment was carried out for the periods 2020–2049 and 2070–2099, compared with the control period 1971–2000. The strongest relative reduction in winter mean SWE was found below 1,500 m, amounting to 40–80 % by mid century relative to 1971–2000 and depending upon the model considered. At higher elevations the decrease of mean winter SWE is less pronounced but still a robust feature. Major impacts for winter tourism in the Alps are expected. Many ski-regions have mean elevations below 2,000 m and are therefore especially vulnerable to climate change (14).

Summer tourism

Concerning summer tourism, climate change impacts may involve (12):

  • northwards shift of the zone with excellent conditions for summer tourism, with a progressive preference for destinations other than the Mediterranean coasts, especially concerning international tourist flow (65) due to exceptional summer temperatures and more frequent heat waves aggravated by possible water supply problems;
  • loss of coastal lands and infrastructure of touristic relevance, such as beaches and harbours, due to sea level rise;
  • seasonal water deficit resulting from minimum water resource availability during summer season (66) coupling with maximum touristic demand, particularly in small Mediterranean islands;
  • redistribution of tourist flows away from summer, thanks to improved conditions in spring and autumn, thus allowing southern Mediterranean countries to compensate some economic loss experienced during the summer season;
  • more frequent extreme discomfort conditions especially in urban environments, due to changes in air pollution concentrations, in particular an increase in ground level ozone in summertime, affecting summer tourist health and activity in the cities.

Summer tourism could be negatively affected by climate change despite compensatory effects among seasons and a controversial role of domestic touristic flows; yet, comprehensive economic estimates are not available for this segment (12).

Glacier tourism is a vital summer tourism niche dramatically affected by the glacier retreat due to climate change. Glacier tourism sites in the Alps bring in more than one million visitors per year (15). Adverse effects of climate change for tourism include greater difficulty accessing glaciers, more dangerous activities, or loss of attractiveness of the site (16). 

Vulnerabilities – In general

There are four broad categories of climate change impacts that will affect tourism destinations, their competitiveness and sustainability (10):

  • Direct climatic impacts
  • Indirect environmental change impacts. Changes in water availability, biodiversity loss, reduced landscape aesthetic, altered agricultural production (e.g., wine tourism), increased natural hazards, coastal erosion and inundation, damage to infrastructure and the increasing incidence of vector-borne diseases will all impact tourism to varying degrees.
  • Impacts of mitigation policies on tourist mobility.Policies that seek to reduce GHG emissions will lead to an increase in transport costs and may foster environmental attitudes that lead tourists to change their travel patterns.
  • Indirect societal change impacts. Climate change is thought to pose a risk to future economic growth and to the political stability of some nations. Climate change is considered a national and international security risk that will steadily intensify, particularly under greater warming scenarios. Tourists, particularly international tourists, are averse to political instability and social unrest.

Vulnerabilities - Mediterranean

An estimated 84% of the international tourists that visit the Mediterranean come from Europe, mostly from northern and western countries. Germany is the largest market followed by the United Kingdom. Spain, France, Italy and Greece receive almost 80% of Mediterranean tourism arrivals (1).

The annual migration of northern Europeans to the countries of the Mediterranean coast in search of the traditional summer ‘sun, sand and sea’ holiday is the single largest flow of tourists across the globe, accounting for one-sixth of all tourist trips in 2000. This large group of tourists, totaling around 100 million per annum, spends an estimated 100 billion Euros per year (2).

The zone with excellent conditions, which is currently located around the Mediterranean (in particular for beach tourism), will shift towards the north, perhaps as far as the North Sea or the Baltic Sea. The same holds probably for the interlinkages between tourism development and water availability. However, conditions in spring and autumn will improve. Much will therefore depend on the tourists' response to these changes (3).

According to studies using several emission scenarios the Mediterranean in the summer changes from being a region with very good or excellent summer conditions up to the 2020s (period 2010–2039 compared with 1961–1990) into being a region with only good or acceptable conditions, or even marginal conditions in the 2080s (period 2070–2099 compared with 1961–1990), depending on the chosen scenario (1).

In the spring the conditions for tourism in the northern Mediterranean region will improve considerably; future conditions are projected to become good or even very good. The most southern countries, i.e. Spain, Greece and Turkey, will benefit most from these developments (1).

In small islands of the Mediterranean basin the groundwater is, in most cases, adequate to cover the household demand, but this is only a small fraction of the peak summer demand. The timing of Mediterranean rainfall does not usually coincide with the time of major water demand. In this way tourism will make a major contribution to the degradation and destruction of water ecosystems. The availability of water supply could become a major constraint and the quantity and quality of water available may not be sufficient to satisfy future tourist demands. Large scale expenditure on desalinization plants will be needed, especially in some island resorts if water supplies are to be guaranteed (2).

There is evidence that drought of the early 1990’s could make Mediterranean islands dependent on water being transported from the mainland with attendant political tensions. Small Mediterranean islands could be particular affected if tourism is allowed to continue to grow. Climatic change due to the enhanced greenhouse effect is likely to have substantial impacts on tourism, especially regarding the choice of destination for seasonal activities. For example traditional beach resorts may become too hot for summer holidays with a much higher frequency of severe climatic stress on tourists (2).

The described changes need not be detrimental for tourism in the Mediterranean per se. Occupancy rates associated with a long tourist season with evenly spread demand tend to be higher than those associated with a very short tourist season consisting of just a few weeks of very high demand. It is by no means certain, though not impossible, that a situation of more evenly spread tourism demand can be easily reached; there are both unfavourable and favourable forces at work. On the one hand, current holiday seasons are geared to school holidays in the source countries, and these are subject to strict government legislation in the whole of Europe; this pattern is difficult to change. On the other hand, with the ageing of the population and the individualisation of society, families have ceased to be the dominant group in tourism. Pensioners and couples without small children, for example, have considerable flexibility in choosing when to go on holiday (1).

Furthermore, the climatic conditions of the Mediterranean are by no means the only attraction in the region. Attractive landscapes, cultural heritage, traditional lifestyles and beaches are among the other factors that have made the Mediterranean basin one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The results should thus be put in this perspective. Moreover, tastes and fashion are not stable over extended periods of time. The modern habit of sunbathing, for example, was not part of popular culture until relatively recently. Many things may change over the next decades that increase or decrease the relevance of the climatic resources for tourism (1).

Adaptation strategies – In general

Climate change is slowly entering into decision-making of a range of tourism stakeholders (e.g., investors, insurance companies, tourism enterprises, governments, and tourists); studies that have examined the climate change risk appraisal of local tourism officials and operators have consistently found relatively low levels of concern and little evidence of long-term strategic planning in anticipation of future changes in climate (10).

There is also some evidence that local tourism operators may be overestimating their adaptive capacity (e.g., capacity to make snow under the warmest scenarios). The incorporation of adaptation to climate change into the collective minds of private and public sector tourism decision-makers (‘mainstreaming’) remains several steps away (10).

The capacity of the tourism sector to adapt to climate change is thought to be relatively high due to its dynamic nature and therefore there will be important opportunities for tourism to reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate change (10).

Adaptation strategies summer tourism

Several authors (5) have shown that in the Mediterranean area there are about 160 islands exceeding 10 square kilometres in size. Most have a low water resource base but significant tourist development. As a consequence of climate change, in the coming years a decline in rainfall (especially in the south of Italy) and water supply availability has been forecast, and, together with beach erosion, this could undermine their tourist industries and hence their local economies.

For this reason, particularly in the vulnerable system of small islands, more effort should be addressed to finding water supply models linked to sustainable environmental policy options. The very short duration of peak demand for water has, in most cases, prohibited the development of solutions that require significant investment costs, such as desalination plants and surface storage reservoirs. However, in rapidly changing climatic conditions that could exacerbate shortfalls of water, new research needs to adopt innovative practice and solutions both for the supply and demand of the water system (6).

In the Mediterranean region, the likely reduction of tourism during the hotter summer months may be compensated for by promoting changes in the temporal pattern of seaside tourism, for example by encouraging visitors during the cooler months (8). Climate change may even be beneficial for the Mediterranean tourist industry if it levels-out demand, reducing the summer peak, while increasing occupancy in the shoulder seasons. In the absence of such adjustments, the Mediterranean tourist industry will be among the main losers (9).

Adaptation strategies winter tourism

It will be necessary to differentiate the tourism offer and to strengthen the seasonal diversification. For winter tourism, the adaptation strategies include technological solutions and the development of new business models. The main available technological solutions are: developing north facing slopes; extending and improving existing ski areas to higher elevations; slope development; tree planting to protect the slopes and artificial snowmaking. Snowmaking is surely the most common and widespread adaptation strategy in Italy (about 77% of the Italian ski areas are already covered by snowmaking systems) (2). A rise in average temperature will lead to an increasing need to use artificial snow,  therefore increasing both the costs and the likelihood of conflicts with other water users (3).

Apart from the adoption of technical adaptation measures, adaptation to climate change also include the development of new business models that can lead to winter revenue diversification, including both snow related and non snow related offers (health tourism, congress tourism, other sports and popular activities, etc) (2). Behavioural strategies are however unlikely to fully compensate for the significant reduction in winter tourism expected as a consequence of climate change, since winter tourism represents the largest source of income in the Alps (7).

The extensive range of tourist destinations, partly independent of the weather, together with the possibility to attract tourists from regions whose climates will be worse affected, mean that the effects of climate change on Italy should be manageable (11).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Italy.

  1. Amelung and Viner (2006)
  2. Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2007)
  3. Carraro and Sgobbi (2008)
  4. Bigano and Bosello (2007), in: Carraro and Sgobbi (2008)
  5. Nicholls, Hoozemans and Marchand (1999), in: WHO (2007)
  6. Van Hofwagen and Jaspers (1999), in: WHO (2007)
  7. TCI (2002), in: Carraro and Sgobbi (2008)
  8. Amelung and Viner (2006)
  9. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  10. UNWTO, UNEP and WHO (2008)
  11. Deutsche Bank Research (2008)
  12. Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2009)
  13. Bigano and Bosello (2007), in: Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea of Italy (2009)
  14. Steger et al. (2013)
  15. Salim et al. (2021b), in: Salim et al. (2021)
  16. Salim et al. (2021)