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Will the €20 Million Scheme to Revive Dying Italian Villages Aid Tourist Recovery?

In an ambitious and potentially transformative move, the European Union has unveiled a funding plan to revive 21 of Italy’s dying villages. 

As part of the €420 million scheme, each village is set to receive €20 million. This initiative is part of the broader Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), the European Union’s primary recovery instrument in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Italy’s tourism industry, once the country’s economic powerhouse, has taken a considerable hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the sector’s steady recovery, and the upcoming introduction of simplified travel through the ETIAS Application, 2019 levels of international tourism have yet to be reached.

This project could potentially help in reaching this goal. However, the decision to revitalize these Italian hamlets mostly comes amid growing concern about rural depopulation, economic stagnation, and the loss of cultural heritage. 

Over the past decades, young inhabitants have been leaving these ancient settlements for more prosperous cities, leaving a trail of ghost villages. This mass exodus has left Italy’s rural areas on life support.

Among the villages targeted for renewal are Calascio in Abruzzo, and Palù del Fersina in the Italian Alps. These centuries-old settlements, with their picturesque landscapes, intricate architecture, and historical resonance, represent an invaluable heritage and potential tourist magnet.

However, the revitalization project stretches beyond these two regions to include various other rural settlements across Italy, each imbued with its own unique charm and historical significance.

For instance, the project will also extend to the hilltop hamlets of  Livemmo in Pertica Alta, and Trevinano in central Italy, which is the EU’s pick for the Lazio region. These villages, like many others, were severely affected by the rural exodus, leaving historic buildings and vineyards to the ravages of time.

The restoration plan under this scheme is expected to revive their old-world charm and attract tourists seeking a retreat from bustling city life. The improvements anticipated in these villages under the scheme are diverse, reflecting the multifaceted approach towards sustainable development. 

Infrastructure-wise, there will be a focus on the restoration of historical buildings, and the refurbishment of streets and public spaces, ensuring accessibility while maintaining their historical integrity.

The scheme also seeks to stimulate local economies. To this end, investments will be made in the development of small businesses, including local artisanal crafts, agri-food production, and eco-friendly accommodation facilities. 

This will not only provide employment opportunities for locals living in the villages but also promote them as destinations for agri-tourism and craft tourism.

There is also hope that this scheme could contribute significantly to the ongoing recovery of the Italian economy in the tourism sector. For one, it feeds into the growing trend of rural and sustainable tourism. 

Travelers are increasingly seeking authentic experiences away from the crowds, immersed in nature, and engaging with local communities. The restored Italian villages, with their history, charm, and tranquility, could perfectly cater to this emerging demand.

Moreover, by diversifying Italy’s tourism offerings, the scheme could encourage a more balanced distribution of tourist influx. The big cities like Rome, Venice, and Florence, though crucial to Italy’s appeal, often suffer from over-tourism. 

By offering viable alternatives in the form of rejuvenated rural villages, Italy could alleviate the strain on these cities while promoting a more sustainable form of tourism.

From an economic standpoint, the infusion of EU funds could trigger a multiplier effect. The initial investment in infrastructure and business development could lead to job creation and increased economic activity. 

This would generate tax revenue, leading to further growth. In turn, this could potentially result in a self-sustaining economic model that bolsters the tourism sector’s recovery.

However, the success of this project isn’t guaranteed. There are numerous challenges, including bureaucratic red tape, the risk of artificial or unauthentic transformations, and the difficulty of maintaining the delicate balance between preserving heritage and encouraging economic growth.

For example, the Christian Science Monitor has raised valid concerns about whether €20 million per village will indeed be enough to reverse decades of decline.

Additionally, not everyone is happy about the allocation of the funds. Many neighboring villages, including Civita di Bagnoregio near Trevinano, have questioned why so much money should be spent on rejuvenating just one community. 

With so many struggling communities in each of Italy’s regions, many have argued that the funding should be given a much larger distribution.

Ultimately, the future of this EU scheme will depend on careful planning, community involvement, and a sensitive approach to maintaining the authenticity of these villages.

If done right, this could be a turning point for Italy’s dying villages, providing a much-needed boost to the country’s tourism recovery, and offering a model for other regions facing similar challenges.

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