In 2023, tourism reached surprising peaks as early as during the first few months of the year. It then reached even higher levels during the summer months. Forecasts estimate that there will be around 442 million overnight stays in the whole of 2023, which would mean a return to pre-pandemic levels as soon as a year and a half early.

An undoubtedly positive surprise. But, also in light of the news that has often highlighted the lack of services to support tourists, one wonders to what extent our infrastructures and, above all, our transport system are really ready to cope to such major tourist flows. 

Let’s look at some data: in Italy, in the first four months of 2023, there were 12.7 million foreign tourists, recording +42% compared with 2022 (ISTAT and Eurostat data), whilst in Spain and France, the growth had “stopped” at 25 and 23%. Furthermore, after a pandemic that has radically changed habits and approaches to life, there is every reason to think that this is a structural increase and not a simple temporary rebound. In fact, the social trends behind travel seem to speak clearly: young people try to quickly make up for lost time, whilst older people want to live the time to come more intensely. Everyone, on the whole, wants to enjoy the present, in the awareness that what we take for granted today may in reality no longer be the case tomorrow, as though we are living in uncertainty caused by a constant “latent pandemic”.

The data therefore drives us to reflect, specifically, on our transport network: are we ready to host so many tourists, many of whom come from abroad? Looking at some news events, it would seem that we are not: for example, in cities, not just in tourist cities alone, we read of inefficient and/or insufficient public services, as well as of roads blocked in many renowned seaside resorts, such as the Amalfi Coast. Shortcomings that are even more worrying if we consider that, in addition to tourist flows, our transport system must be able to absorb the traffic of those who travel for work.

The transport system comprises the following: 

  1. vehicles, such as planes, trains, cars, and ships;
  2. infrastructure, such as roads, stations, ports, and airports;
  3. Transport and infrastructure services management companies. 

An efficient system must be able to coordinate these three elements in an optimal architecture, in order to offer the best service to tourists and workers. Unfortunately, to date, our transport infrastructure has some flaws that ought to be remedied quickly.

How do we solve the problem? On the one hand, the PNRR (Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan) has allocated funds which, at least in the medium term, can contribute to making a substantial change. This relates to the Connecting Europe Facility, the program that allocates €400 million to improving trans-European transport networks. A project that moves in the right direction but which, alone, cannot completely solve the problem. In fact, airports are not included in the plan and the infrastructure adaptation times which, by definition, are medium-long, are incompatible with a quick solution. 

In situations like this, I see the enhancement of that part of the infrastructural heritage – which is currently underutilized, and which could instead be a precious support if fully exploited – as a way out that can be achieved within a short period of time and with limited effort. I am specifically referring to the dense network of minor airports present in the area – 62 – often in areas of the country that are poorly served by the main transport network. These are smaller structures in quantitative terms, but which are already operational and with a potential that is yet untapped. 


Just consider, specifically, the logistical limits currently found in many regions of Italy: the poor connection between the north and the center, and the hubs which are still too busy, such as Bologna; the connections with France, conditioned by the traffic in Liguria and the limits of the tunnels; the poor coverage of the road and railway network in southern Italy, and the lack of some flight routes, even short flight routes, but which are potentially fundamental for alleviating land traffic. These objective elements demonstrate how real the problem is and, with it, the need for a solution.

The awareness that the Italian airport system does not only comprise large hubs may be the starting point. There are a number of benefits, not only for tourism, but for the economy as a whole, thanks to the rich network of relationships and businesses that communication routes have always created. There are solutions, and they look both at the short and medium-long term, but the urgency is, firstly, to make the best use of what we already have, as well as to recover investments made in the past and make the most of them, with a synergistic approach that gives immediate feedback

View PDF