Allegrini 2018

Excellence of wine, restaurants, holiday farms, museums: attractors of wine and food tourism

“Food and Wine Tourism Report” 2022: the numbers of the recovery, with Tuscany at the top and the “votes” - excellent - of international tourists

When talking about wine tourism and analyzing the trend of the sector in Italy, it is important to consider a wider context, which includes the whole productive panorama of the Italian agricultural and food excellences, as well as other tourist attractions from a wine and food point of view: restaurants, farm holidays, museums and roads of taste and wine, at the center of the “Report on Wine and Food Tourism” 2022, edited by professor Roberta Garibaldi, head of Enit - National Agency for Tourism. From this it emerges how the sector, in 2021, has returned to growth, overcoming, not without some difficulty, the crisis of 2020. This is thanks to a system capable of creating a system of agro-food excellences (wine and oil above all), catering, hospitality, which includes farm holidays and bed & breakfasts, museums dedicated to wine, oil and cheese, and experiences in the cellar and not only, from visits to tastings, through cooking classes, which are very popular among tourists from all over the world, which bring to the center, through posts and reviews, the food and wine theme in online discussions, with excellent ratings.

The Italian food and wine heritage, in fact, is the spokesperson for the made in Italy in the world, conveying the wealth of cultures and traditions that characterize our country in the collective imagination, including tourism. A wealth testified by its capillarity, with all Italian regions that can boast at least one certified production. Emilia-Romagna has the highest number of certified agri-food products - 47 among DOP, IGP and STG - followed by Sicily and Veneto (tied with 39), while Piedmont is at the top of the national ranking for the number of IG wines (59), before Tuscany (with 58) and Veneto (53). A further element characterizing the Italian agri-food production is the high propensity to the use of organic farming methods: Italy is characterized, in 2020, by a cultivated area of more than 2 million hectares and by a number of operators, including exclusive producers (farms) and producers/preparers, which exceeds 71,000 units, in constant growth since 2010. As a result, the incidence of organic sales on the expenditure for Italian agri-food products will be 4%, for a value of 3.3 billion euros in the first half of 2020.

Catering is also one of the cornerstones of the Italian wine and food offer: it gives visibility to local productions and culinary specialties, offers gourmet delicacies and allows the discovery of dishes from other regions and countries. The two-year period 2020-2021 was extremely negative for the sector, with forced closures during lockdowns, subsequent reopenings with reduced capacity and the collapse of food consumption by Italians away from home that generated significant economic losses. Turnover hit record lows in the April/June 2020 period and between January and March 2021, although the situation appears to be improving. The number of new businesses was decidedly lower than the number of closures, with a negative balance of -13,060 and -13,952 businesses in the two-year period 2020/21. However, Italian gastronomic excellence has maintained its liveliness and inventiveness, so much so that the number of restaurants mentioned in the main industry guides has been increasing, from 731 in 2018 to 1,062 in 2022. Again, one of the distinctive features of Italian restaurants is their capillarity, with peaks of excellence everywhere, from cities to small towns, but it is Lombardy that boasts the highest number of restaurant businesses (50,301 at the end of 2021, equal to 15% of the national total), as well as gourmet restaurants (198), followed by Lazio and Campania, not surprisingly the three most populous regions in the country.

The farm holiday network in Italy has shown a certain solidity in the face of the health emergency: the number of companies authorized to carry out catering, accommodation, tasting and other services has grown by 484 units in the last two years (+2%), reaching 25,050 in 2020. To contain the negative impact of the pandemic has certainly contributed the high diversification of the agritourism offer. Farms with proposals for tasting and other activities (sports and excursions in the first place) have grown at above-average rates: respectively +8% and +10% compared to 2019. These are services that are receiving increasing attention from the public, as they are able to combine the dimensions of psycho-physical well-being and taste by adding the amenity of rural places. Tuscany has the highest concentration of holiday farms: 5,406 in 2020, equal to 22% of the national total. The region leads the way in terms of consistency in every type of service: from catering to lodging, including tastings and other experiences. Next comes Trentino-Alto Adige, which boasts the record for density (27 agritourisms per 100 square kilometers). It is worth highlighting the exploit of Campania, which despite not being among the regions with the highest concentration of supply, saw the number of farm holidays grow by +13.2% between 2019 and 2020. Despite the positive trend, the lockdowns that occurred during 2020 and the stringent restrictions on people’s lives took a heavy toll on the economy, with the value of farm holidays production dropping 48.9% compared to 2019, expected to be 802 million euros. Tourist flows saw a sharp contraction in both arrivals (-41%) and presences (-34%), and the decline was especially in foreign demand, so much so that the ratio of Italians to foreigners, which in 2019 was 11 to 10, fell to 23 to 10 in 2020.

The two sectors that best represent, from an economic and cultural point of view, Italy’s agricultural and food heritage are wine and oil, which the pandemic, after all, has not affected. There are 81,741 agricultural companies growing grapes at the end of December 2021, and of these, the majority are concentrated in Veneto, Sicily and Apulia - which respectively account for 16.4%, 15.9% and 13.5% of the national total. Of the 51,857 active farms with oilseed crops, more than half are in Apulia (16,385, or 31.5% of the national total), Calabria (9,465, or 18.3%) and Tuscany (5,913, or 11.4%), with the Apulian region also boasting the highest number of oil mills (819, or 18% of the national total).

The wine sector showed some resilience to the pandemic emergency. The temporary closure of Horeca channels did not reduce overall production - which, on the contrary, increased by 3.2% over 2019 - but negatively affected overall sales, which fell from 13.4 to 11.5 million euros (-3.6%). Online sales and home delivery have certainly contributed to reducing these losses, stimulating the sector to greater digitization. The situation regarding oil production is more difficult to interpret, since the dynamics that have influenced the sector’s performance are not only linked to the economic situation. In the face of a slightly growing overall turnover (+3% in the two-year period 2019/2020), there has been a contraction in overall production by a quarter due to the progressive decline in domestic demand and the increase in production costs. From the analysis of the “Food and Wine Tourism Report” 2022, the organic orientation of the two productions emerges strongly: Italy has seen a steady increase in organic areas of vines and olive trees, which grew respectively by +109% between 2010 and 2019 (115,000 total hectares) and +95% between 2010 and 2018 (245,000 total hectares). Tuscany boasts the largest number of organic wineries - 592, or 28% of the national total - while Sicily has the largest dedicated area, over 30,000 hectares, or 26% of the total. As for the oil, Apulia boasts the largest organic olive-growing area (over 72,000 hectares).

Besides their productive value, wine and oil are two great attractions for tourism. The first boasts a longer tradition, consists of a more structured offer and has a greater appeal to the public, and represents for the country an asset of great importance for the territories devoted to wine production. In 2019, wine tourism counted at least 15 million presences among tourists and excursionists, and generated a total turnover of 2.65 billion euros (data Wine Cities, 2021). The valorization of oil in tourism is, however, more recent, and the law passed on January 26th that defines the requirements and minimum quality standards for the exercise of oil tourism activities in production companies, in this sense, represents an important and further step forward. This regulatory tool, in fact, gives the Regions the opportunity to stimulate the development of a sector that has great potential, especially in its combination with food and wine.

The orientation towards organic products and, more generally, towards environmental, social and economic sustainability demonstrated by companies in the sector represents an added value in terms of tourism. Travelers show growing attention to healthy food and responsible consumption even on vacation, so much so that they consider them among the possible drivers of choice. The Report clearly shows how the different aspects and declinations of sustainability - from the green approach to organic production, passing through the attention towards social issues - can be a stimulus to visit production companies. Building experiences that allow the tourist to feel active, that is, to see that in some way his presence directly generates benefits, is an option to be considered in the future.

Among other tourist attractions from a wine and food point of view, there are taste museums and wine and flavor routes. In Italy there are 129 museums of taste by 2021, a consistent cultural heritage, spread all over the territory, with almost all Italian regions (18 out of 20) having at least one structure. Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto have the highest number of them: respectively with 20, 18 and 13 museums. Wine is the most widespread and valorized (46 are the wine-themed museums, equal to 36% of the total), but there are many products to which these museums are dedicated (cheese, oil, fruit and vegetables, processed products). Statistics for public facilities alone show a 75.7% decrease in the number of visitors between 2019 and 2020, with revenue plummeting by 79%. This negative picture could be worse considering that taste museums are often small and local in nature: half (48%), in fact, are owned by individual municipalities. The richness and variety of the museum heritage related to wine and food expresses widespread attention towards the safeguarding of local productions, both from the public and private side, and certainly represents an added value for our country, but it could also denote a possible scarce attractiveness because of the often modest size and the digital gap: only 36 museums out of 129 have their own website. As far as the Strade del Vino e dei Sapori (Wine & Dine Routes) are concerned, there are 103 throughout Italy, most of which are members of the Italian Federation of Wine, Oil and Dine Routes. Of these, 93 have an active website (90%). Tuscany and Veneto have 20 and 16 respectively, the highest number; however, the important issue is coordination and, therefore, the ability to organize and promote themselves together.

The statistical data presented provide an idea of which territories have the most consistent offer, but do not allow to evaluate their positioning in the national context. For this purpose, it is useful to make “competitiveness maps”, which relate the number of products/businesses linked (directly or indirectly) to food and wine tourism and the competitive level of the territory in which they are located (measured through the Regional Competitiveness Index of the European Commission). The transversal reading (that is not linked to the single resource) of these maps shows that in the great productive regions of central-northern Italy - Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany and Latium - the high capacity of doing business, and, therefore, of enhancing the wine and food resources of the territory, is associated to a territorial context among the most competitive ones. The growth potential in terms of number of businesses is supposed to be high, however, it is fundamental to act in order to maintain high levels of competitiveness (of the sector and of the context). In the great regions of southern Italy - Apulia, Sicily, Campania - the desire of doing business, which translates into a high number of companies in the sectors connected (directly or indirectly) to wine and food tourism, is associated to a less favorable environment. This aspect can be interpreted in two ways: it indicates higher profitability of these sectors compared to others (an element that stimulates entrepreneurship), or it is just the expression of a productive fabric characterized by a high number of small and very small companies, which have a deficit of competitiveness.

The “minor” regions of central-southern Italy - Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, Calabria and Sardinia - associate a low level of competitiveness with an equally low number of businesses in the sectors considered, albeit with some exceptions. This is the most critical situation among the four presented: the potential is low, and the development of the offer in numerical terms can be achieved through a mix of sectoral actions (for example, in the restaurant industry, wine production, oil production) and more far-reaching, that is, aimed at creating a more favorable economic and social environment for businesses and residents. In the remaining regions - Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Liguria, Valle d'Aosta, Umbria and Marche - a competitive territorial context does not correspond to an equally high level of entrepreneurship in the individual sectors.

Ultimately, food and wine tourism is recovering from the pandemic crisis. The digital traces left by the users of the Net through posts and reviews - analyzed by The Data Appeal Company - show for 2021 a growth of 1.2% on 2020, the year in which there had been a strong downturn (-51%), although more contained than the tourism sector as a whole (-57%). The food and wine theme is central in the online discourse of Italians and foreigners. On the whole, one fifth of the traces of hospitality and one fourth of those related to catering are related to this theme. The most prolific are foreigners, who resumed visiting our country in 2021: British, Americans, Australians and Germans talk about food and wine in a third of the digital traces they left. The satisfaction expressed by users for the food and wine component is, on average, high (84 points out of a total of 100), and tends to increase especially among Americans and Australians (87.5/100 and 86.6/100).

The hospitality sector is in line with the average, but with some exceptions: in Bed & Breakfasts and farm holidays, the level of satisfaction rises to 90.2/100 and 90.6/100, confirming the attractiveness of this offer, and a similar trend is registered for pizzerias and restaurants, with scores of 87.2/100, 85.6/100 and 85.4/100. At the top of the most appreciated regions is Tuscany, which stands out for having 25% of the total number of digital traces concerning food and wine and one of the highest levels of satisfaction (86.1/100). Molise stands out in the ranking, which in our country is the region with the highest percentage of digital traces on the subject (33%), despite the fact that the judgment of users is among the lowest. Looking at destinations, Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice are the cities with the highest number of food and wine themed content.

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