italy report
Giuseppe Finocchiaro, Consul General of Italy Image Credit: Supplied

Italy was one of the worst affected when the effects of the pandemic were first felt by the world last year, but has since bounced back superbly. Considering Italy attracts a lot of tourists from the UAE, how prepared is the country to kick start tourism again and what are the precautions in place?

Indeed, last year Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and, thanks to the measures adopted by our Government that also paved the way to other countries’ containment policies, we managed to get the outbreak largely under control by the summer. In light of the importance tourism plays in our bilateral relations, and as acknowledgment of the effective anti-Covid measures adopted by the UAE Government, tourists from the United Arab Emirates have been allowed to travel to Italy on the so-called ‘Covid-tested flights’ as of June 1 this year. With over 73 per cent of the eligible Italian population fully vaccinated and all necessary safeguard measures in place, Italy succeeded to reopen shops, theatres, restaurants, cinemas and museums so tourists have been enjoying a return to a largely normal way of life.

How has the Italian Consulate helped Italian residents here in the UAE during the pandemic months?

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented and sudden challenges to the entire Italian public administration, both in Italy and abroad, as all public offices had to rethink and reinvent different ways of providing assistance to their compatriots. Since the very first phase of the pandemic under my predecessor, this Consulate General had to swiftly find a balance between the need, on one hand, to ensure the continuity in the provision of essential consular services and, on the other hand, to safeguard the health of our employees and customers alike, strictly in line with the anti-Covid regulations introduced by both Italy and the United Arab Emirates.

Consequently, the pandemic has catalysed the digitalisation of the consular services, with an increasing number of them now available online, but has also often demanded a shift of human resources to emergency consular assistance tasks in order to help those fellow citizens affected by Covid-19 and in dire situations for different reasons. In this regard, I would like to commend the extraordinary work done by the Consulate’s staff.

The Italian Pavilion will be one of the most visited venues at Dubai Expo 2020. What are the attractions that the pavilion has lined up?

A number of media have been anticipating the ‘once in a lifetime experience’ visitors will enjoy at the Italy Pavilion, with its architecture providing a creative and very innovative presentation of the key theme of our Pavilion “Beauty that Connects People”, where Beauty is intended as competence, innovation and a conduit for knowledge.

As remarked by the Commissioner General for Italy at Expo 2020, Paolo Glisenti, who heads the office in charge of organizing and implementing my country’s participation at the world event, the Italy Pavilion will be an innovation hub with a structure inspired by the most advanced elements of sustainability and circular economy demonstrating the height of Italian ingenuity.

The exhibition route of the Pavilion will take the visitor on a spectacular journey across the Peninsula through the storytelling conceived by Oscar-winning Italian director Gabriele Salvatores. At the beginning of the impressive journey, visitors will bask in the beauty of the finest Italian landscapes then continue on to narrative architectures that express Italy’s talents, competence and beauty: from cinema to theatre, from landscapes to innovative enterprises, from cutting-edge technologies to sustainability. The Pavilion aims at highlighting the importance of history, tradition and memory in sparking innovation and creativity, while paying tribute to the seafaring peoples that have populated the Mediterrenean basin through history. Let us recall that Italy has always been a bridge, above all with the Mediterranean and the Arab and Middle Eastern world, which have nourished our culture and shaped a common cultural heritage. During the semester, the Italian Pavilion will host hundreds of very interesting events.

How big a part will an event such as the Dubai Expo 2020 play in helping boost Italy’s tourism quotient here in the UAE and the Middle East?

Dubai Expo 2020 will represent the first major global event after the pandemic and, therefore, it will be a great opportunity to relaunch international relations between countries and peoples. For Italy, it will undoubtedly be a great opportunity for the internationalisation of our economic system, the relaunch of our exports and the attraction of direct investments also towards our small and medium-sized enterprises and innovative start-ups.

As to the tourist sector more specifically, the Italy Pavilion will showcase our excellence not only at national, but also at regional level. With Italian Regions playing an important role as full-fledged partners at Expo 2020, visitors will have the opportunity to discover less known, but not less extraordinarily beautiful and culturally rich, territorial identities across Italy, which are definitely worth visiting. Along with a more traditional form of tourism, we expect to trigger a new flow of ‘experiential tourism’ where people wish ‘to experience’ Italy and its Regions by engaging with our unique history, people, culture, food and environment.

How much did the lockdown affect the trade balance between Italy and the UAE?

Italy is very much loved in the UAE as it is synonymous with culture, art, refinement in fashion, design, technology and high quality food. This is also thanks to the work of the Italian entrepreneurial community in the UAE that is made up of over 600 companies, including those operating through local agents. In spite of the constraints imposed by the pandemic, the Italian Trade Agency in Dubai, in close cooperation with the Italian Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Italian Consulate General in Dubai, continued to facilitate business opportunities for Italian companies through the organization of business missions and participation in the most important trade fairs. Notwithstanding the slowdown in global trade brought by the pandemic, in 2020 Italy became the first commercial partner of the UAE in terms of total bilateral trade and the second commercial partner as to exports to UAE (among European Union Member States). We are glad that the first quarter of 2021 confirmed such a positive trend with an increase of 43.44 per cent of the total trade with the UAE.