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Can Italian tourism industry survive the pandemic?

Italy is emerging from its COVID-19 nightmare into what is usually its busiest season for tourism. The industry normally brings in 13 percent of the country’s $2 trillion GDP. But there is no normal this year, and most tourists are not coming -- sparking fears that the pandemic will cause lasting economic damage. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Rimini, on Italy’s Adriatic Coast.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Italy is emerging from its COVID nightmare now, in what is normally high tourist season.

    Tourism usually brings in 13 percent of Italy's more than $2 trillion gross domestic product. But there is no normal this year, and tourists are not coming, sparking fears that COVID-19 could cause lasting damage to the trade.

    From the beach town of Rimini on the Adriatic Coast, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This is an essential part of Gabriele Pagliarani's new regime, disinfecting sun beds on his stretch of Rimini's extensive beach.

    He's had to remove some umbrella stations to boost social distancing and comply with new rules to reduce the risk of contagion.

  • Gabriele Pagliarani (through translator):

    Unfortunately, this is anything but a successful summer. This damn virus COVID has derailed everything. And we have an economy below zero.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    For 33 years, this beach club has been a moneymaker. Normally, at this stage of the season, says Pagliarani, it would be full of visitors from across Europe and beyond. But legions of empty sun loungers represent potential disaster.

  • Gabriele Pagliarani (through translator):

    One year, you can survive, two, certainly not. Let's hope this pandemic goes away as soon as possible.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    A recent analysis of Rimini's tourism prospects is devastating. A professor from Bologna University is predicting many bankruptcies. As so many families are dependent on tourism, he says that some of them are going to have to get used to their incomes being slashed by 50 percent or more.

    In his most optimistic scenario, he says that losses here will be as great as 40 percent. And for this city alone, that means $1 billion or more.

  • Patrizia Rinaldis (through translator):

    Forty percent means that, in all likelihood, 20,000 to 30,000 people in the hotel and accommodation sector won't be rehired.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Patrizia Rinaldis speaks on behalf of hoteliers in Rimini, but she's worried about Italian tourism as a whole. In less crazy times, the industry generates about $250 billion a year, or 13 percent of Italy's GDP.

  • Patrizia Rinaldis (through translator):

    Today, fear is throwing the tourist industry to reverse. And it's creating enormous economic difficulties. Italy is tourism.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    The downturn will hit the poorest hardest. Jahamgir Alam from Bangladesh has eked out a living on the beach for the past 11 years.

  • Jahamgir Alam (through translator):

    No tourists are here. Now it's a hard life. This year is a bad year. The virus has hit the whole world. It's a big problem, not only for me, but for everyone.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But Tunisian Ice Cream vendor Adam Rais is more optimistic.

  • Adam Rais (through translator):

    It's difficult, but we will try to adapt. We have come from a very difficult situation. Now we will try to get our lives back in our own hands and crack on.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    But the desire to reboot the economy is tempered by concern about a second wave.

    Grottammare, South along the Adriatic Coast is, another town reliant on tourism. Market trader Maria Rita Quinzi says anxiety is prevalent.

  • Maria Rita Quinzi (through translator):

    More than anything, people are scared. They don't know what to do in terms of wearing gloves or having contact. They look around and complain if someone is not wearing a mask.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    This is a sign of confidence. Hospital doctor Christopher Muscat's family celebrates the birthdays of his mother and son at a beachside restaurant.

  • Christopher Muscat(through translator):

    There was surely an emergency until some time ago, but now we are over. There are very, very few cases of person that are asymptomatic, don't have any symptoms. So I think it's safe enough to come over.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    As soon as Italy opened its borders, German influencer Andrea Eggers drove south to check out destinations for her 55,000 followers on Instagram.

    At Rimini's Grand Hotel, Perspex screens at the breakfast buffet protect guests and staff. Eggers' doctor husband Egbert casts a medical practitioner's eye.

  • Egbert Eggers:

    I see safety. And I think all tourists can come to Italy, and they don't have afraid.

  • Andrea Eggers (through translator):

    I think the situation is wonderful.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    To compensate for the lack of foreigners, business leaders hope Italians will behave patriotically and take vacations at home. On Rimini Beach, sunbathers Alessandro and Angela Nasi from Northern Italy lapped up the solitude.

  • Alessandro Nasi (through translator):

    COVID forced us to be locked up at home for two-and-a-half months without being able to move. We couldn't wait to get out and breathe some good sea air.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Normally, money starts to flow after dusk. Not anymore. At this popular nightclub, the dance floor is off-limits, no chance of getting up close and personal, under new social distancing rules.

  • Lucio Paesani (through translator):

    Why is it I can be on a flight for eight hours elbow to elbow with a person, and then masked up, I can't dance with someone for half-an-hour? Things don't add up. The measures are just too absurd.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Nightclub owner Lucio Paesani is anxious, not least because he took out a quarter-million dollar loan before the pandemic began. So far, his earnings have been negligible.

  • Lucio Paesani (through translator):

    It's more than devastating. This was a healthy business with a great balance and good income in this region. No matter. In three months, they have put us on our knees.

  • Malcolm Brabant:

    Across Italian tourism, businesses and workers are marking time. Emergency laws guarantee that jobs are protected until August.

    But unless there's an unexpected upturn, the wheel of misfortune will cause tens of thousands of layoffs.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Rimini.

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