(CNN) – As Europe plans its gradual reopening to visitors from further afield, the battle lines are emerging between destinations eager to circulate tourist dollars.
And in Italy – where tourism accounts for around 13% of GDP, according to government figures – one island has stolen a march on its rivals, by becoming “Covid-free”.
Capri, in the Gulf of Naples, is normally known for its high-end visitors. But this year, instead of planting its luxury hotels and stunning sea views, the authorities are opting for a much simpler sale: that every inhabitant of the island has been vaccinated.
Last weekend, the governor of the greater Campania region, Vincenzo De Luca, announced that the vaccination program was almost over, saying it would make the island “Covid-free”.
“We are preparing to welcome millions of tourists and prevent them from traveling to Spain or Greece,” De Luca said in a speech on Saturday.
“Now … it is essential not to waste time. The hotel industry has to make its decisions by May, otherwise we will lose a whole tourist season.”
Capri mayor Marino Lembo told CNN that out of 15,000 residents, 80% received the first dose of the vaccine.
By the end of this week, all tourism workers who live off the island but travel there regularly will also be vaccinated.
“This is a very strong message that we are sending to the whole world – you can come here safely,” he said.
Sergio Gargiulo, who chairs Federalberghi, an association representing the 60 or so hotels on the island, agrees.
âNot only is the island Covid-free, but for customers who need it, we can arrange a molecular sample (PCR) and provide the result in time for their departure,â he said.
A devastating year
The island and its marina are normally known for high level tourism.
Daniel Slim / AFP via Getty Images
In 2020, Capri’s tourism sector saw a 70% drop in turnover, thanks to the pandemic, Gargiulo says. That’s a devastating figure for a destination that relies so heavily on tourism.
But authorities believe the island has a lot to offer – especially in an age of social distancing.
âIn addition to the most famous places and the famous ‘piazzetta’ where everyone meets, Capri offers fantastic nature trails adapted to the pandemic,â says Ludovica Di Meglio, head of the tourism department of Capri.
Luigi Esposito, a guide specializing in outdoor excursions on the island, says that although Capri is known for high-end tourism, its open-air trails are a major highlight.
âCapri isn’t just about baths and worldliness. Even five-star hotel guests love to walk around – I take them to discover the island’s secret spots,â he says.
This week, Esposito was booked to lead a tour in September. This will be his first booking in nearly two years, he says.
Photos by the sea
The other islands of the Bay of Naples, Procida and Ischia, also vaccinate all inhabitants.
Laurent Emmanuel / AFP via Getty Images
Capri is not the only island to step up its vaccination campaign before the summer season. Its neighbor in the Gulf of Naples, Procida – which will be the Italian capital of culture for 2022 – has completed all vaccinations several days before Capri.
Ischia, the other island in the Gulf, is expected to finish its own program soon, says De Luca.
Italy has around 30 small islands which, every summer, go from being a relatively uninhabited place to that of a tourist hotspot. Most have limited health care and the Italian government has authorized mass vaccination plans for them.
The emphasis on the islands has not gone unnoticed by those in other tourist destinations. Guides to vacation honeypots like Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre do not benefit from the vaccination priority.
âThey ask me, ‘Why are you fully vaccinated and we are not?’ And I answer that, without wanting to discredit anyone, Capri is known around the world, it has greater visibility. Having Capri without Covid is a win-win for everyone, âsays Esposito.
Speaking at a meeting of G20 tourism ministers earlier this month, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced that ahead of a European “green certificate”, Italy would launch its own tourism pass in mid-May .
Currently, all visitors to Italy must be quarantined for at least five days, but with the pass, self-isolation would be canceled for vaccinated travelers and those who have had Covid-19 in the past six months. .
As of May 10, more than 24 million vaccines had been administered in Italy, with just over 12% of the population fully vaccinated.
But according to the vaccine commissioner’s latest weekly bulletin, more than 13% of Italians over 80 and 31% of over 70 are still waiting for their first vaccine.