Tourism Businesses in Sardinia Cautiously Approach the Summer

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Orosei, Italy—In this coastal town on the island of Sardinia, hotels, restaurants, campground managers, and tour operators have been impatiently awaiting the start of tourist season. As in seashore resorts elsewhere, livelihoods for the year are mostly earned between May and September, when vacationers from around the world arrive to bask in the sun, swim, hike, and gather for meals and festivities.

This year, the coronavirus has cut short that earnings window. Tourist travel to Sardinia resumed on June 3, after an almost three-month lockdown. In Orosei, a popular destination with magnificent beaches, winding streets, and old stone houses, the local businesses that cater to tourists—and employ many of the 8,000 residents—have devised their own strategies to ensure a safe environment and encourage bookings. Among these: social distancing on beaches and in lodgings, in-room dining so guests needn’t congregate for meals, and heightened cleaning measures, including hand-sanitizing stations in lobbies and hallways.

Sardinians are more concerned that tourists will bring the virus with them than contract it on the island, which is more than 400 miles from the mainland. Just 0.07% of its 1.7 million residents have tested positive for Covid-19, one of the lowest rates in Italy. A new Sardinian government rule requires visitors to register before boarding a flight or ferry to the island and get their temperature checked on arrival.

Salvatore Chessa, who owns Mannois—an albergo diffuso, or scattered hotel, with 50 rooms located in several renovated historic buildings—is counting on the isolation and solitude he provides guests, and on their loyalty. About 15% of Mannois’s 13,000 guests last year were return visitors. Now the common dining areas are closed, and guests will be served breakfast and other meals on their separate balconies or terraces. Checking in and out will be completed online, and guests can socially distance from others on the hotel’s private beach.

“We want to create a circuit in which guests can move from the beach, to the  nearby countryside where we have a vineyard and vegetable garden and will offer food and wine excursions, to their rooms, each of which has a private entrance,” Chessa says. “Nature and our architecture are our allies.”

He’s already booked 60% of the hotel’s available space this summer, even though he raised room rates by 10%—the opposite strategy of some competitors, who lowered them. “We’re going after customers who want extra services and getting positive feedback,” Chessa says, though “there’s a lot of uncertainty” about how many guests will show up.

International visitors, who are mostly from Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and France, usually make up 90% of bookings, and he expects their numbers to decline. Chessa hopes to attract more Italians, and he’s started offering Sardinians, who rarely book overnight hotel stays on the island, a day-at-the-seaside package that includes lunch and the use of Mannois’s beach.

Budget-minded tourists usually stay at one of Orosei’s four campgrounds. To maintain social distancing, Camping Cala Ginepro, the largest campground, will allow 600 visitors each day this summer, less than half its full capacity. “We’ll be lucky if we just break even,” says manager Antonangelo Dessena, who’s opening the campground on June 19, two months later than usual.

The annual fees that Cale Ginepro pays to Orosei's municipal government have been reduced by 50 percent, Dessena says, and may be reduced further if fewer than the allotted campers show up, he says. This savings will help him cover salaries for seasonal workers who will be doing extra cleaning. “I know them personally and know they need this work—and are needed to keep the common areas sanitized all the time,” he said.

Almost 14% of Italy’s gross domestic product comes from tourism, and to help revive the industry the government is offering lower-income Italians vacation assistance. Households with an annual income of €40,000—about $46,000—or less are eligible for a €500  stipend toward the cost of a lodging. “That could be very effective for our mainly low-budget travelers,” Dessena says.

Orosei’s focus on small-scale, sustainable tourism is also likely to appeal to vacationers in the aftermath of the pandemic. The town doesn’t have any large hotels or a commercial boardwalk. One of the most exclusive coastal spots, Oasi di Bidderosa, is a protected area, surrounded by a forest of pine and juniper trees. There’s parking for just 140 cars each day. “Our oasis is basically already Covid-friendly with its five, well-separated coves on the beach and a limited parking lot,” says Luciana Soro, a member of the cooperative that oversees Bidderosa with the State Forestry Corp.

Survival Tip Sheet

  • Establish social distancing rules in common hotel areas, including lobbies, bars, restaurants, and pool and beach areas.
  • Use online check-in and check-out procedures.
  • Reach out to past guests to assure them about safety measures.
  • Consider charging extra for special services guests may want, such as leaving an adjacent room empty.
  • Offer a discount to guests who prefer to clean their own room.

For more stories, strategies, and advice for Main Street business owners, check out the Bloomberg Businessweek Small Business Survival Guide.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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