Underselling Rome

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rome a city break destination

The Colosseum. Just one of a few attractions that tourists visit.

The average length that a visitor stays in Rome is 2.2 days according to the tourism authority for Rome which, they say, is an insult.

How can you see Rome in such a short time? But when the tourists come what do they see? According to the tourist board many tourists think of Rome as consisting of the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, St Peter’s Basilica and the Spanish Steps. Is it any wonder why they stay for just a short space of time? Have visitors never looked at one of the myriad guidebooks to the city so that they can see the hundreds of other things to look at in Rome?

Part of the problem is connected to the city itself. Just about Travel hears very little about Rome and I can’t remember the last time a press release came into my in-box about it unless it was to moan about the problems with coaches being impeded in getting their passengers to the  sites and attractions. I cannot remember when there was a press conference about the tourism ofers of the city at one of the major travel shows. Now I know why.

The Spanish Steps. Another one of the few attractions tourists visit

The head of the tourism office for Rome said that many leaders in Rome thought there was no need to publicise the city. After all, they argued, everyone had heard of Rome, its history and its sophistication. There was no need to spend money; visitors would come to Rome anyway and, in truth, they were right. About 34 million people visit Rome each year but they don’t stay long. The city has more than 60,000 rooms in which visitors can stay each night. On a daily basis about 93,000 are staying overnight but there is room for more. Without promotion money how could these visitors be persuaded to explore the other delights of Rome?

When taking over, the head of the tourist board found that the promotional budget was miniscule in comparison with the amount spent by other iconic cities like London, Paris and New York. It was less than €25,000. That has now changed and the budget is in millions of euros.

The Orto Botanico – one of the non-ancient attractions that visitors should see

Next on the agenda is to persuade those visitors to the city to extend their stay so that, for example, those 1.9 million Britons who go there each year, have a reason to stay a bit longer. There are over 200 museums, 195 archaeological sites and 127,000 shops to visit so why are visitors seeing so little? In a city forever entwined with the history of the world and where the heritage is so voluminous that the city cannot have an underground rail network because it will damage the archaeology I would have thought it difficult to see Rome in two weeks let alone two days.

It could be that part of the problem is the view that some have of the city. Who has not been fleeced by a taxi driver so one of the top priorities of the tourist board is to give the city a better feel for visitors. Taxi drivers need tighter regulation so that they treat visitors fairly in pricing.  Some restaurants have given the city a bad name by overcharging clients or using cover charges as ways of increasing the bills visitors have to pay.

The church of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches and homes astonishing early mosaics. Why are more international visitors not going there?

Litter is another problem so that is being addressed as is grafitti. Forty years ago on my first visit to Rome I was surprised by the vandalism caused by grafitti being scrawled on ancient monuments which concerned me so much that I never visited the place for decades. It will take time to change attitudes and non-one can estimate the task of the city fathers and the tourism board in  making Rome more acceptable to long-stay visitors. But an attempt is being made. Rome will become more welcoming and , in this way, it is hoped that tourists will stay longer.

Even with a taxi, the next problem you face is the traffic. Try leaving Rome by car at 5pm on a Friday afternoon as I did once. It isn’t to be recommended to those of a nervous disposition!

There are restrictions on tourist coaches that has led to complaints. Because many visitors are unable to cope with the steps, the roads and the uneven surfaces so coach travel is a vital alternative for them to see the city. Pollution emitted by vehicles is damaging the monuments so having fewer cars, coaches and lorries would seem beneficial but, by the very nature of their occupation, tourists have to travel. How do you square the circle?

Trevi Fountains – another must see

One answer, and one that the city is trying is to deter mass visits and appeal to a more affluent visitor, a visitor that will spend more and stay in more luxurious accommodation. Even if that plan is followed the average tourist will still come and they need to be accommodated. One solution was for people to rent boats at the marinas but I was told that no expansion of marine berths was planned because what limited resources they are need to spent on seducing visitors to stay longer and to stay in the accommodation already available.

Rome is an ideal city break destination but most city breaks last only two to three days.  Can this be extended to three to four days? At present 12% of Rome’s economy is due to tourism and 177,000 people are employed in tourism industries. Extending a visit by a single day might increase that contribution to the local economy by a third.

the Circus Maximus which has a Mithraic temple next to it that can be visited underground

To ecourage us to stay longer, the city is promoting three different strands to Rome for next year. The first is to see what Rome has underground such as the Mithraic temple next to the Circus Maximus; the second is to see what it calls contemporary Rome – the Rome of today complete with street artists, modern architecture and contemporary Italian fashion. The third is to see greater Rome, the Rome outside the central area such as the port of Ostia which once was probably the most important port in the world and which, at one time, had a population of 100,000. Today what was the Roman port of Ostia is known as Ostia Antica and is a few miles away from modern day Ostia which is where many Romans take their holidays. Yes, Romans not visitors  for few visitors go there. That is one reason why the tourist authority is encouraging overseas visitors to dicover the outer reaches of Rome.

With the changes planned it can be ony be hoped that, when I visit Rome in the future, I will long to return rather than to mutter to myself that never again will I visit such a city where inhabitants fail to look after and respect their visitors. With new thinking, the tourist board is working hard to encoyeage me to return.

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