Destination Florence

By | Category: Travel destinations
Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio in Florence is one of the busiest tourist attractions

This is the name of a new marketing initiative that the city has set up. It is a combination of a public body and a private consortium with the intentional of driving more tourism to the Italian city.

It will have other roles as well. According to the initial announcement, Destination Florence will also be responsible for “the monitoring of tourism flow, diversifying the offerings and bettering the strategy of Florence as a destination.”

Florence is the great renaissance capital of the world with world-class museums and galleries so, like Rome, has often thought it needs not to promote itself other than in a very understated way. What it is concerned about now is the way that the number of offers available is damaging the image of the city. In English I think this means that they want to make sure Florence is seen as a quality product and they would like to appeal to a more discerning traveller. They want an up-market visitor rather than a mass market one.

The Duomo (Cathedral) in Florence – another attractions on every visitor’s list

For the last two years at least, the Mayor, Dario Nardella, has criticised those people travelling to Florence on coach tours. He views them as coming into the city, staying just a few hours and spending next to nothing. I suspect that, in a perfect world, he would wish to see a complete ban on these sort of tourists. He isn’t alone. Many cities view escorted coach tours where a few destinations are visited in a week or so as more of a blight than a blessing. But Trafalgar Tours, Cosmos, Shearings, Leger, Archers and the like carry millions of people a year. Can you – indeed should you – ban them from entering your city?

It also means that the city will try and stagger the amount of tourists visiting the same sites at the same time. By staggering the numbers it hopes to improve the appeal of the city and reduce the crush that visitors often find in the high season when they try and get into the Uffizi, the cathedral or visit the Ponte Vecchio. The old city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was largely built in Roman and mediaeval times. It is a city for a much smaller population and where horses and carriages were the normal mode of transport. No way can it be considered a modern city architecturally but it has to perform as a modern city in the way it handles visitors and the wishes of its inhabitants.

A copy of Michaelangelo “David.” He isn’t the only name associated with the city. The works of Da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael, Giotto  to name just a few will be found in the Uffizi

On top of that conundrum the city would like to control what is sold online and via high street travel agents. It hopes that it will be able to steer visitors to other attractions in the city and thus reduce the crowding. On the new website it higlights amongst the top attractions, places that are outside the city limits. It is a laudable aim but is it possible? Guidebooks and tour operators have told us for centuries what we should see. Changing those perceptions will take time.

Florence is afflicted by the same disease as Rome and Venice. The disease of international tourism appeal. Every visitor wants to see the same things; almost every potential tourist believes that they should see Florence before they die and tour operators don’t want to take risks by omitting the major attractions.

In the past the city has done little to dissuade visiting these sites, indeed it has encouraged it When Natasha visited Florence for Just about Travel two year ago, the sites visited were largely the popular ones that tourists want to see.

Can Florence be more successful than other iconic cities in altering the wishes of visitors without alienating them so that they never come or never make a second visit? As with all these problems there is an economic argument that tourism brings in so much revenue to the city that can it do without 20% or even 30% of it. Despite their being a financial and fashion industry in the city, tourism produces the most revenue.

Caravaggio’s painting of Medusa in the Uffizi © Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi sells more than two million tickets a year. Can it sell the same number but alter visiting patterns so that it doesn’t get congested or will it be prepared to limit ticket sales to, for example, 1.75 million, so that visitors can view the exhibits without the people crush evident at some busy times?

Florence is adopting a canny tourism policy. By placing promotion of the city at arm’s length, if Destination Florence runs into issues, the city can truthfully say that it is nothing to do with them and reverse any plan adopted by the private/public partnership if it draws too much resistance.

The tourism plan is to attract more with a qualified profile that amounts to high spenders (not coach travellers then) and so that people stay longer. Promotional campaigns will be targeted at the USA, the UK, Germany and Northern Europe and will include attendance at the more important travel trade fairs (no different for the present). The offer to this targeted group will be a diversified range of  “services, products, and experiences” which, Destination Florence hopes, will enhance the international image of Florence.

If Dario Nardella has found a solution to managing visitor numbers so that the visitors and the city are both saitisfied, he will be copied by cities throughout the world.

Images © Natasha Blair

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