“We’ve taken back our city a bit, as if Rome has returned to the Romans,” said Giorgia Tozzi, General Manager of Hotel Vilòn, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World tucked away on a quiet street near the Spanish Steps. Like many other hotel managers in Rome, she has been working from home and going to the hotel a few days a week even while it’s closed. Now that Italy has officially entered “Phase Two” of the lockdown, she noticed more people out and about, though the city is nowhere near as crowded as it is when there are tourists around.
Annie Ojile, an American living in Rome for nearly 15 years who runs the tour companies Scooteroma and Personalized Italy, agreed. With her business decimated by the pandemic, she has been taking some time to develop her photography skills and document life under lockdown. “It was a ghost town here,” she said. “I go through Piazza Navona to get to the pharmacy, so in the beginning I would come and there wasn’t a soul. Then as time progressed, people started getting really antsy so more people started showing up in the square.”
As of May 4, Italy has relaxed some of the harshest restrictions of a lockdown that kept 60 million people confined to their homes for more than 50 days, with all non-essential businesses closed. This week, factories and construction sites reopened. Restaurants and bars are now allowed to offer take-out in addition to delivery. Italians can venture farther than 200 meters from home in order to go to work, purchase essential supplies, get exercise, and visit family, though travel between different regions is still highly restricted. Museums and certain types of non-essential shops are expected to reopen on May 18. Bars, restaurants, hair salons, and beauty centers are slated to reopen on June 1st, provided Italy is able to avoid a second wave of infections.
In Piazza Navona on Monday, a sense of relief could be felt in the air. Children were playing in the square, teenagers were chatting on the benches, and every now and then a cyclist rode through. By the Pantheon, small groups of two or three sat by the fountain enjoying a gelato from one of the cafés and gelaterias that have been allowed to reopen for take-out. Most wore face masks, a symbol of how drastically things have changed.
“Now I understand why spring in Rome is so famous: the sun that emanates a brilliant light, the chirping of birds that almost seems like a greeting, flowers blossoming in vibrant colors that show you the way as if you were a celebrity on the red carpet, emanating scents that give a completely different flavor to the air than what you usually inhale,” mused Fulvio De Bonis, co-founder of the luxury tour operator Imago Artis, describing the renewed sense of wonder that many Italians must be feeling.
However, as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte keeps reminding us, Italy is not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 is still spreading, albeit slower than before, and the economy may be headed for a recession. For many businesses—especially ones that rely heavily on tourists—just because they can legally reopen, it doesn’t mean they actually will. Most restaurants—especially upscale ones that can’t adapt easily to delivery—are still shuttered. Massimo D’Addezio, who runs the swanky cocktail bar Chorus near the Vatican, plans to keep it closed until October. Some hotels around the country are waiting to see if the demand for rooms starts to increase before committing to reopening. Many of the country’s top luxury hotels, including the Hotel de Russie, Hotel Eden, and Hotel Vilòn in Rome, the Principe di Savoia in Milan, Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como, the Capri Tiberio Palace in Capri, Le Sirenuse in Positano, and Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia are targeting mid to late June for tentative reopenings if things continue to improve.
According to Francesca Tozzi, the General Manager of the Capri Tiberio Palace, she and her colleagues at the top hotels in Capri and the Amalfi Coast are trying to coordinate their reopenings for the summer. She’s hoping for around 30% occupancy, which will make social distancing easier, and is expecting guests to come from Italy and Europe rather than the U.S., which typically makes up a large part of the market. She and her colleagues have an advantage over city hotels, since affluent Italians who have been cooped up all spring will likely want to escape to the sea. City hotels, which typically rely heavily on foreigners, may have a harder time filling their rooms.
Until the government reveals a plan for “Phase Three,” when international tourism is expected to resume, it’s probably still too soon to plan a trip. Flights between the U.S. and Italy are still scarce, and anyone arriving from abroad is currently required to self-quarantine for 14 days. If you want to show solidarity, reach out to your preferred hotel or tour operator to find out when they advise coming or consider purchasing a bond when available. Imàgo, the Michelin-starred restaurant at Hotel Hassler, is offering €250 Dinner Bonds for a tasting menu for two that normally costs €400 valid until December 30, 2020. When Italy finally reopens to tourism, it will certainly need your support.