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Tourism and Bella Napoli: what is left to do

Tourism and Bella Napoli: what is left to do

A reflection by Alberto Corbino about tourism in Naples for the WTM 2018.

A very busy August 2018, with most pizzerias opened and crowded museums and squares, confirmed that Naples is today witnessing an unprecedent growth of its tourism reputation.   The bad old times when mass media used to potrait Napoli as the city of crime and trash (“see Napoli and die” interpreted as: “if you see Napoli you may probably die” and not “you have to see Napoli before you die”) are probably gone, hopefully for a long time. To tell the truth, most of mass media and mass tourism tour operators are still reluctant to acknowledge the beauty of Napoli, and the necessity, for anyone touring in Italy , to include it among the priority destinations, with Venice, Rome, Florence.

Although Napoli, as most of the large cities in the world, is far to be heaven on earth, the reasons of this reluctancy can not be to be easily understood, if not by using some mean stereotypes like a general trend by the Italian media to despise the South and by the major companies to hijack cruise lines tourists into “easier” and probably more profitable all included tours to Pompei-Vesuvius-Sorrento.

While the success of the city it’s easier to be understood and it’s probably due to the following main factors:

  • “Naples is a city of objective, stunning beauty and appeal! And people are so friendly and willing to help, they make you feel at home!” This is what a few years ago the first courageous travellers must have thought visiting the city and then posting pictures on the social media, catching people attention;
  • Naples is unexpensive and affordable for any pocket and some of the best things are free: the walk by the sea, the sunset from Virgiliano Park, the visit to Castel dell’Ovo or the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, the “get lost tour” in the center, concerts in community managed places, the kids playing in the streets;
  • Naples is the once capital of one of Europe richest and most innovative kingdoms; closer to North Africa than to Europe for some aspects, today it still remains as a symbol of a certain grandeur of the South of the world. Naples is infact a 2.700 years old port, and as such is an open city, who has for centuries hosted (and sheltered) all the people of the world, even patiently accepting any kind of domination (with the exception of the nazis in WWII). The result of this acceptance towards the foreigner is testified by the complexity of an unique city, whose ancient layers are still visible and whose streets, walls, churches, monuments, libraries, villas shape a urban jewel nestled in a breath-taking gulf, where the ancient romans chose to spend their leisure time;
  • Naples is a real city, whatever this word as the opposite of fake-tourist trap might mean. Real means that the Neapolitans’ anarchist character still shape everyday life also in the most touristic areas: traffic will never be quite, some people will still litter, walkside will never be moped-free or dog poo – free (sorry about that). And our local organized crime will still be powerful in some areas of the city, but with no impact on the tourism system (for petty crime Naples is not worse than other large cities in Italy or Europe). At same time, life in the city still smells with authenticity and always will: old ladies will keep on lowering their baskets from a third floor balcony to lift their mozzarella from the grocer at the corner, as their mothers and grandmother used to do; fishermen will be yelling at the market to sell their catch; and the pizzerias will be obliged to serve a decent neapolitan pizza to satisfy Neapolitans and hope to have a chance to be in the business;
  • Naples is a junk-food liberated area: our street food is mostly local and tends to be of good quality, diverse and unexpensive, while there’s a very small number of large companies fast foods in the city;
  • Services for tourists have improved, and the airport and the new metro are a clear example of this. Credit cards are accepted even by some taxi drivers, most restaurants and even at at the very famous State owned Castel Sant’Elmo. It’s possible to find free maps as a gift by our local tourist offices and most of the pizzerías have a menu in English (you might find some naive mistakes like polip instead of octopus); all the Neapolitans are understanding that tourism is a big resource for the city, therefore changing their “live by the day” and be more respectful;
  • Naples offers a large variety of sustainable tourism experiences which can not be easily found all in a city: you can kayak in the Posillipo area, you can visit the amazing labyrinth of tunnels which run just under the city center, attend a free concert in a 1600 church or in a Roman amphitheater; Naples offer a variety of responsible tourism experiences and learning about how they are born and what are their goal is making an experience in the experience;
  • Naples culture (not only it’s amazing food) and its creative soul is now exploding in any form at every corner: music and songs, traditional dances, artists, museums, handcraft shops are all part of a spontaneous system that keeps the city economy and soul alive;
  • Neapolitans, with the complicity of social media and OTAs, have recently opened their houses and now it’s possible to have a real Neapolitan experience (sleep, eat, music) at very different prices.

So what is left to do? A lot. The City of Naples and the Italian public system in general is the big absentee. Public transportation, the traffic and the gardening are the weakest points of a weak system. Napoli still remains much below European standards for cleanliness and the accessibility to people with handicap, for basic services, like public toilets, directions or the respect of laws in general; silence is rare, especially at summer time, even late at night; buying a bus ticket (and waiting for a bus) can result in an true adventure; English is still unknown to most of the taxi drivers and shop owners (but hands language can help a lot, and it’s fun), not to mention local police or even the old generation of museums employees. And probably the touristic system has grown too fast and need some regulation and more professionalism, in order not to transform the center into one big street food mall.

Still… also the negative aspects are all part of a peculiar urban challenge that only Naples can offer and that can be easily faced with some good planning and a good dose of “let it be” attitude!

Enjoy Naples, you will not regret it!

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