Feature: Italian museums regain popularity despite coronavirus


  • World
  • Sunday, 23 Aug 2020

ROME, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- Italian museums and cultural sites appear to be weathering the country's slow emergence from the coronavirus crisis better than many other parts of the tourist-based economy. But key observers said the sector is still in need of reform and economic stimulus.

Many of Italy's best-known museums are reporting strong ticket sales so far this summer -- not on par with previous years, according to estimates from museums and the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, but significantly stronger than concert halls, hotels, restaurants, sporting events, cruises, and tour companies during the same period.

Earlier this week, the daily newspaper La Stampa reported that despite a small trickle of tourists in Italy this summer, many museums are reaching capacity at peak hours and must turn people away. Rome's much-heralded exhibit marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance master Raphael is staying open until midnight until it closes Aug. 30, in order to maximize the number of visitors they can let in. Florence's Uffizi Gallery, the Brera Museum in Milan, and Turin's Egyptian Museum are among those that have reported robust ticket sales in recent weeks.

"We sold a little more than 20,000 tickets in the first two weeks of August," Christian Greco, director of the Egyptian Museum, told Xinhua. "That's a little less than two-thirds of the 32,000 tickets we sold in the same period last year, but considering the coronavirus restrictions and the lack of tourists, we're very happy with the result."

According to sociologist and tourism-sector researcher Manuel Udinese, for Italians and visitors who are worried about the spread of the coronavirus, museums can represent a safe space.

"Social-distancing rules and the use of masks are obligatory in museums," Udinese told Xinhua. "They're safer than most public spaces, and many Italians who may be put off by standing in line with tourists may like the idea of reserving a spot online and not having to face big crowds."

Udinese added that lower prices are a big factor, considering the economic slowdown that accompanied the coronavirus outbreak, leaving most people with less discretionary income.

Greco echoed that view, noting the Egyptian Museum lowered ticket prices from 15 euros (17.70 U.S. dollars) to 9 euros. The museum also offers a four-person family ticket for 18 euros. The article in La Stampa said that some museums lowered prices to as little as 1 euro at non-peak hours.

"We realize that the crisis has been tough on almost everyone and we want to be sure to keep cultural options within reach of families," Greco said. But he also admitted the lower prices were not sustainable.

That is a point stressed by Flavia Massarini Ghislieri, an Italian cultural heritage conservator based in Milan. She said the sector has long been in need of reform.

"Overall, museums in Italy are running big financial deficits and even if the best-known museums attract crowds, many museums that are less well-known are under-promoted and under-visited," Masserini Ghislieri said in an interview. "There is too much bureaucracy, and more work should be done to develop the less famous museums which are often very good and to modernize museums people already know about." (1 euro = 1.18 U.S. dollars)

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