“Exploit your holidays to discover your unique, magical Italy,” suggests Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a new TV campaign encouraging Italians to holiday at home this year.
For those Italians still unsure of exactly why they should “discover” Italy — according to Berlusconi, a land not just of “sky, sun and sea but also of history, culture and art” — the state has thrown in a sweetener: it will help pay for citizens’ summer or winter break costs by granting “holiday vouchers.”
Berlusconi’s government believes that tourism can be a strategic tool in Italy’s economic recovery, but only if Italians spend money for vacations at home instead of abroad. Well, yup, that makes sense.
The coupons are available to all low-income families, especially those with many children, who wish to go to the seaside or mountains but can’t afford it. Under the voucher scheme, the state grants a holiday bonus varying between 20 and 45 percent of a predefined budget, which depends upon the income level of the family and number of members. For example, a family of four with a yearly income of up to 25,000 euros ($32,000) receives a coupon worth 1,240 euros ($1,585), of which the family pays just 682 euros ($872) — the rest (45 percent) is subsidized by the state.
The binding condition of vouchers is that they are used in travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, resorts, camping sites and the like that have signed up to the scheme and which now number more than 4,500.
Holiday concerns are ecstatic about the idea – those keeping a close eye on Italy’s deficit less so.
“It’s more of that Berlusconi smile,” said a senior Swiss-based credit source, “with no mention at all of where the money’s coming from – or whether the voucher scheme is self-liquidating.”
But oddly enough, Venice’s four-star Hotel La Fenice et des Artistes hasn’t so far benefitted. “To date, none of our clients have used the coupons, I guess Venice is just not a voucher destination,” said manager Nadia Baldissera.
I think you may be right, Nadia. But although to the rest of us Berlusconi is a crooked chump, to many Italians he is a man with bright ideas that seem to try and improve Italian national income, while helping the poorer end of society there. But the holiday vouchers are really nothing more than deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic that is Italy’s fiscal and economic mess.
Italy’s public deficit nearly doubled to 5.3 per cent of output last year as the Italian economy posted its worst performance since 1971, according to the Italian statistics agency Istat. Its GDP shrank by 5.0 per cent in 2009 – also its weakest showing since the agency began collecting data in 1971.