A Florence native, Elisabetta Cianfanelli is one busy lady. While juggling family commitments and a variety of important roles in the city, she also holds the position of Florence's municipal councillor of Tourism, Europe and Fashion and Equal Opportunities in the Renzi administration. Before that, she served as Florence provincial councillor for fashion. With a degree in architecture and a specialization in industrial design, she has been a researcher at the University of Florence's Faculty of Architecture since 2000, where she teaches and conducts research in product and fashion design in Italy. She is the author of numerous books on design, fashion, innovation and increased social and economic inclusion of the disabled. The quintessential multitasker, Cianfanelli affirms that 'her passion for her career has allowed her to use the skills acquired in the university setting over the years to the political sphere, turning her into a true "political designer."' In a moment that Florence seems to be regaining its prestige in the area of tourism and making headlines with recent projects aimed at increasing offerings in culture and entertainment for both residents and tourists, TF spoke to Cianfanelli to discuss the state of the tourism sector in Florence and prospects for the future.
The province of Florence recently released data showing that the number of tourists this year are the same as those in 2007. Can we say that the city has weathered the 'financial' storm?
Yes, it seems so. In the last few months Florence has bounced back as a major tourist destination, reclaiming a top place in the international rankings. The current administration wants to continue this positive trend by offering a variety of top-quality alternatives to tourists. Our data suggests that American travellers are returning to the city, and we have noted a sharp increase in tourist flows from countries like Brazil, China and Russia. The number of Italian tourists has also risen steadily.
We are all evidently part of a new globalized culture, and one of the things that can distinguish one place from another is its culinary tradition and all of the cultural elements that are linked to it. This kind of 'knowledge' has been a defining element of our region since Etruscan times, and any experience of Tuscany's excellent culinary arts would allow visitors to better appreciate this.
You speak of the culinary arts in Tuscany, and although Florence is known the world over for its rich culinary tradition, our experience suggests that tourists are finding it increasingly difficult to eat well, and at reasonable prices, in the city, especially in bars.
You are absolutely right. I have paid eight euro or more for rather unappetizing panini and similar things in bars. Eating badly in Florence can cost a lot of money, depending on where you go. Yet eating well, especially when vacationing, is of the utmost importance, and we recognize this. So we have decided to start a multilingual blog with user-generated reviews of restaurants: anyone who visits the city can leave reviews on Florence restaurants for future travellers. On the other hand, hotel costs in Florence have dropped slightly in the economic downturn, bringing costs in line with hotels in Rome and Milan; that's good news for travellers.
Florence was recently named the world's top tourist destination in an online survey conducted by TripAdvisor.com (see page 2 for details). What do you think is so attractive about the city?
Florence is a viewed as a great city of art. It is a bona fide leader in international tourism, just like some of Italy's other great art cities, like Venice, Rome, Naples and Milan. The people that travel here can be considered tourists as much as they are clients-they 'purchase' our product: Florence. Tourism levels in the city can be determined by looking at two main indicators: the number of people that visit it (we determine the percentage by counting the number of tourists staying in the city's hotels and not the number of people who visit the city for the day or for three hours), and the number of nights tourists stay in city hotels. According to our data, the average tourist stays in the city for 2.5 days and is attracted by the city's cultural offerings.
Recently on the RAI television programme Vieni via con me, Renzo Piano said 'We, Italians, all of us, are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of a giant. That giant is our culture ...' Florence boasts an extensive cultural, artistic and historical heritage, second only to Rome in Italy. Is it enough to keep attracting tourists?
What Piano says is true. The idea in the past was to conserve and protect this heritage. However, if we don't start interacting with the city's heritage and reading it with contemporary eyes, people will come here only once. We need to create a dialogue between the past and the present. What Florence needs is a far-reaching cultural project that will revive the contemporary spirit of the city.
Florence is often criticized for attracting too much mass tourism, which leads to a sense of over-commercialization and 'Disneyfication.' There has been much talk lately about how to revamp Florence's image, both in Italy and abroad. How can Florence do this? Where does tourism come in?
I think that we have to start creating networks. We need to create an Italian network that can compete internationally. I also believe that it is important to organize big events to attract more people to the city, to give the city more international visibility. Unfortunately, Florence does not host any large international events, mostly because of an attitude that we've inherited and perpetuated, which considers Florence a place that would attract tourists regardless of quality, services or touristic offerings. Why organize anything when tourists will come to the city anyway for the Uffizi, the David and Ponte Vecchio? No one ever thought that perhaps we should start organizing top-quality events and entertainment for both tourists and locals. We have to make people want to come here; we have to give them a good reason to come.
What kinds of tourists is the local administration hoping to attract in the future?
We are working to encourage high-quality tourism. We hope to raise standards and expectations by offering tourists a range of services and creating itineraries specifically designed for diverse groups, such as business tourists, religious tourists, tourists who seek luxury and/or culture, sports tourists and academic tourists. Our data suggests that the average tourist in Florence is 40 years of age, is cultured and relatively wealthy; in 58 percent of the cases it is his or her first experience in Tuscany.
Perhaps, one solution is to disperse the masses. Florence has a wealth of smaller museums that are eclipsed by the larger, better-known ones. How do you think they get more visibility?
The smaller museums are sure to get more exposure with the Museum Card that is in the works. It can be used at every museum in the city, including the smallest. We are just waiting to issue a public contract for its management. It should take about one year until it is a reality.
What should tourists visit in Florence this Christmas?
I would recommend that they come here to get their fill of culture while doing some Christmas shopping. Shoppers can get their gifts on via dei Calzaiuoli and via Roma and easily pop into Ognissanti to see Giotto's newly restored crucifix. Its an incredible work, which took eight years to restore, and Ognissanti offers free entrance. There's also the Bronzino exhibit at Palazzo Strozzi. Anyone can visit Palazzo Vecchio as it is now open every day until midnight. Finally, the Maggio Musicale has a fantastic programme this season, so why not go see a show sotto Natale?