Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world. Each year, over 60 million people come to il bel paese to experience our historic cities, breathtaking natural beauty, and, of course, our world-renown food.

This year’s busy season, however, is set to be a little different. With caution being exercised by states and citizens alike, tourist numbers are expected to plummet. In this post, therefore, we look at what this means for the Italian food industry and the consequences for international food buyers.

The scale of the problem

Tourism is big business in Italy. In 2019, the sector generated approximately 239 billion euros, which was equivalent to 13% of the total Gross Domestic Product. Apart from generating significant revenue, it also accounts for a considerable portion of the working population – about 20% of Italy’s workforce is engaged in one form or another with tourism.

Whilst the money spent by tourists is spread across various segments within the industry – spanning everything from accommodation to cultural and sporting events – a large amount goes towards food and drink. The latest data (from 2018) estimates that the restaurant and foodservice sector in Italy is worth 68.4 billion euros.

All of this is set to change. Although Italy is opening its borders to International visitors from 3rd June (with restrictions), tourist numbers are not expected to bounce back up immediately. Whilst some foreign nationals will not be permitted to travel from their countries, others will simply be wary of travelling at all. And the expected economic impact for Italy’s tourist industry is huge – one study calculates that 18 billion euros will be lost in revenue, and visitor numbers for this year will be 34.2% less than last. The worst affected areas, according to the research, will be Veneto, Lombardy, Tuscany, and Lazio.

What it means for food buyers

The implications for the Italian food industry are clear. With hotels, restaurants, and bars seeing less footfall, there’ll be a glut of excess Italian produce on the market.

Such a trend has indeed been seen in other countries; in Belgium, for instance, the drop in visitor numbers has led to an excess in potatoes – leading to the businesses proactively encouraging Belgian nationals to support their local chip shops.

Whilst Italians may indeed increase their consumption of home-grown food, this situation also provides international buyers with a unique opportunity. Not only are they likely to see price reductions across various food categories (in order to move excess perishable stock), but they may also encounter lesser-known Italian producers that are new to the export market. With less demand from Italy’s tourism industry, these producers are looking to expanding their presence abroad – a hard task given the cancellation of various industry trade shows.

Regardless, it’s not an impossible task. In fact, as the Italian Food Experts, that’s exactly what we do – we match small to medium, fully-accredited and certified Italian producers with international buyers.


If you’re a global purchaser and you’re currently sourcing new Italian products, then please get in touch with The Italian Food Experts. All requests are free and entirely non-committal.