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Return of Morgantina Venus inspires Sicilian tourism enterprise

Public-private tourism partnership aims to make more of the island’s heritage.

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The opening of a tourist “info point” in Enna, the capital of the province of the same name in central Sicily, marks a tentative but important step for the region’s underdeveloped tourism industry. The office, which opened last month, is the first part of an ambitious project overseen by the recently formed Distretto Turistico Dea di Morgantina (tourist district of the goddess of Morgantina). The public-private partnership, which has around 130 members so far, aims to bring together local business associations and town councils to make the most of the island’s cultural heritage.

The organisation takes its name from the Morgantina Venus, the statue returned to Italy by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, in May 2011, after decades of legal disputes.

Attendance figures at the statue’s new home, the Museo Archeologico di Aidone, in the small town of Aidone, have risen dramatically since the statue arrived. Enrico Caruso, the director of the museum and the surrounding Parco Archeologico di Morgantina, says the museum had 9,700 visitors in 2010, but in 2011 the number rose to 54,000. The museum is now the second most visited in Sicily (after the Museo Archeologico Regionale in Agrigento). Annual visitors to the park have also risen, from around 20,000 to 37,000 in 2011, and Caruso hopes these numbers will keep rising once the tourist district is fully operational.

The not-for-profit tourist district has an ambitious goal: to forge a link between disparate, and underfunded, local cultural and tourism organisations. “It’s something that was never properly addressed by the local government,” says Nietta Bruno, the vice-president of the tourism district, who also represents members in the private sector. The head of the district is Giuseppe Monaco, the president of the province of Enna. He represents members in the public sector.

So far six towns have joined the organisation: Aidone, Enna, Leonforte, Centuripe, Caltagirone and Piazza Armerina, whose Villa Romana del Casale, a Unesco World Heritage Site, reopens this month. It is expected to attract around 400,000 visitors this year. Other local attractions include Enna’s Castello di Lombardia and the Torre di Federico II, both in the Val di Noto Unesco World Heritage Site.

The area has almost 2,500 businesses that rely on heritage and tourism to make a living, but the biggest challenge is to keep visitors for more than a fleeting tour of the sites. “We are fighting a war against ‘hit and run’ tourism,” Bruno says.

Luigi Scavuzzo, Enna’s head of economic development and tourism, says: “The core of Sicilian tourism remains on the coasts. Our objective is to bring them inland, but until we have the necessary infrastructure to make them want to spend the night, they’ll go back to the coast after a few hours at one of the sites.”

One proposal is to create a single pass that will allow tourists to visit multiple sites within the district.“Villa del Casale is only 20km away from Morgantina,” Scavuzzo says, “It’s not about competing, it’s about creating synergies.”

The lack of interpretation in foreign languages is another issue; visitors are mainly German, Spanish, French, Dutch and English.

Caruso says access is a huge problem. “We need the roads to be fully viable. We had around 1,000 visitors on Easter Monday alone—imagine how many more would come.”

The demand is there. Information and infrastructural co-ordination just need to be brought up to scratch.

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