San Giovanni in Galdo in Molise has been overwhelmed by requests after it offered free holiday homes to tourists in a bid help the local economy
By Umberto Bacchi
MILAN, Aug 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bargain hunters and frustrated globe trotters have swamped an Italian village with requests to stay after it offered free lodging to lure tourists to its abandoned hilltop hamlets.
From the United States to China, more than 8,000 people have applied to stay in the Mediaeval southern village of San Giovanni in Galdo since a promotional visitor campaign launched in June went viral, organisers said.
"We did not expect such a response," said Stefano Trotta, head of the local cultural association behind the campaign.
Trotta said the group can only accommodate 12 guests a week so it has diverted some would-be visitors to nearby villages.
"We had about 70 requests from Kazakhstan, some from remote Russian towns ... from all over the world really".
Like many Italian villages, San Giovanni in Galdo has struggled with a fast-shrinking population, dropping from a few thousand to some 500 in a few decades, as locals left to seek opportunities elsewhere, said Trotta.
Yet, the free homes initiative has now put the village firmly on the world's travel maps.
Locals used to joke that the Molise region was so little known, it did not even exist. Trotta said that was no longer the case and all the attention might yet revive village fortunes.
Young people could opt to stay put if tourism booms, old residents might return and visitors may also settle, he said, with talks underway to extend the initiative to other hamlets.
"The idea is to bring people to live here," he said, noting that some of the new tourists had already bought homes in town.
Other hamlets are battling the same population drain.
San Mauro La Bruca, a village of less than 600 people overlooking the sea in the neighbouring Campania region, has offered tourists rooms for 2 euro ($2.39) a night in a sold-out initiative to "fight persistent depopulation".
A 20-minute drive from San Giovanni in Galdo, the village of Petrella Tifernina has offered incentives if home owners host tourists for free, attracting about 1,000 requests from prospective visitors in just weeks, according to its mayor.
"The aim is to revive Petrella and be a stimulus for other nearby villages," Mayor Alessandro Amoroso told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, adding that the new coronavirus pandemic had fostered demand for holidays in remote villages.
"People don't want to go to far, and many are choosing often overlooked nearby destinations," he said.
The Italian tourism sector has been badly hit by the virus, with visitors expected to drop 44% in 2020 on the year before and big cities suffering most, according to the tourist board.
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(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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