ROME — Italy has set its sights on Muslim tourism in its bid to reignite flagging travel, launching an ambitious “Italy Muslim Friendly” project to lure more followers of Islam into the Bel Paese.
“Italy Muslim Friendly is an innovative project for Muslim Tourism that includes a large network of companies operating in this sector and this tourist industry,” declares the official website for the campaign. “Associations and companies with Muslim inclination will support this project.”
On August 24, the governor of Italy’s southern region of Puglia, Michele Emiliano, announced that he would be prioritizing Muslim tourism, taking pains to accommodate the special requirements and needs that Muslims present.
The Puglia region has drafted a budget of 90 thousand euros for the project, to be used between October 1 and November 18, 2020. The plan will take into account “the particular needs of Muslim tourists, who, according to recent research in the sector, are constantly growing numerically, as well as having peculiarities that also make them qualitatively very interesting for the Apulian territory.”
Critics of the project have suggested that catering to Muslim tourism will involve covering up Christian symbols and artistic works deemed inappropriate.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Fratelli d’Italia Party, said that becoming Muslim friendly involves “removing Christian symbols” as well as separate swimming pools for men and women, prudishly dressed hotel and restaurant staff, and a series of other “embarrassing rules,” insisting that public funds should not be utilized “to Islamize us.”
In 2016, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had a series of nude statues at Rome’s Capitoline Museum completely covered for the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, out of respect for Muslim sensibilities.
Immense white wooden boxes were placed around the offending statues to shield them from the eyes of President Rouhani and the Iranian media train that followed his trip to Italy.
Later, at a banquet held in Rouhani’s honor, no wine was served at table to anyone, out of respect for the Muslim rule of abstinence.
The Italy Muslim Friendly project notes that the Global Muslim Travel Index for 2020 reports that there were 140 million Muslim tourists in the world in 2018 and that by the year 2026 the projected revenues from Muslim travel will be 300 billion dollars.
The website also cites the Pew Research Center, declaring that the global Muslim population of 1.8 billion people constitutes “a gigantic market in continual expansion.”
More specifically, Saudi Arabian tourists spend more per capita than any other nationality, the website notes approvingly, disbursing from 10,000 to 100,000 euros on travel per year.