By Abdul Basit

DUBAI — Italy is very keen to enhance its tourism, trade and investment relations with the UAE, Ambassador to the UAE Giorgio Starace said.

Italy was among top ten countries in trade with the UAE in 2010 while investors from both the sides are also taking interest for enhanced investment relations. Recent examples are Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments’s 4.99 per cent stake in Italy’s UniCredit SpA and a joint venture between Dubai-based Emaar and Italian designer Giorgio Armani. The joint venture launched the first Armani hotel in Dubai a year before and there are plans to open 10 more Armani-branded hotels and resorts within the next 10 years in famous cities across the world.

Italy considers the UAE as a central point to get access to other parts of the Gulf and wider the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region because the Gulf country offers the best connections. Italy sees rising air connections from Gulf countries through Emirates airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways. “We think the future is here and we have to do more in order to promote Italy as a tourist destination here because the UAE can help big flow of tourists coming from the region on its well connectivity,” the ambassador told Khaleej Times in a recent interview.

Starace mentioned that every year around 150,000 Italians come to the UAE as tourists and businessmen and this figure is growing. On the other hand, he said, Italy expect a double-digit growth in tourists from the UAE.

“We have noted that tourists from the UAE, either Emaratis or expatriates, also increasing… We are talking about 10 per cent growth in tourists from the UAE to Italy,” he said.

He appreciated the role of Emirates airline and Etihad Airways for the promotion of Italy as a tourism destination. He mentioned that Emirates will start its direct A380 flight to Rome next month. “We are talking to them [Emirates airline] and it will be very important occasion for Italy when Emirates will inaugurate its direct A380 flight to Rome on June 6,” Starace said.

Italy is ranked among top five tourists destination in the world and third among the European countries after France and Spain, he said, adding: “Tourism sector contributes around nine per cent of the total GDP of the country.”

“Last year Italy received around 50 million tourists, 4.3 per cent up over 2009, from across the world despite slowdown in tourism industry and we are expecting good growth this year,” he said.

First four months show around seven per cent growth in tourists number, he said, adding: “This year we will focus very much on promoting tourism to Italy with three big targets.”

First Italy wants to promote its beautiful cities and historical sites, he said, adding: “The country has more than 15 per cent of the world monuments.”

Few countries in the world can boast a collection of historical monuments as great in magnitude as Italy can. As the birthplace of both the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, there is no lack of historical sites in Italy.

First and foremost, millions of people per year visit Rome in hopes of witnessing just a glimpse into the past, a glimpse into the power and majesty that was the Roman Empire.

Starace said another very important sector which Italy will insist in promoting tourism is to Italian mountains.

The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west. The highest mountain in the Alps is Mont Blanc, at 4,810.45 metres on the Italian-French border.

The ambassador said the third target is to attract tourists to Italy’s beautiful beaches. He mentioned that these are the three targets where the country is focusing. He indicated that there is another secret weapon with the country, which is its famous food. “Italy is superpower in food. We provide very good quality and high standard food. Its difficult to find any tourists complaining about our food.

A majority of the Middle East and Gulf tourists look for Halal foods when they go abroad and Italy is not an exception. Italy has a good variety of Halal food and trying to improve it more. “Very recently Ministry Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Trade in order to promote Halal food made in Italy,” he said.

He said there is certified authentic Halal food available in Italy and it is also very important for our exports to Arab countries.

He also mentioned that BRICS countries are important for inbound tourism to Italy as growth numbers are increasing very fast from Brazil, India, China and South Africa. “We record great growth from these countries and Russia as well,” he said.