Letter from Italy: “Issues in our hospitality industry that need to be addressed as we rebuild” by Francesco Bonfio.

Today’s letter from Italy come from my good friend and one of the wine professionals I admire most, Francesco Bonfio, founder of the Italian Association of Wine Shop Professionals. He lives in the historic center of Siena. He shared the above photo of the Piazza del Campo where the city’s famous Palio is run twice each year.

Jeremy, I don’t need to tell you how terrifyingly painful it is to see Piazza del Campo without a single human being in it. I don’t need to tell you how frustrating it is that it’s highly likely that the people of Siena won’t be able to attend the two traditional runnings of the Palio on July 2 and August 16. They’ll be missing their main reason for living. The last time that it happened was because of the Second World War. It wasn’t run again until August 16, 1945 with Il Drago as the winner. Since that time, it’s never been suspended or cancelled.

Instead, I’d like to take advantage of your offer to share a letter from Italy by addressing the Italians who follow your blog. I know there are many of them out there.

Jeremy, I don’t know if you are familiar with the Italian saying, quando sei martello batti, quando sei incudine statti (when you are a hammer, strike your fill; when you are an anvil, hold you still). I believe it comes from the world of gambling. It means that when luck is on your side, you need to make the most of it by pushing yourself as far as you can. When, vice versa, you are in a moment of difficulty, you need to hunker down and stay put because the more you get worked up, the more damage you’ll do.

Right now, Italians are an anvil.

So we should be thinking about rebuilding from the rubble that this “monster” of a virus will leave in its wake.

Tourism in Italy accounts for roughly 15 percent of the GDP. For years now, people have been saying that tourism will become one of Italy’s most important “assets” in coming years.

At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that there are many issues in Italy’s hospitality industry that need to be addressed. There are mistakes that need to be corrected and problems to be resolved. When rebuilding begins, it will represent a unique opportunity to start over from scratch as we attempt to rectify the missteps of the past.

I’m talking to Italian winemakers, to journalists, to restaurateurs, to wine shop managers, and to sommeliers when I say that we need to re-launch the Italian hospitality industry. And we need to so with a professional outlook born out substance and determination. We can’t afford to squander this opportunity because even in normal times, we would never have the strength to impose this vision on a world that has been “playing it by ear” for decades. It’s an industry that has been floating along for better or for worse because no matter how things played out, all things considered, the results at the end of the year were at least satisfactory. Along the way, we haven’t taken account of how much we were sliding in terms of visibility, quality of services, and organization.

We need new guidelines that require all restaurant servers in Italy to improve their Italian and their English. It’s not that I have an issue with restaurant servers. I’m just using them as one example of all the people who have contact with tourists. I would also like to see regulations that require hospitality industry professionals to stay in their lane. Winemakers should make wine, wine shops should sell wine, restaurateurs should run restaurants.

It’s only natural that journalists are the Italian hospitality industry’s top influencers. They need to work to drown out the voices of the so-called “influencers.” Most of them are people who don’t know anything about wine or wine culture. They rely solely on their ability to exploit modern means of communication. But wine is something too important to be covered in the media like it’s apparel or makeup. That’s why I’m addressing my call to action to all those who share my view that professionalism is the essential first step in rebuilding our hospitality industry.

Francesco Bonfio

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