Bologna’s historic center is home to the majority of the city’s major hotels (Photo: Luc Citrinot)
Bologna’s tourism industry has flourished in the shadow of a deep-rooted certainty among many Italians and Europeans. That of being a city totally focused on the business world. This is not false. With its 390,000 inhabitants, Bologna is one of Italy’s major economic centers, with a dense network of companies in the food industry, machine tools, automobiles and publishing; a university center with 90,000 students; the Cineca center, a European leader in high performance computing (HPC). Not to mention the Fiera Bologna trade fairs and exhibitions.
All of this has made the capital of Emilia Romagna very attractive. In fact, according to surveys, the region ranks third or fourth in Italy for its GDP per capita.
But the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated a trend that the tourism authorities were already aware of: a decline in the business market. “For ten years we have been trying to promote Bologna, a business city par excellence, in a different way. For ten years we have been trying to position the city as a destination for urban tourism and especially for culture. We have succeeded in doing this because in 2019, travelers’ motivations were evenly divided between leisure and business”, says Patrik Romano, General Manager of Bologna Welcome, the municipal tourism agency.
Bologna’s ideal location in Italy, thirty minutes by train from Florence, one hour from Milan, one and a half hours from Venice and two hours from Rome, makes it a natural crossroads for business. “But this is also a weakness for the business market. With the high-speed train network, business travelers now make a one-day return trip to Bologna. In addition, the trend in the trade fair sector is to reduce the number of days of activity. All this has a negative impact on Bologna’s hotel and service industry,” says Patrik Romano.
Hence the 360-degree turn. “It was important to conquer individual leisure tourists. This helped to balance the hotel occupancy rate, to win over domestic customers who still saw us as a business city. And to make us one of the most popular secondary cities in Europe. Here again, the relative lack of notoriety compared to cities like Florence or Venice is a factor of curiosity for many Europeans,” says the Director of Bologna Welcome.
Last year, Bologna was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its hundreds of arcades that punctuate the city, which has helped consolidate the city’s cultural image. The tourist office is now working to better publicize its museum and film heritage internationally.
<a href=”https://www.voyages-d-affaires.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/bologna-municipio-galleria-dell-arte.jpg”>The sumptuous Municipal Art Gallery inside the Palazzo Comunale (Photo: Luc Citrinot)
Gastronomy is another strong point of the capital of Emilia Romagna. It was in Bologna that gnocchi, tortellini, tagliatelle in sauce or mortadella were created. The famous spaghetti with Bolognese sauce, on the other hand, is completely unknown here… or despised!
All these elements have allowed Bologna to absorb the covid pandemic relatively well. “We have managed to turn the tourism situation around in 2021 even though covid has of course left its mark. But last September, October and November, our hotels returned to occupancy rates comparable to 2019. And 2022 looks good for the moment,” says Patrik Romano.
While the leisure traveler has become a key target for Bologna tourism, business travelers are not neglected. “We remain the fourth most active city in Italy in terms of international congresses, behind Rome, Milan and Florence, according to the ICAA, the international congress association. Our trade fairs have picked up again and we expect about 30 events this year,” says the General Manager. In addition to its trade fairs, the city hosts an average of 30 international congresses and conferences each year.
Ideal hotel facilities?
The hotel stock has been extensively renovated in recent years, offering some 13,500 rooms. A relatively small percentage of these are affiliated with an international chain – in fact, half a dozen, including AC by Marriott, Best Western, Holiday Inn, Mercure or NH. “We have a good number of four-star+ properties and one five-star, the Grand Hotel Majestic. We probably need another five-star hotel with a large capacity for conventions,” acknowledges Patrik Romano.
It is unlikely that an inflation of new hotels will come to Bologna in the next few years. “In fact, we have reached an ideal ceiling for tourism: 5 million overnight stays for about 2.5 million visitors per year. We don’t need much more than that,” says Patrik Romano. “Especially since our visitors appreciate our way of life, the authenticity of the city, the feeling of safety and well-being in the city. This is precious
GUIDE TO BOLOGNA
Getting there There
are dailyAir France and Vueling flights from Paris CDG and Orly. Ryanair also offers an alternative from Beauvais. Air France also connects Lyon to Bologna. Ryanair also operates flights to Brussels-Charleroi. Possibility to travel via Milan p
ar high speed trains Frecciarossa or Italo. The journey takes one hour.
Lovers of charming hotels will prefer I Portici Hotel (via Indipendenza 69 – Tel: +39 051 42185- www.iporticihotel.com) and Hotel Corona d’Oro (via Oberdan 12 – Tel: +39 051 7457611 – www.hco.it), historic hotels with a very Italian atmosphere, both of which are rated 4 stars+. They are located between the train station and Piazza Maggiore, the historic center of Bologna.
(Piazza Maggiore dominated by the medieval towers, the Mercato di Mezzo and the Hotel I Portici – Photos: LC)
On the go and delicious, the food court set up in the Mercato di Mezzo in the historic heart of the city. An offer of restaurants and sales counters. A charming osteria under medieval arcades, the “Osteria Buca Delle Campane” (www.bucadellecampane.it). I Portici Hotel has the only Michelin starred restaurant in Bologna. Reservations are required (email@example.com). Finally, pastry and chocolate lovers will enjoy the Caffe Letterario of master pastry chef and chocolatier Sebastiano Caridi (https://www.sebastianocaridi.it).
Discover three must-sees in Bologna
- Climbing one of the medieval towers in the city center (the highest is the Asinelli Tower at 97.2m, the belfry of the cathedral or the smaller Clock Tower).
- The Municipal Art Gallery with several hundred paintings, especially by Italians from Bologna. The apartments and ceremonial rooms with painted walls such as the Sala Urbana and the Galleria Vidoniana are marvels of Italian art.
- Among the museums in Bologna is the Museum of Obstetrics and Anatomy in the Palazzo Poggi. It houses collections of wax figures from the 17th and 18th centuries reproducing the human body and the development of the fetus. Models used by medical students and midwives.
To get information
Welcome Bologna has a very complete website about the city and also sells the Welcome Bologna Card which gives many advantages. Most museums and places of interest can be booked online. https://www.bolognawelcome.com/fr
The website of the Italian tourist office offers a lot of information at https://www.italia.it/en.
French Consulate: see in Milan- https://it.ambafrance.org/-Consulat-de-Milan-
I’m Michelle, and I love to travel. As a former hotel expert for one of the world’s largest hotel chains, I’ve stayed in nearly every type of room imaginable (including many that were not so desirable!). Nowadays, I am fortunate enough to be able to explore the world on my own terms. From international flights to learning different languages, there is nothing too far out of reach!