Friday, May 28

Rome's Proposed Tourist Tax - Are You Flippin' Kidding Me??!!!

Dear Mayor Alemanno:

Certainly, we can all understand your point of view; trying to come up with ways to arrive at month’s end – just like the rest of us – with money in the bank.  It was a stroke of pure genius – hit the captive audience that won’t crowd your city center, block traffic and hold huge sheets with protest slogans in revolt.  It’s an even better idea, considering that "other capital cities" have been charging a sojourn tax for years, [Let’s ignore the fact that other cities like London or New York have over 15 million inhabitants compared to your 3.5 million - with services to match - but, who's counting?].

Regardless, since you’re a Roman resident and you’ve never had the privilege of enjoying the city as a tourist, allow me to shed some light on the subject.  You’ll find that the Tourist Tax has been levied for some time now – paid in full by tourists – your petroleum – a tax so widespread, it’s like an oil slick on your country larger than the one now threatening the U.S.

A day in the life of a tourist in Rome

- Arriving at Rome’s airport, you’ve already been shaken down by the ‘airport tax’.  The service you receive instead?  Forced to wait in an un-airconditioned arrivals area holding pen 40 mins or longer for your bags, that is, if they arrive in the first place.  Check to see they're not missing objects handily withdrawn by the baggage handlers--the cause for the delay.

- You make your way to the train station where you have to pay 14 euro - $17 for a ticket to Rome's Termini station.  Just like in ‘other capitals’, except for the fact that in London the trains arrive every 4 minutes while in Rome, you might have to wait 40 minutes on a urine-filled platform (where else to void the toilets but in a closed train station), on a good day for the ‘next train’ to arrive.  At least your nose will be prepared for the onslaught of the Calcutta scene of homeless immigrants who live at your arrival station.

So, you decide to try your luck on the local train?  Terrific – except you have to be a soothsayer to know that the train marked for ‘Orte’ actually makes stops in Rome's center. You have no idea what stop to get off at, but you recognize Trastevere and go with that.  Then, you have to know how to buy a ticket – you can wait in a long line where the ticket vendor charges an untold €1 ‘tax’ on it, just for fun.
Last month, the 20 min train ride cost a reasonable €5.50.  Overnight, the price was raised 45% to €8, in view of an improved service.  So far, the only thing that was advanced was the price.  The grimy cars – with no room for luggage (it’s an airport train, after all) are still the same.

Jetlagged and drowsy, you suddenly need a PhD to know about stamping your ticket in the little yellow machines.  In ‘other capitals’, trains come with conductors who take your ticket.  But Rome is one giant tourist attraction – and on arrival, ‘You’re the protagonist!’ You get to play conductor, just like at Legoland.  In case you missed the ticket machines, a conductor will come by – to charge you 50 euro for boarding a 20 minute train without a stamped ticket. 
If you’re lucky, they’ll let you out instead – only to find yourself at a station with no personnel, no ticket machines, and the only other person is the gypsy who just stole your camera out of the front pocket of your suitcase as you dragged it behind you up the flight of steps to the street.

- Or, perhaps at the airport you decide to take a taxi.  Know that, like in other capitals, you have become a lovely fish in a tank of great white sharks (the color of Rome’s cabs).  They put the meter up a notch, or charge you tariffs for items you didn’t know exist.  At the end of the trip, you’ve spent 60 euro for a 48 euro ride, but the driver doesn’t declare his ‘extra’ income on his tax returns.
Take a taxi in the city, it’ll cost you $7 just to sit down.  But, that's not an option because you can’t find one anyway.  In ‘other capitals’, taxis roam freely, people take them regularly, and, the price stays low. I guess Adam Smith was right. Incredible how that works.

- Not wanting to deal with trains nor taxis, you rent a car instead.  Don’t forget your airport tax for that audacious request.  Get the car at Termini Station, you’re charged a train station surcharge.  And after navigating between the drunks, drug addicts, crazies and homeless beggars (Benvenuto a Roma!), you start thinking that you should be paid a Tourist Tax to go and retrieve your car out of the dank urine-stained area of the Termini Terminal (clearly suffering from an incurable disease).  While loading up your car, you discover someone has just made off with the bag you left on the seat – running right by the policemen who are busy chatting in a crowd.

- You head now to your hotel, 6 bags and all, less the one that just departed.  Near the Pantheon, you manage no problem.  Except that you just got hit with an automated-traffic ticket to the tune of 70 euro for passing through the city center, naturally - where most of the hotels are located.
As every Mayor in Italy knows and banks on, forget the 5 euro tourist tax – it's 70 euro each time they go in/out of the hotel.  What a nice souvenir postcard from Bell'Italia -- in their mailboxes by the time they get home.  This perk for city coffers is kept conveniently although they could easily allow rental cars to pass right through, just like cars for the handicapped.  And those poor bastards with luggage? Let ‘em walk to their hotel (or take a taxi, who takes them round and round prior to shooting over to their nearby hotel).   

- Once you're on the open road, let’s not even consider the gas charges (5X the USA) most of which are taxes (but payable to the State) and highway tolls.  Like ‘other cities’?  Let me explain to you the meaning behind the word, ‘freeway.

- For the brave souls who manage to take a bus, drop in your €1.50 in coins (despite the price indicated on the meter: €1) and out spits your ticket.  Again, who’s to tell them that they then need to pass through a wall of people to the other end of the bus and ‘validate’ it in another tiny machine, different from this one.  That is, until the vigili grab hold of them – and charge them a fee for not having a valid ticket – payable immediately.  Of course, the meter maids won't hit up the other passengers, illegal immigrants with no tickets nor i.d., nor money; the city counts on their tourist prey to always pay up.   
Of course, the city spent upwards of 1800 euro each for thousands of their little stamp machines, lining the pockets of who knows how many politicos along the way.  Their real cost? about 23 euro - 56 if you count the installation. No wonder they're looking for more money.

- Visiting the monuments, you pay exorbitant prices for every activity that are proving out of reach for most Italians (even the ones who don’t pay their taxes). At least Italians get discounted tickets and students often go for free.  You fork over 7 euro just to take the elevator up on the big white Vittoriano monument, not to mention the $9 coca-cola you’ll drink once you’re up there.  For an entire family (and I’ll remind you that unlike in uber-Catholic Italy, Americans still have children), things start to add up.   
And, what do you get for your 8 or 12 euro ticket entry price?  Hours standing in line at the great (and open air & uncrowded) Forum & Colosseum, longer still at the Quirinale and the Vatican Museums.  Go to the Borghese Gallery, and bouncers unceremoniously throw you out (!) after 2 hours, in order to protect the 15% that the ticket company makes on every single reservation.  Exceptional services like these certainly justify the Tourist Tax.

- You want to stop for a snack?  Caveat emptor!  In some countries, the motto is, ‘you break it, you buy it.’ In Italy, ‘you sit, you shell it out’.  While sitting and eating is sort of standard practice the world over, in Italy, you pay double for the privilege.  No matter, you didn’t know that (you’re a tourist), so now you’re stung.   
At dinner, you pay more than the Rossi’s next to you, the bill is hand-written and unitemized, and there's a (supposedly outlawed but not enforced) ‘cover charge’ before they’ve even added in ‘service’ charges – and taxes.  Americans foolishly leave tips - I call them 'guilt tips' - besides.  Naturally, they don’t issue a receipt and don’t declare the income.   
You want a Tourist Tax, Mr. Mayor – start getting ahold of your 20% VAT tax paid on every plate of pasta sold.  Tourists don't know it, but they spend 20% sales tax on everything they buy - but that money from gelato to jazz concerts rarely makes it to the tax man.

- You set out with your guide – She earns 15% on everything you buy – from the little rosary in Saint Mary Major to the normally 9 euro cutlet for which you were just charged 16 euro.  She earns in tax free income over 50,000 euro per year; all contributed by the ‘tax paying’ tourist.  But that doesn’t mean she’ll pay taxes on it herself.
All of these products and services for tourists offered by the very same citizens who don’t want to pay for their City services, but then insist that the roads are smooth, garbage is removed regularly, schools are open and hospitals are free for all and sundry.
But of course, instead of forcing these people to pay up, let’s go after the ‘easy prey’ – a simple surcharge on tourist hotel rooms.  After all, tourists can’t vote.

Of course, looking for the tax evaders amongst your dear citizenry takes work.  But, watch out.  Tourists can – and do – vote.  With their feet and their wallets.  Take a look, Mr. Mayor, at TripAdvisor.com (from home or office, wifi services for those out and about are such a bureaucratic nightmare, no one uses them), and you’ll be inundated with people who say, ‘Never Again.’

Have a seat in Piazza Navona and ponder this, Mr. Mayor, over a bowl of gelato for two.  If it weren't for your citizens paying your bills, that luxury would run you close to $30 – you are practically renting the table, as if the proprietors, after centuries, still have to make good on the bill to Bernini for the gorgeous fountain nearby.

Rome still manages to keep tourism alive, despite the worst financial crisis since WWII.  But, instead of prizing your tourists, better to punish them; the ones who provide so many with their livelihoods. Keep going down this track, you’ll not only lose the little income the honest proprietors pay in taxes, you also won’t find any tourists to tax either.  You'd think the lesson of the backlash with the Japanese tourists overcharged for their meals would have been learned.  Obviously not.
But when the tourists stop flowing in because of this cowardly and cynical manoeuvre, let’s see what your voters then have to say about it. 

From the moment they arrive to the moment they leave, the Tourist Tax is in play – just as it has been for a very long time. 


Note from Aug 2012:  Sadly, nearly every city in Italy, large or small has now followed suit - levying the traffic fines as well on cars in their city centers.  In any case, I have updated this post to take into consideration all the price rises over the last two years:
20% airport taxis, 16% train fares, 50% rise on bus fares and a 1% VAT Tax raise a gift from the Monti govt.

18 comments:

Dave514 said...

Hey Francesca! Why don't you tells us how you really feel...LOL!

So if you want to avoid most of the aforementioned crap, email me and I'll put you in touch with my driver Massimo. I also have a guide whose a Ph.d. of art history, Annalivia. You can get a package deal.

Francesca Maggi said...

Sono 'fuori della grazie di dio..." as they say in the old country. Don't get me wrong - I don't have a problem with tourist taxes -- as long as their commensurate to services and tourists are not being raped elsewhere along the line.

Alemanno is going after the easy prey rather than cracking down on the zillions that evaders don't put into his grubby hands...

Fabio said...

La cosa migliore in questi casi è affidarsi a Internet e diffondere la verità il più possibile.
Per quanto mi riguarda ho diffuso tramite blog & FB sia la tua versione inglese che quella tradotta in italiano.

Dave514 said...

My Dear Fabio:
My Italian is poor. So please when communicating do it in both languages as not doing so it might be considered as an insult to some.

But i get the drift of your message any way.

Ggnitaly84 said...

Francesca, I couldn't agree with you more! I absolutly love Rome but pretty much every step of the tourist way is getting ripped off is some way, I speak almost perfect italian and I had an incident with a taxi driver trying to charge me 35 euros for a 12 euro taxi ride and I threatened to call the carabinieri, but the 9 euros cappucinos, hotel star ratings ( a joke ) .. it takes away from the beauty that is Rome.. they really should start from "within" before asking for a "tourist tax" ..

Guido Costantini said...

Not like I'm in favor of the tourist tax (not to mention, the airport tax), but you fail to notice one thing to be fasir: they can raise how many fines they want on tourists, no one will ever actually pursue the collection of it. Sending them out of teh country will already take more than the 60 days of notification allowed by law. Having them officially notified in the way required by italian law is impossible, nullifying the fine. Even if, collecting the credit abroad is 10 times more expesive than the fine itself and antieconomic. And before people cheer on, that applies to littering fines (and yes, tourists contribute their fair share to teh problem), unpaid bus tickets, damages to the monuments, breaking the peace charges in the mid of the night and so on.

Which is why they came up with the tourist tax which is levied by the hotels on arrival.ì and transferred to the city which has, thanks to 20 years of rule from center left mayors, 9.5 billion euros debts 814 billion dollars).

Again, i'm not in favor of that tax, but the alternatives are few and more socially heavy so...

That ripping off tourists seem to be a local sport and, i agree, is shameful.

Francesca Maggi said...

@Fabio/Grazie!

@Guido - you're right, but often the fines are picked up by your car rental company & you're charged automatically.

I am not against a tourist tax - But like GGnItaly states, I think they should try collecting their fair share of the taxes already floating around in the billions by their local residents first.
It's a disgrace to charge the 'rich ones' in hotels to pay for the backpackers, etc. you speak of.

The internet is full of complaints about how expensive it is to visit Italy anymore. I have a very good friend in Florence, and in 2 yrs. have seen her twice - just because a 2nd class round trip tkt is over $100. Where is MEGABUS when you need them???!!

Right when they've lost manufacturing to China, airtravel to RyanAir & EasyJet, they are going to lose tourists to Croatia & other places. So they only want to attract Tom Cruise during the Festival del Cinema?
Terrible.

Dave514 said...

Ggnitaly:
Hi, I'm all the things you're not, but unlike you, I don't own a shortgun...LOL but I do own a number of pistols. You see, I live in the proud state of Arizona,I have a few more years on you though....Tee hee!

Hotel Star ratings are fine if you understand their true meaning. By and large, a three/four star rating is about OK. Five star is just too bloody expensive even now with the Euro declining.

If you'd like i'll send you my DVD on Firenze. check with Francesca for its rating.

David

Barbara Snow said...

Francesca,
What an informative post. As a huge fan of Italy, am planning a trip this fall and couldn't agree with you more about the ripoff taxi drivers, and the obvious overpricing of everything for tourists. Still, it won't stop me from coming - I'm just getting more savvy about how to survive the excesses. This post gave me a little more info to keep in mind. Thanks.
Barb in Minnesota

Francesca Maggi said...

@Barbara -- please don't let my fumings put you off! Obviously, I love Rome and many things Italian or I wouldn't have stayed these 18 years!!! Rome is wonderful. Services leave something to be desired.

Please check out my Carpe Diem / Caveat Emptor sections on the left hand side for some of my favorite activities and things to avoid as well!

And...don't forget to stamp your bus/train tickets! ;)

Francesca Maggi said...

For anyone who wants to hear what the Italians have to say about my lettera-lamentela (in Italian, but I suppose you can google translate it)...

Go here:

http://www.ilmessaggero.it/articolo.php?id=103883&sez=DILLOALMESSAGGERO

Anonymous said...

Wow! Tell us how you really feel!
You've got some opinions, girlfriend! LOL!
But all true....sadly...

carolinrome said...

They need to figure out a way to illiminate the middleman, and the country would be well on its way toward success...

iadgt said...

Rome needs to STIMULATE Tourism - not TAX it!!!

mmtmrb said...

too much! - but, all true.

Anonymous said...

Sei un genio! Bravissima.

Anonymous said...

Bravo!!!!!

After Avis billed me. $50 last year for parking violations, now one year later Roma billed me 95E for violating the restricted driving area!

Ouch.

Great post, thank you.

Francesca Maggi said...

July 31st Update: The law was passed. And while they reduced from €10/day to €5/day the fee for those staying in luxury hotels, they managed to increase the ticket prices at all the City-owned museums and the Colosseum&Forum to boot.

Once again practicing 'gotcha' capitalism...grab 'em while you got 'em instead of coddling their customers.