Campania is hot, hot, hot. Tourist numbers are soaring as more people get clued in to the region's historic riches, natural beauty and lower southern prices. At the heart of the boom is Naples, a cultural powerhouse determined to shake off its exaggerated reputation for petty theft and garbage-strewn streets with reinvigorated museums, festivals and tourist-swarmed squares. Yet, while change here is both palpable and promising, Campania continues to struggle with its demons, from crippling unemployment to pernicious corruption.
Holiday Hot Spot
Between 2010 and 2017, visitors to Naples increased by over 90%, the second-highest leap in Italy after Matera, the European Capital of Culture in 2019. An expansion of low-cost flights into the city by easyJet and Ryanair have helped to boost arrivals at its international airport from 6.7 million in 2016 to 8.5 million in 2017. The phenomenal success of Elena Ferrante’s quartet of Neapolitan Novels has also played its part, sparking intense, positive media interest and inspiring Ferrante-themed tours of the southern metropolis. Campania’s coastal hotspots – among them Capri and the Amalfi Coast – are also witnessing a surge in visitor numbers. As geopolitical instability plagues traditional Mediterranean competitors like Turkey and Egypt, more holidaymakers are seeking their sun, sea and history elsewhere, including the land the Romans called 'Campania Felix'.
The growing buzz in Campania extends to its culinary scene. While tradition may still be the linchpin here, a new generation of food, booze and coffee masters are shaking things up. One maverick Neapolitan has launched the city’s first speciality-coffee shop, a brave move given the locals’ staunch loyalty to heavily roasted, old-school espresso. Across in Pompeii, a third-generation coffee roaster has also broken with tradition, opening the region’s first speciality micro-roastery. Across Campania, ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ ingredients from smaller, artisanal producers are becoming increasingly showcased and valued, while the growing popularity of food-themed travel has seen a boom in cooking courses for visitors. Some are even run in top-notch restaurants. It seems that Campania is finally realising the true potential of its enviable larder and culinary sass.
Jobless in Campania
Tourism may be on the upswing, but so too is Campania’s unemployment rate. According to the European Union’s official statistical body, Eurostat, unemployment in the region rose from 20.4% in 2015 to 20.9% in 2017. Meanwhile, figures released by Italy’s own statistical bureau, ISTAT, put unemployment in Naples itself at 30.5% in 2017, up from 26.6% in 2016. Campania is one of four regions in Italy with an unemployment rate at least double that of the EU average. Even more disconcerting is the number of unemployed youth aged 15 to 24. In 2017, that figure was 54.7%, up from 49.9% the previous year. The figure sees Campania at number seven on the list of European regions with the highest level of youth unemployment. Although the region’s economy stopped shrinking in 2014, long-term stagnation and high unemployment rates have driven thousands of young Campanians out of the region in search of opportunities in Italy’s north or abroad. Adding to the problem is a rapidly ageing population. According to a recent study commissioned by Italy’s National Council of Architects, Planners, Landscapers and Conservationists, Campania’s current population of 5.8 million is set to shrink by half a million by the mid 2030s.
While collusion between corrupt politicians, business figures and Campania's homegrown Mafia, the Camorra, is nothing new, Fanpage.it made headlines in 2018 by capturing it on tape. In a seven-part video investigation titled Bloody Money, the Neapolitan news website went undercover with the help of an ex-Mafia boss to expose the tangled web of bribes and kickbacks deployed by the Mafia to further its business interests, among them waste disposal. Over the past decades, the Camorra has dumped an unknown quantity of toxic waste in parts of Italy, including in the so-called Triangle of Death, a corner of the Naples hinterland with abnormally high cancer rates. Among those caught up in the investigation were Ercolano politician Mario 'Rory' Olivero and Salerno councillor Roberto De Luca, both of whom stood down from their positions soon after the program's release. The alleged involvement of De Luca drew particular attention given that his father, Vincenzo De Luca, is the president of the Campania region.