A remote Italian village has told how it has been overwhelmed by requests after it offered free holiday homes.
Earlier this year, officials in San Giovanni said they were opening applications to stay for seven nights for free in some of the village’s empty houses.
It was a pretty attractive prospect – with accommodation covered, holidaymakers could save their cash for the region’s restaurants and bars.
Located just two hours from Rome, the rural village is just 40 miles from the coast.
After launching the initiative in June, the village has now received over 8,000 applicants, spanning the globe from the United States to China.
Frustrated globetrotters and bargain hunters have both been attracted by the opportunity to stay in the Mediaeval southern village as travel restrictions are relaxed.
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Stefano Trotta, head of the local cultural association behind the campaign, said: “We did not expect such a response,
“We had about 70 requests from Kazakhstan, some from remote Russian towns … from all over the world really”.
Those hoping to stay were asked to fill out a form explaining why they’d like to discover Molise, with three village houses set aside this summer for guests.
San Giovanni’s small size means it is only able to accept 12 visitors each week – so some hopeful holidaymakers have been directed to nearby villages.
The rural village has suffered with a fast-shrinking population, dropping from a few thousand to some 500 in a few decades.
Many locals have left to seek opportunities elsewhere, said Trotta.
But he said the viral campaign has now put the village firmly on the world’s travel maps.
The association behind the scheme say they hope that some young people will stay in the village if tourism booms, while older residents might return.
Now there are talks underway to extend the initiative to other hamlets.
“The idea is to bring people to live here,” Trotta said, noting that some of the new tourists had already bought homes in town.
Other regions of Italy are battling the same population drain, with many offering incentives to tourists in a bid to combat the economic decline from the pandemic.
San Mauro La Bruca, a village of less than 600 people overlooking the sea in the neighbouring Campania region, has offered tourists rooms for €2 (£1.80) a night.
And just 20 minutes from San Guivanni, officials in Petrella Tifernina are offering incentive to home owners if they host tourists for free.
The scheme has attracted about 1,000 requests from prospective visitors in just weeks, according to its mayor.
“The aim is to revive Petrella and be a stimulus for other nearby villages,” Mayor Alessandro Amoroso said.
The effects of the pandemic has prompted a huge demand for holidays in remote villages rather than busy cities.
“People don’t want to go to far, and many are choosing often overlooked nearby destinations,” he added.
The tourism-dependent economy in Italy has been hit hard by the pandemic, with the number of visitors set to drop by 44pc this year.