Via Francigena

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The Via Francigena 2022 in numbers

The European Association of the Via Francigena ways (EAVF) sums up the numbers and results of year 2022 by analysing data from 3,985 respondents who filled in the survey at the time of purchasing their credentials.

In 2022, pilgrims returned in large numbers to the Via Francigena, showing strong signs of a recovery in the international attendance of the route. Despite Covid-19 restrictions, slow outdoor tourism showed a remarkable growth.

The 3,200 km of the Via Francigena, passing through more than 700 municipalities, and for 80% through rural areas, were covered by wayfarers from all over the world, with overall figures close to 2019’s trends.

As every year, the EAVF analysed the numbers obtained from the credentials distributed by the association. The emerging data builds for indicative estimates, not as absolute numbers. The following considerations should also be made: today, there is no official observatory that detects the flow of walkers on the Via Francigena; statistically, 30% of pilgrims use the same credential over several years; 20% of ramblers do not use the credential at all; other credentials besides EAVF’s are also in circulation.

CREDENTIALS IN 2022: LET’S HAVE A LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

In line with global trends, there were more walkers on the route last year than in 2021, a year marked by the success of the ‘Road to Rome’ relay march on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the EAVF. Around 50,000 pilgrims walked the Via Francigena in 2022 (compared to an estimated 40,000 in 2021) with an average stay along the route of seven days. This is what emerges from the overview of key indicators. In the following analysis, data from 3,985 respondents who filled in the survey at the time of receiving credentials were considered.

The amount of EAVF credentials’ distribution points throughout Europe increased from 95 in 2021 to 115 in 2022. According to data from the distribution points, around 17,500 credentials were distributed to pilgrims in 2022.

TRAVELLERS’ PROFILE
Mode of travel

Data shows that most pilgrims choose to walk the route (87%), while others prefer to travel by bicycle (13%).

Age groups

Most pilgrims are between the ages of 25-34 and 55-64, making up for 22% and 21% of the total sample respectively. The consolidation and increase of a young audience on the Via Francigena is a significant and relevant indicator.

Following are the 45-54 (19%) and 35-44 (15%) age groups. Together, these four age groups remain the most active pilgrims compared to 2021 levels. The number of walkers under 24 years is 10%, while those over 65 make up for 11%.

Gender

The percentage of female and male hikers remains stable compared to 2021 and is 44% and 56% respectively.

Nationality

In 2022, the Via Francigena again attracted pilgrims from all over the world, with well over 40 countries represented. Travellers from Italy remain the largest group, even if their share drops to 70%, while the international presence on the route increases, partly due to the easing of travel restrictions caused by the outbreak of the pandemic. The top five nationalities found among credential holders are Italy, France, United States, Spain and United Kingdom, followed by Netherlands, Germany, Canada and Australia. It is important to reveal interest in the Via Francigena outside Europe as well: during the last year, pilgrims from Philippines, India, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Japan and New Zealand were also welcomed along the Via Francigena.

Departure period

In 2022, pilgrims still choose to set off mainly in the summer period, even though the attendance of the route is now to be spread over all twelve months of the year: August has become the most popular departure period (17%), followed by July (15%) and June (14%). High numbers are also recorded for May (14%), April (13%) and September (12%).

Starting points

Lucca, Gambassi Terme, Ivrea, San Miniato and Siena are the most popular departure points. Tuscany confirms itself as the most frequented land by ramblers considering the entire European route. For those who set out on the road for many days, the most popular starting points were Canterbury (England), Calais, Besançon (France), Lausanne, the Great St. Bernard Pass (Switzerland) or Aosta (Italy).

Motivation to travel

Sharing experience (42%) and spiritual reasons (41%) are cited most frequently as motivations for the pilgrimage, followed by the cultural and tourist appeal of the visited locations, chosen by 36% and 35% of the sample respectively. The least frequent motivations are environmental (26%), sports/physical (24%), religious (13%) and wine and food tourism (12%).

Alone or in company?

In 2022, most pilgrims still choose to travel in a group of 3 or more (54%), 31% prefer to walk with a partner and 15% alone.

VIA FRANCIGENA: WEBSITE AND APP ACTIVITY

The website statistics highlight the growing interest in the itinerary: in 2022, the website attracted around 700,000 users and recorded almost 4 million page views, with an average visitor presence on the site of 3′ 54″.

As for the App, this tool proved to be very popular with pilgrims, who downloaded it 15,113 times (main months: April 1,886, August 1,825, May 1,802). Top 5 origin of users: Italy (7,779), United States (1,185), United Kingdom (881), France (872), Switzerland (670). The App is produced by the EAVF and is free of charge for all pilgrims.

THE NEW VIA FRANCIGENA COMMUNITY

One of the initiatives that was launched by the EAVF after Road to Rome 2021 was the development of a new Facebook community dedicated to the Via Francigena. The page registered 8,046 followers last year, reporting remarkable numbers: 2,235 contents published, 9,011 comments, 39,757 reactions. The languages used by the public are three: English, French, Italian.

Click here to compare the statistics of the last years of the Via Francigena

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The Via generates economy: statistics at the Stati Generali del Turismo

On Friday 28 and Saturday 29 October, the Italian ‘General States of Tourism’ meeting was held in Chianciano Terme (SI). This was the first national planning conference organised by the Italian Ministry of Tourism and promoted with the intention of arriving at the elaboration of the Strategic Plan for Tourism 2023-2027, through analysing the statistics, listening to and working together with all the operators in the sector, and increasing the quality and quantity of the national tourist offer.

Among the many strategic themes presented on which to focus to increase the country’s competitiveness in the global tourism scenario, sustainable and responsible tourism was also discussed. Analysing the statistics, the Director of the AEVF Luca Bruschi showed how the travel experience of walking must be considered a competitive asset within the Italian tourism offer. Here are therefore some of the numbers analysed during the meeting.

The numerical trends of tourism linked to the Via Francigena

The number of pilgrims on the Via Francigena is constantly increasing, and they currently arrive on the trail from 70 countries around the world (from Europe, mainly Italy, France, Germany, Holland, the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavian countries; and from outside Europe, mainly the United States, Canada and Australia). 8 out of 10 pilgrims will return to the Via Francigena as tourists to deepen their knowledge of the places and with a longer stay. The economy around the Via Francigena is already worth 25 million euro today and generates enormous cultural wealth for the villages crossed.

Through the AEVF credential distribution, the estimate of pilgrims who walked for at least one week in 2019 was around 50,000. During 2021, given the restrictions due to Covid-19, the estimated pilgrims were around 40,000.

Click here to see all the data for 2021

Identikit of the Francigena pilgrim

Statistics reveal that the pilgrim who walks along the Francigena route stays in the area for an average of 8-10 days and has a daily spending capacity of 50/60€ for those who walk long distances, while it increases significantly for those who move at the weekend or within the week. 80% travel on foot, 20% by bicycle. There is a slight predominance of women. Age ranges from 16 to over 80 years. AEVF estimated that 500,000 walkers and pilgrims have travelled the route for at least a week in the last decade (’12-’21). The period? People walk all year round, but mostly in spring and autumn: this means that this is qualified tourism in the period of deseasonalisation.

The motivations that drive modern pilgrims to undertake the long itinerary that leads to Rome and continues to the ports of Apulia are manifold and reflect the varied needs of contemporary society: for some, an albeit significant minority, the journey is a religious experience; others are driven by spiritual, cultural, landscape, gastronomic and sporting motivations, motivations strongly associated with the principle of slow mobility that contrasts with the frenzy that characterises modern life.

The IRPET data

According to a recent IRPET (Istituto Regionale per la Programmazione Economica Toscana – Regional Institute for Economic Planning of Tuscany) study, in the ten-year period 2010-2019, against an average regional increase in overnight stays of 23%, in the 28 municipalities along the route there were increases in the tourist sector of 49%, while in the municipalities within a radius of 5 km from the itinerary there were increases of 43%. These statistics prove that there is a competitiveness differential generated by the presence of the route in an area.

The Via Francigena as a promoter of slow tourism in Europe

It is important to continue to promote the tourist offer on the Via Francigena by strengthening the system of reception, route, maintenance and promotion. At the same time, we must enrich the network of partners with targeted collaborations designed for pilgrims’ flow. Among the latest partnerships activated by the Association is a special discount dedicated to those with a credential so that they can travel along the itinerary at a discounted price on one of Flixbus buses: an agreement emerged from analyses of pilgrims, who can now easily move between over 40 stages of the itinerary or return home at the end of their journey enjoying a 10% discount, with the possibility of transporting their bicycle. A best practice which could be extended to all 4 countries crossed by the trail, thus promoting the itinerary as a national ‘flagship product‘.

We must also keep in mind the two upcoming goals that will give even more visibility to the route: the candidature of the Via Francigena as a UNESCO heritage site and the Jubilee of 2025, for which we hope to see at least 100,000 pilgrims arriving on foot and by bicycle in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

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The Via Francigena in 2021 set off again: here are the numbers

The European Association of Via Francigena ways (EAVF) analysed a sample of 1430 credentials distributed during 2021 to provide some important statistical data.

There is a renewed desire for the Via Francigena and for walking trips, but especially for starting to travel again. This was one of the motors behind the organisation of the relay march “Road to Rome” by EAVF in 2021, indicating the relaunch after Covid-19 and promoting the Via Francigena on an international level. A European event built to celebrate EAVF’s 20th anniversary.

With these premises, an analysis of credentials distributed by EAVF in 2021 was undertaken.

The result is a set of estimates, which are not exhaustive but can stimulate reflection on the potentialities of the Via Francigena: together with the other routes, the Via represents an ideal example for post-pandemic tourism. The itinerary, in 2019, had registered about 50 thousand pilgrims walking for at least one week along sections of its trail. During 2021, estimated pilgrims were around 40.000.

CREDENTIALS

The number of distribution locations of EAVF’s credentials across Europe increased from 84 in 2020 to 95 in 2021 (+13,10%).

The internal analysis is based on a sample of 1430 EAVF credentials distributed in 2021 between Canterbury and Rome mostly from May to September. The main distribution points are concentrated in the northern Italian section of the Via Francigena, i.e. Ivrea, Lucca, San Miniato, Piacenza, San Gimignano, Siena, Viterbo e Roma. There has also been a remarkable increase in distribution points along the route in Switzerland.

Regarding the use of credentials, some considerations can be useful: as a result of questionnaires undertaken by EAVF in 2019 and 2020, it seems that about 30% of pilgrims uses the same credential in multiple years, walking or cycling an average of 7-8 days per year along the Via, in different sections. 20% of walkers who do not sleep in pilgrim hospitality facilities, instead, declares that they do not buy the credential at all.

As for distribution numbers, many different entities, locally and nationally, lay or religious, currently distribute their own credentials.

There is no way to verify the total number of distributed credentials, and most of all it is hard to observe the number of pilgrims that arrived in Rome, as there is no observatory in the city that can measure these numbers quantitatively and qualitatively – which happens, instead, in Santiago de Compostela.

PROFILE OF TRAVELERS

Means of transport. Compared to 2019, the number of travellers by bike (20%) and by foot (80%) is stable.

Age group. Compared to 2019, the most significant and relevant datum is the increase in the number of young people traveling along the route: 5% are under 17 years old (2% in 2019), while 13% is among the age group 18-24. The highest rate is among the age group 45-54 (21%). The presence of young people on the route is a very important element witnessing the attractiveness of such an experiential and cultural journey for a new target, which has been mostly absent on the Via Francigena until now. Young travellers are mostly students traveling for their summer holidays, alone or in small groups, having a life experience and not only a holiday break.

Sex. The proportion between men and women is respectively 44% e 56%.

Nationality. Due to the pandemic, which limited international movements and encouraged proximity tourism, almost all pilgrims were European (98%). Within this numerous group, most pilgrims are Italian, French, Swiss and German.

Sections covered and destination. The most popular sections of the route are Italian, and are the regions of Lazio and Toscana, respectively chosen by 49,10% and 31,05% of total pilgrims. Following, in order of attendance, are: Piemonte, Puglia, Valle d’Aosta, Canton Valais, Liguria, Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna and Campania. The high presence of walkers in the southern section of the Via Francigena, especially in Puglia, is a very significant result which will increase in the coming years.

The main destinations chosen by pilgrims are Rome (42,73%) and Siena (15,72%) followed by Viterbo, Lucca e Ivrea. Usually, Rome is chosen as final destination by pilgrims who walk the Via for over three weeks, whereas the other locations are chosen by those who walk an average of few days to two weeks.

Departure period. In 2021, the favourite departure period was summer: June (14%), July (17%) and August (29%). High numbers are registered also in the months of May (10%) and September (14%).

Departure locations.  Siena, Lucca, Great Saint Bernard and the city of Aosta.

Journey motivations. The main motivations behind the journeys of pilgrims are the hospitality and sharing spirit, the spiritual dimension of pilgrimage, the tourism attractiveness of crossed places and the cultural dimension. Following are environment, sports, and religion.

Together or alone? Most pilgrims prefer to travel as a group (55%), 32% as a couple, and 13% departs alone.

In light of these numbers, which we specify being simple estimates and not scientific data, we can make some final considerations.

“Via Francigena – Road to Rome” effect. The relay march organised by EAVF between 15 June and 18 October 2021 certainly contributed to increasing the international popularity of the Via Francigena and deserves credit for involving 638 local communities along the route. From the estimates above it results that about 10,000 people in England, France, Switzerland and Italy met the Road to Rome group of walkers, while 3,500 walkers accompanied the group for one or more stages.

Social-economic impact of the Via Francigena. The Via Francigena today generates an estimated monetary flux of 20 million €, distributed in a differentiated way across the European route and proportionally to the attendance of pilgrims in that area. The average expense of a walker is 40/45 € per day, whereas that of a cycler is 60/65 € per day. On top of the total monetary value that falls on territories along the route (bars, restaurants, accommodation, services), we must add the expenses of pilgrims for technical equipment, clothing, transports to reach the points of departure and to return from their destination.

Finally, we must not underestimate the interaction of pilgrims, coming from different countries and regions, with local communities. With them, they sometimes create a proper cultural osmosis.

The IRPET study and the flux increase

Supporting the social-economic impact of the Via Francigena, Regione Toscana presented in August an update for the IRPET study on the flux of walkers and tourists along the Via and in bordering areas. To summarise it, the net effect of restoration in terms of overall additional presences is 613 thousand additional presences in the decade 2009-2019, including all 37 municipalities in Toscana (10 of which are already large tourism destinations).

Arrivals, presences and the number of facility structures increase as one comes closer to the route: e.g. within 10 km the percentage variation is respectively 62%, 35% and 40%, while it drops to 30%, 12% and 30% between 10 and 20 km of distance from the route. The final version of the IRPET study will be presented in early 2022 by the Tuscany Region.

For further information on the IRPET study click here

These important numbers demonstrate unmistakably that investment in infrastructure and promotion of the Via Francigena can generate social-cultural-economic development among crossed territories. The post-Covid pandemic period that we are still experiencing shows that experiential tourism related to the Via can easily keep growing. This growth will increase at the increasing of investments in pilgrims’ hospitality structures, in safety and maintenance of the trail, and in signposting.

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Via Francigena: 2019 statistical analysis of the path

A snapshot of the Via Francigena development in 2019 through a sample analysis of 2,000 EAVF pilgrim passports and rest stops. This non-exhaustive estimate provides a useful base for understanding of the route tourism trends and economic potential, hiker’s profile, travel motivations and needs. The full version of the document can be consulted and downloaded here.

2019 Via Francigena highlights:

  • The Via Francigena becomes increasingly international, hosting hikers come from over 60 countries. In Europe, Italian walkers dominate the route, followed by visitors from France, Germany and Switzerland;
  • Hikers from the United States of America and Canada are top visitors from the American continents. The Asian segment on the Via Francigena is dominated by China, South Korea and Japan;
  • 80% walkers travel on foot; 19.7%  – by bicycle, 0.3% – by horse;
  • Most popular departure points: Lucca, Siena, Fidenza and Pavia in Italy; Grand Saint Bernard Pass and Lausanne in Switzerland; Canterbury in England – zero kilometre of the path;
  • The Via Francigena embraces hikers of all age, ranging from 16 to 80 years old. The age group of 25-34 is ever growing;
  • Pilgrim’s profile: educated, passionate about culture and nature, curious, in search of experience, gastronomy amateur;
  • The Via Francigena favours territorial economic development;
  • 2019 walkers estimate is 50,000 along the entire route;
  • Website http://www.viefrancigene.org registered over 4 million page visits and 620,000 users;

Pilgrim Passport. Number of distribution points for the EAVF pilgrim passports has increased, thanks to collaboration of many tourism offices and local associations. It has grown from 52 to 74 distribution points along the entire route, including those in Canterbury in the UK, Paris in France, Orsières in Switzerland; Aosta, Milan and Viterbo in Italy. Along the southern section the new entries are Monte Sant’Angelo and Barletta. The distribution centres are important as they are the first contact points for pilgrims with the Via Francigena world.

Travellers’ Profile. Means of transport: 80% on foot, 19.7% by bicycle and 0.3% by horse. Hikers’ average age: 8% – 18-24 years old; 21% – 25-34 years old, 18% – 35-44 years old, 19% – 45-54 years old, 22% – 55-64 years old, 10% – over 65 years old, 2% – young people under 17. The ratio between men and women was registered as 52% men and 48% women.

Preferred Departure Months (in order of attendance): August (19%), September (16%), April (12%), October (12%). Cold months from December to January gathered over 10% of walkers.

Hikers who purchased the EAVF pilgrim passports were predominantly Italians (70%), followed by pilgrims from France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium. From American continents, tourists from the United States of America and Canada top up the list, followed by Brazil and Argentina. From the Asian segment an increase in pilgrims from China, South Korea, Japan, Australia has been significant. In total there are over 60 countries represented along the route, including Singapore, New Zealand and Taiwan.

Departure and Final Destination. Starting points of the Via Francigena in Italy are in order of attendance: the Grand Saint Bernard Pass – 17%, Lucca – 15%; Siena, Fidenza and Pavia – 6%. They are followed by Siena, Acquapendente, Viterbo. However, there are many other departure points in each of the four countries, well connected by means of transportation. In England, the symbolic departure point is Canterbury, kilometre zero of the route. In Switzerland, Lausanne is confirmed as the most popular start of the journey.

For 48% of travellers the final destination of the trip was the city of Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican. The other intermediate destinations are primarily those of Tuscany, such as Monteriggioni, Siena, Lucca, Pontremoli; as well as Ivrea in Piedmont or Viterbo in Lazio. In view of the development of the Via Francigena in the south, other destinations such as Monte Sant’Angelo, Bari, Brindisi, Santa Maria di Leuca in Apulia have potential to become journey’s terminus.

Motivations. Spiritual motivation dominates the reasons for travel, linked to soul searching and immaterial aspect of the journey experience. It is often combined with cultural tourism. Among other motivations there is a will to share and to live a shared experience, followed by nature, sport and religion.

Travel Duration and Budget. The time spent travelling along the Via Francigena is on average 7 days. The estimate of pilgrims, wayfarers and walkers of 2019 along the entire Canterbury-Rome axis is 50,000 persons. The average expense of those who travel on foot was 50 € per day, while bicyclists spent 60 € per day. Thereby economic benefits from the route can be estimated 20 million euros per 2019.

Future challenges. In more immediate future, the primarily challenge is a matter of understanding how the Via Francigena and all its hospitality, catering and service systems will be able to react to the ongoing COVID health emergency, based on the directives from local and national authorities.

In the upcoming future the Association is to focus the attention at the communication tools and promotional campaigns with on an international scale in cooperation with national governments and regions. The Via Francigena candidacy to the UNESCO World Heritage List is another priority of the association.

The attention should also be paid to pilgrims’ hospitality and religious hostels. The EAVF will be working to raise awareness and activate the Lazio region – the “Galicia” of the Via Francigena – to take a decisive role in the Via Francigena network of paths that arrive to Rome.

Improvement of permanent route maintenance system along the entire European route is one of the strategic actions to be undertaken together with the creation of a single observatory capable of collecting and analysing pilgrims’ data.

The full version of the analyses is attached.

Fidenza, 18 April 2020

Luca Bruschi
EAVF Director

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The European Pilgrimage Routes as economic driver. The impact of the Francigena in Tuscany. IRPET Study

Cultural and landscape heritage as economic driver, economic impact assessment of public policies. The Via Francigena case study in Tuscany.

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