Magnificent palaces overlooking the water, gondolas bobbing on winding canals, museums bursting with world-famous art: The northern Italian city of Venice is unique, a dream destination for millions of tourists every year.
But there’s also trouble in La Serenissima – “the most serene” – as the former ancient Venetian republic was once known. The 50,000 residents of the island city are done with the noise and mess caused by tourism and want regulations to curb the visiting hordes.
“The occupancy limit has been talked about for 20 years,” said local politician Marco Gasparinetti, explaining that people were scared of crowd crushes, such as the one in Seoul, South Korea last October or in Turin, Italy in 2017. “I am sure that tourism providers and the tourists above all will understand that a finite space cannot accommodate infinite crowds.”
The proposed solution was to charge an admission fee. Last summer, the municipality presented its plan for the Contributo di Accesso, or access fee. The proposal was not new, with similar ideas having been suggested back in 2019.
Starting in mid-January, holidaymakers were supposed to start booking their visit to Venice online and paying a fee on a sliding scale of €3 (RM14.40) to €10 (RM48) per person, depending on how busy the city currently was. The measure was not enforced, however, as the city council’s final approval was delayed. The start of the scheme was postponed for at least six months. Venice remains free to visit for the time being.
The city blamed the delays on logistics, saying that an online survey for local citizens to fill out was missing. But Gasparinetti thinks the entry fee will simply never come about: “The way the ordinance is written, it is not applicable, and in fact we are already on the fifth postponement,” he said.
And despite local grumbles about the incessant inflow of people, the move to regulate them with a fee is still controversial among Venetians.
When tourists talk about Venice, they mean the lagoon’s island with the historic old town, including the famous St Mark’s Square, the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal, as well as several smaller islands.
This is the bit the city wants to help decongest with an entrance fee, and this does not apply to the part on the mainland.
The rationale is that tickets would enable the authorities to better estimate how many people will come to the city and to adjust public transport accordingly. The city promised itself €6mil (RM28.8mil) in revenue for 2023 with the admission fees, and estimated up to €13mil (RM62.41mil) in the years after that, according to budget analyst Michele Zuin.
Venice wants to use the money to reduce garbage collection charges for residents and to finance the implementation of the entry fee. At the railway station – a main access point – there wouldn’t be turnstiles like in a football stadium, as some had feared, but police would carry out spot checks to make sure the fee is being adhered to.
Day trippers and the unpopular cruise ship passengers would pay the highest fee, while visitors who book a hotel in Venice are set to get the scan code for city access free with their booking.
Residents and those studying and working in the city are exempt.
Anyone who invites someone to their home as a guest will be able to request the code in advance, which critics slammed as a violation of data protection and privacy.
Some Venetians think the crowds of visitors should be tamed differently. An entry fee turns Venice into a “theme park”, says Matteo Secchi, who runs a website about the city. He feels that the main problem is the day tourists who clog up the streets and spend hardly any money in the city.
He believes this could be remedied with an extra tax on products sold in Venice. If you buy, say, a bottle of water, you pay more, but the money goes to the city.
The high level of tourists in Venice means there are already many bans in Venice. Rules include not being allowed to walk around in swimwear or topless, or sit on the ground to eat or drink. Fines of up to €500 (RM2,400) are possible for some offences. Secchi fears that an admission fee would not make tourists behave better as they would have paid and would feel entitled to do as they like.
Some argue that deriving profits from regulations just creates problems.
The politician Gasparinetti is in favour of setting a capacity limit “for reasons of public order and to protect the integrity of the people” especially on bank holiday weekends, when huge crowds descend on Venice. People should reserve their visit then, he agrees, but free of charge. – By JOHANNES NEUDECKER/dpa