Flooded by Tourists, Venice to Start Charging Access Fees

The pilot program to limit tourist access to the “Floating City” is voluntary—for now

One of Venice's waterways with buildings overlooking
Tourists flock to Venice for its architecture and waterways. Pedro Szekely via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0

Tourists flock to Venice for its historic architecture and beautiful waterways. But starting next year, they’ll pay for the privilege, Venice officials recently announced. The bridge-rich city—one of the world’s top tourist destinations—is instituting the charge as part of a pilot program designed to better manage its annual summer surge of travelers.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro announced the program—first approved by the Italian government in 2018—on Twitter. The fee is “ ... the right path to take for a more balanced management of tourism,” he wrote, per Google Translate. “We will be the first in the world [to take on] this difficult experiment.”

The first-of-its-kind attempt at crowd control will launch in June, and the official program will go live in January 2023, the Guardian’s Angela Giuffrida reports. The pilot program, voluntary for now, is aimed at helping the city better understand how to set entry fees. Tourists this summer will be encouraged to register their trip online to receive incentives like museum discounts.

Previous reports hinted that the city would charge between €3 and €10 (roughly $3 to $11), with costs changing based on demand and time of year. Though the city has long floated the idea of a fee, the pandemic delayed the decision.

As the New York Times’ Anna Momigliano reported in July 2020, Italy’s Covid-19 lockdown cost the city billions of dollars in tourist revenuses and put over 10,000 Venetians out of a job. Satellite photos taken by the European Space Agency during the lockdown showed a city nearly devoid of traffic.

But the lull was not to last. The lockdown created pent-up demand that flooded the water-bound city the moment tourism restrictions lifted. As Julia Buckley reports for CNN Travel, over 150,000 tourists visited Venice on Easter Sunday alone, dwarfing the city’s permanent population of 50,000 residents.

The city’s main travel official, CNN adds, said the pandemic “had made ... city authorities reflect” and that the new system will also be designed to discourage tourists from coming on the city’s busiest days.

A part of Venice with a large crowd
Venice has long struggled with overcrowding from tourism. At times there can be almost three times as many tourists as permanent residents. Hervé Simon via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0

There will be some exceptions to the fee that have yet to be officially announced, according to the Guardian, including for those coming to the city to visit family or attend a funeral. Tourists who stay overnight will be exempt, since they already pay a tourist tax. Residents of Veneto, the province of which Venice is capital, will also have to book their visits, but won’t have to pay.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the entry fee. When the possibility of the program was announced last year, lawyer Marco Gasparinetti told La Stampa’s Laura Berlinghieri, “This is the consecration of Venice as a theme park with access subject to the payment of a ticket,” per a translation by Forbes’ Laurie Werner. “It is humiliating for the city, for its residents and for visitors.”

Even pre-Covid, tourism had significant ill effects on the city. Per the New York Times, the medieval city’s narrow calli—some no wider than 6.5 feet—were simply not built to handle hordes of tourists, and demand for short-term accommodations has reduced housing for permanent residents.

Venice is also bearing some of the most drastic consequences of climate change. The city’s famous lagoon makes it susceptible to rising sea levels and storms, and in 2019, Venice experienced its worst flooding in 50 years, with high tides inundating a reported 85 percent of the city.

As NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reported at the time, many Venetians believe deep canals excavated in the 1960s for oil tanker passage played a role in the flooding; though a long-delayed flood gate system debuted in 2020, it has faced harsh criticism by scientists and cultural leaders who warn it’s already obsolete.

Venice isn’t the only city to reconsider tourism in the wake of early lockdowns: According to Bloomberg News’ Paul Tullis, cities like Amsterdam, Prague and Barcelona are all considering how to use the power of the purse to curb tourism. Potential solutions include minimum prices on plane tickets; higher property taxes on residences used as vacation rentals; and ads aimed at attracting better-behaved tourists.

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