Will tourism sink Venice?

La Serenis­sima’s prob­lems in­clude ris­ing wa­ters, an­gry res­i­dents and a po­ten­tial black mark from Unesco

The Guardian Weekly - - Contents - By An­gela Gi­uf­frida AN­GELA GI­UF­FRIDA IS THE GUARDIAN’S ROME COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Venice’s Santa Lu­cia rail­way sta­tion is packed as vis­i­tors head for the wa­ter-bus stops. Ciro Es­pos­ito and his girl­friend have just ar­rived and are unim­pressed with the pro­posed min­i­mum en­try fee of €2.50 ($2.85), ris­ing to be­tween €5 and €10 in peak pe­ri­ods.

“They are us­ing peo­ple like a bank ma­chine,” says Es­pos­ito. “We are in Europe and can travel freely across bor­ders, yet we have to pay to en­ter one of our own cities.”

To man­age the im­pact of 30 mil­lion an­nual vis­i­tors, daytrip­pers who come, take pic­tures and leave are to be forced to pay, although it is un­clear when the tax will be in­tro­duced or how it could be en­forced.

Venice may have a cen­turies-long his­tory of tourism, but it is strug­gling with the near-con­stant hordes who trudge around its pre­cious sites, through its 11th-cen­tury basil­ica, over its fa­mous Rialto bridge and along its maze of wind­ing calle . The in­flux is a bless­ing for the local coun­cil’s cof­fers but a scourge on the city’s frag­ile mon­u­ments and en­vi­ron­ment.

Luigi Brug­naro, the Venice mayor who reg­u­larly lashes out at un­couth tourists, is un­der pres­sure to act. Not only does he face local elec­tions next year but Unesco will de­cide in July whether to put the city – bat­tered by fre­quent flood­ing – along­side Amer­ica’s Ever­glades Na­tional Park and the rain­forests of Mada­gas­car on its list of the world’s en­dan­gered her­itage sites.

For many Ital­ians, the charge is not the an­swer. Even those who wel­come it are scep­ti­cal that it will make a real dif­fer­ence. The en­trance fee will not ap­ply to those who have booked ho­tel rooms, and vis­i­tors al­ready pay a tourist tax of up to €6 a night.

There have been sug­ges­tions that the charge could be added to the cost of ar­riv­ing in the city by train, bus or cruise ship. But dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween res­i­dents and vis­i­tors will be chal­leng­ing.

Vene­tians have held sev­eral protests in re­cent years against a tourism in­dus­try that they ar­gue has eroded their qual­ity of life, dam­aged the en­vi­ron­ment and driven res­i­dents away. On some days the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion of 55,000 (down from about 175,000 in the post-sec­ond-world-war years) is dwarfed by the num­ber of tourists.

“The charge is like ad­ding in­sult to in­jury,” said Marco Gas­parinetti, who leads the Gruppo 25 Aprile ac­tivist group. “Af­ter forc­ing thou­sands of peo­ple to leave the city, you now force them to pay to visit their fam­i­lies? The tax would make sense if it was a way to off­set the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the cruise ships, as other than for cruise pas­sen­gers, it’s very dif­fi­cult to ap­ply.”

In a move to al­lay en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, Brug­naro tried to in­di­cate to Unesco in late 2017 that he was get­ting tough on the cruise ships that dis­em­bark thou­sands of pas­sen­gers in the heart of the city. They would no longer be able to sail past St Mark’s Square, he an­nounced, and would in­stead take a less glam­orous route via the in­dus­trial area of Marghera.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have claimed that waves from the cruise ships have eroded the sup­ports of his­toric build­ings and pol­luted the wa­ters. But the plan is yet to be ap­proved by the na­tional gov­ern­ment. If and when that ap­proval comes, work on the new route, which re­quires the dredg­ing of canals and con­struc­tion of a new port, would take an es­ti­mated four years. And while di­vert­ing the ships would bet­ter pre­serve the his­toric cen­tre, the move will do lit­tle to ad­dress con­cerns about pol­lu­tion.


High tide in the flooded St Mark’s Square in 2018

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