Venice: The end of ‘hit-and-run’ tourism?

What will holidays of the future look like in Venice? Two months after Venice banned cruise ships from entering the lagoon, city authorities are seeking to radically change the way people are welcomed to the city. By offering new routes of access into the city, the Municipal Administration is looking to put an end to the ‘hit-and-run tourism’ model it had before the pandemic.

The plan is not to simply limit entry into the city and improve controls, as was originally announced by the Municipal Administration back in 2019, but to implement a wide range of new measures. These measures will include using electronic gates, booking apps and excess charges to be paid by non-residents when visiting Venice. This highly anticipated system of quotas aims to turn Venice into a world capital of sustainability.

The Venice Municipality plans to implement the measures with full effect by the end of Summer 2022, by which time access to the heart of the city will only be possible by navigating a sequence of turnstiles. While presenting the new measures during an event last summer, the Mayor of Venice Luigi Brugnaro explained that by using an app-based system, citizens will have full and permanent access to the city, while visitors will only be granted access for the duration of their stay. Tourists will also be required to pay an access contribution called a “landing tax” of between 3 and 8 euros. The hope is that this financial disincentive will prevent overcrowding in the centre of Venice. Residents and commuters entering the city will be exempt from this tax.

A pilot of the system had already been tested prior to the pandemic but its implementation was delayed because of the lockdown restrictions imposed by the Italian government. However, data from this year’s summer season suggests tourists are keen to return to Venice. Daily visits to the city peaked at around 85,000 tourists at the start of August 2021, bringing the need for these new measures back into focus.

In September 2021, the new measures were put to the test at one of the city’s access points on Tronchetto Island, which is also home to Venice’s Smart Control Room. This is the city’s main control tower where officials already process real time data relating to pedestrian movements and road traffic from over 500 cameras and sensors scattered around the city. The data that will be obtained from the new booking app and the turnstiles will add to the existing data that city officials are already collecting, and will help predict the movements of crowds, monitor individual people and control access to the city.

The announcement of the new measures has been met with a degree of skepticism from foreign visitors. Mayor Brugnaro told foreign reporters in September 2021 "I expect protests, lawsuits, everything...but I have a duty to make this city livable for those who inhabit it and also for those who want to visit". Venetians on the other hand, welcome the prospect of a cleaner more sustainable and less crowded city.

Investors in Venice’s hotel industry have a more nuanced view, but as a whole see the new measures in a positive light. Giovanni Forni, Senior Vice President at Cedar Capital, explained that: "Although we do not currently own any hotels in Venice, as an investor in the city I think the steps are very positive, as they will help protect the long-term future of Venice’s incredible heritage and hopefully make tourism more sustainable. Obviously, the situation is nuanced; an owner of a budget hotel in Mestre, at the gates of Venice, might not like the new measures as affordability is key to its business. But an owner of a luxury hotel on San Marco will likely be pleased about the number of day-tourists to the city being limited”.

This initiative forms part of a larger project led by the Foundation "Venice, the world capital of sustainability" which was inaugurated on the day of the Climate Conference at the latest G20 summit held in Riyadh. The project will cost between 2.5 and 4 billion euros and will be funded by a combination of public and private money.

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