Venice confronts its over-tourism

The city has a phenomenal tourism footprint, with over 36 million tourists moving through the city each year

The city has a phenomenal tourism footprint, with over 36 million tourists moving through the city each year

Venice is no stranger to reinventing itself with the whims of time and fortune, and fittingly in 2021 as the city celebrates its 1600th anniversary it is once again casting about for a new direction. Much has been made of how recent challenges have impacted the metropolis, constructed from 118 islands in the Venetian lagoon. There’s no two ways around it, Venice is having a difficult time at present. The global events of 2020 have impacted Venice much like everywhere else, what is different for the small city of 260,000 residents is that it has provided some breathing room to the famously overcrowded town to reflect on their beautiful home and to consider what comes next for the “Queen of the Adriatic”.

In recent years there have been two major topics occupying the evolving discourse in the north Italian center. The city has been beset by increasingly damaging flooding, with 2019’s flood being the worst the city has experienced since 1966. Modern climate science points to this becoming an increasingly frequent event as rising global temperatures continue to precipitate a sea level that disproportionately affects low lying coastal settlements like Venice, built as it is across 118 islands on the Venetian lagoon. Projects such as the MOSE (Experimental Electromechanical Module), a tidal defense system being constructed to protect the city of Venice and the Venetian lagoon from flooding are underway after years of development setbacks and issues. While this will no doubt go some way to positively impact the city’s battle with rising sea levels, many are questioning whether the huge public construction work is truly the best solution for Venice. Critics point to more successful applications of dykes and dams such as those seen in the equally low lying region of the Netherlands, which are both quicker and cheaper to construct than the €5.5 billion project that has overshot its deadline by 10 years and counting.

The other key factor that has been consistently on the minds of Venetians in recent years is the impact of over-tourism. The city has a phenomenal tourism footprint, with over 36 million tourists moving through the city each year due in no small part to the frequent cruise ships that stop off at the Adriatic city. The city receives over 500 annual visits by cruise ships, each carrying an average of 3400 tourists. This puts immense pressure on the city’s services, from sewage and recycling facilities to accommodation and transport. Before 2020, the city’s local population was a third smaller than in 1950 due to locals being priced out by short-term lets and AirBnBs. A recent study found that there are 74 tourists for each local civilian.

Much is being made of what the city can do to change this set of circumstances as it contributes to a diminished experience for all who live and visit the city. Identifying the various reasons visitors flock to Venice can yield valuable insight into what city-planners can do to streamline the impact of tourism. Aside from the city’s nightlife and cultural draws, many come to play at one of Venice’s gaming establishments such as the world’s oldest casino, the Casinò di Venezia. Increasingly, professionals who would previously seek out these gaming experiences in-person are looking to modern paradigms, with the online casino sector now accounting globally for $50 billion a year in gaming revenue. Ease of access and modern incentives such as welcome bonuses and promotions on games such as roulette and online slots accessible from any smart device are paving the way for a decrease in the demand for physical gaming which will positively impact Venice’s desire to decrease footfall in the city.

Other events and attractions, such as the famous Venice Carnival are always likely to be a major tourist draw however. Despite some voices advocating for an end to the tourism industry in Venice altogether most recognize the necessity for striking a middle way between the two courses, tourism being by far the main source of revenue for the city. One area the local council are looking to is the prospect of limiting the number of AirBnBs, hotels and short term lets permitted in the city, in order to drive down property prices for locals and limit the number of tourists able to stay in the city center. This is in alignment with a trend in the local property market necessitated by 2020. The feeling is that for all the hardships and unique challenges the previous year has posed, Venetians feel like they have their city back and are in no hurry for visitor levels to return to pre-2020 levels.