Is unregulated tourism going to be the death of Venice?

Istock Photograph
Istock Photograph

Once a romantic getaway for artistic souls, unregulated tourism is killing Venice according to numerous reports in the past month. The locals have been saying so for years, but after 2 000 Venetians took to the streets to protest two weeks ago, it’s clear that the situation is reaching a tipping point.

Venice unregulated tourism causing damage

Local population decline

As tourists swarm the city, damaging the environment and cluttering its narrow walkways - fed up locals are moving out at a steady rate.

Venice’s population has fallen from about 175 000 in the 1950s to 55 000 today.

And its world heritage status is also under threat because of the tourism Disneyland that the romantic old city is becoming. “Around 2 000 people leave each year,” academic and activist Carlo Beltrame told The Guardian last week. “If we go on this way, in a few years’ time Venice will only be populated by tourists. This would be a social, anthropological and historical disaster.”

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READ: World Heritage site Venice may restrict tourist access

Huge cruise ships

As noisy wheelie suitcases rattle through the cobbled streets leaving locals little room to move easily on their own turf - a lot of the blame is being leveled at the huge cruise ships that dock relentlessly. Out of them spill a portion of the city’s 30 million annual tourists. They rush through the tourist sites and are fed lunch before being herded back onto the ships.

It’s a catch-22 because the ships pay to visit Venice - which keeps the entire Adriatic cruise industry going and employs 5 000 staff.

Unesco has called for a cruise ban and the World Monuments Fund has had Venice on its watch list since 2014 because “large-scale cruising is pushing the city to an environmental tipping point and undermining quality of life for its ­citizens”.

Italian authorities are mulling over solutions but the situation keeps escalating.

“The culture of mass tourism is intolerable. The resident population has halved since the 1970s but if it falls below 40 000 Venice will not be a viable, living city any longer,” Jonathan Keates, chairperson of Venice in Peril, told The Guardian.

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