Entry Fees Are Not Enough to Protect Venetian Lagoon

Drone photos by Amazing Aerial photographers show the beauty of Venice and its lagoon. The reality on the ground is crowded with day trippers, a problem locals say can’t be fixed with just entry fees.
environment features Jan 26, 2023
An aerial view of Piazza San Marco, Venice’s most famous attraction. During high season, the iconic old square is sometimes so full of tourists that it is impossible to walk through it. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Bachir Moukarzel
An aerial view of Piazza San Marco, Venice’s most famous attraction. During high season, the iconic old square is sometimes so full of tourists that it is impossible to walk through it. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Bachir Moukarzel

By Rebecca Duras

 

 

For years, Venice has been synonymous with overtourism. Images of giant cruise ships show them towering over the tiny historic buildings as they sail through the city center. From the point of view of an Amazing Aerial drone photographer, Piazza San Marco retains its otherworldly beauty, but in the summer crowds are so thick walking through it is impossible. The problem is so well-known that in a guest essay called, “Events to Shake, or Gently Rattle the World, in 2023,” The New York Times included the implementation of a fee for day trippers that was supposed to start on January 16th.

However, by the time The Times published its article, the scheme was postponed yet again. City authorities issued a call for community feedback with the vague commitment of implementing the scheme in summer of 2023. Some see the postponement as an opportunity to develop holistic measures to protect the lagoon as well as the city.

Day Trippers: A Problem Too Complex for a Simple Fee

 

 

By this point, it’s hardly news to say that Venice has a problem with overtourism. Locals regularly organize protests against massive cruise ships, gentrification, and unbearable crowds that not only threaten the survival of the city, but of the lagoon as well. Day trippers make up most visitors to Venice, but generate the least amount of revenue.

Most people might assume locals would be thrilled with any measure to lessen the impact of overtourism. That’s an assumption city authorities probably made as well, but the reality is far too complex to be solved with a fee.

“Damage from overtourism is multifaceted, therefore the policy response needs to reflect that complexity and encompass a variety of measures,” explains Jane Da Mosto, Executive Director of We Are Here Venice, an NGO dedicated to safeguarding the city and lagoon. “As long as the administration is focused on ticketing without even being explicit about the total capacity of Venice to safely and comfortably host visitors to the city, there is a greater risk of harm than resolving the problem of congestion.”

Her concerns mirror those of other locals, who think that the focus on an entry ticket is just a Band-Aid measure that doesn’t do enough to solve deeper structural problems that led to the crisis in the first place. Others are concerned with the lack of transparency around the plan by city authorities, including where the money is supposed to go.

A Recent History of Failed Tourism Measures

 

 

Many locals who have been active in the fight against overtourism in Venice for years have been frustrated with city government suggestions, which often try to put a simplistic solution on a complex problem, for several years.

In 2018, the Venetian administration tried a similar scheme to limit day tripper arrivals by implementing turnstiles along popular streets that would limit through traffic. Angry local activists dismantled the turnstiles within a day, saying that “Venice is not a theme park.” Activists pointed out that the problem of gentrification in Venice has more to do with government choices, such as bad housing policies, pushing locals out than something as simple as foot traffic.

Another proposed fee that caused controversy is the proposed tax on departures from Marco Polo Airport, which city authorities announced without consulting airport authorities. Commenters pointed out that most people flying out of the airport are residents of the Veneto region going on vacation, so they will bear the brunt of the new measure that the city government is using to try to get out of debt.

Even measures that garnered a lot of attention in the world did not have as much local impact. When Venice banned cruise ships from the city center in 2021, it was praised as an important step in the right direction. However, the ships are not banned from the Venetian lagoon, still contributing to pollution and environmental damage. “This is not just bad in terms of the type of tourism that comes to the city but the environmental damage caused by cruise ships continues—not just in Venice but wherever the ships go,” Jane Da Mosto explains.

No Solution Is Complete Without Thinking About the Lagoon

 

An aerial view of colorful Burano, one of the several islands in Venice’s lagoon. The lagoon has several islands besides the city proper that most day trippers never get to discover. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Bachir Moukarzel

 

As the example of the cruise ships shows, no solution to overtourism in Venice will be complete if it does not consider the lagoon, not just the city itself. The two are permanently intertwined—the city of Venice arose from the lagoon many centuries ago, while the many years of human water management permanently altered the lagoon.

Besides its historic significance, the lagoon is also an important ecosystem. We Are Here Venice is currently conducting research on wetland restoration as well as the role of salt marshes and ecosystems such as the lagoon as carbon sinks.

The lagoon is vital for Venice, yet it is also the part of the city that is the most vulnerable to overtourism. “Overtourism creates a demand for water transport. Visitors from places near Venice like the camp sites of Cavallino and Chioggia or those staying in other places around the periphery of Venice tend to use large tourist boats that create big waves and emit toxic diesel fumes into the lagoon,” explains Da Mosto. She also points to the effect of plastic waste dumping in the lagoon, more common among day trippers that rely on takeaway meals.

 

An aerial view of a delta forming in the Venetian lagoon. Many tourists never see this part of Venice, even though their actions affect the delicate ecosystem of the lagoon. © Amazing Aerial Agency / Dimitri Weber

 

The lagoon shows what Da Mosto and other activists mean when they say solutions to Venice’s overtourism problem have to be more holistic than a simple fee. Making day trippers pay an extra few euros will not take away the extra pollution caused by cruise ships and transport boats in the lagoon, or make housing more affordable for locals.

The day tripper fee is not gone forever as the government is still saying it will implement the scheme once it works out the logistics. Until then, those who want to come to Venice because they truly love the city can do their part to visit Venice sustainably. As Jane says, “Venice is wasted on ‘bite and run’ visitors.” Take a few days or a week to explore the city instead of just a day, and get into the lagoon to see where Venice came from.

While visitors can do their part to be respectful of Venice and its lagoon, the debate about the future of Venice is still going on. To preserve the ethereal beauty of the lagoon that you can see in Amazing Aerial’s photos or on a fishing boat tour, there are no easy solutions.


 

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