Venice struggles to save itself from tourists

Residents flee as Airbnb surges. “We have become Italy’s answer to Disneyland,” they say.

For many residents of Venice, the the signs of everyday life that fade little by little, they are everywhere. The hardware store that recently became another trattoria for tourists, the souvenir shop that replaced a fruit stand, the last closed school in a peripheral neighborhood.

Venice has fought against the impact of mass tourism for decades, but residents say the city has reached a tipping point, accelerated by a Boom in European tourism and American in recent years which was only briefly interrupted by Covid.

This month, for the first time in history, the main islands of Venice have more beds for tourists including hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb, which residents , according to Leisure, a group that advocates for affordable housing in the city. The estimate made national headlines in Italy, reinforcing fears that the city would soon be populated only by tourists and a few reluctant residents.

In comparison, Florence has about the same number of tourist spots, but with a population of around seven times larger.

Gondolas moored in the Venice lagoon in front of San Giorgio Maggiore, a 16th-century Benedictine church, at dawn on February 13, 2022.

The capture of Venice by tourists be a problem in summer and at other times peak of the year. Now it is spread across the entire calendar. At the same time, the resident population has been in steady decline, falling below 50,000 last year for the first time in more than three centuries. This figure is down from 66,000 twenty years ago and 175,000 in the early 1950s.

“Look at this, it’s out of control,” he said. Lidia Fersuoch, originally from Venice , while pointing at the masses of tourists filling a square near the Rialto Bridge. “We became Italy’s answer to Disneyland.”

Nearby, a group of Japanese tourists took photos against the backdrop of a nondescript pharmacy. In the window, a digital screen showed the city’s population with a rating of how much it had declined in recent decades. The exhibition aims to raise awareness of precarious situation of Venice but it has become another Instagram-ready tourist attraction.

Between the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square, the heart of Venice, tourists pass by shops selling souvenirs, sweets, Belgian waffles, French crepes and pizza by the slice. The imitation Murano glass figurines remind us thatIt’s still Venice. A store that sells bathroom accessories appears to be one of the few businesses catering to locals, but it mainly serves foreigners renovating vacation homes in Venice.

“I’m afraid there is little hope of saving Venice but that doesn’t mean I won’t fight every day,” said Lorenzo Calvelli, a Venice native and professor of history at the University of Venice.

Residents of Venice hold a protest to demand an end to the passage of cruise ships through the canal city, as the first cruise ship of the summer season leaves the local port, June 5, 2021. Photo: Reuters

The large number of apartments rented through Airbnb and other platforms have made rentals out of reach of many places . As the number of residents has declined, so have the number of businesses and other services necessary for daily life. Some types of doctors may be difficult to find, requiring residents to travel to the continent to receive certain treatments.

Large cruise ships have been banned from getting too close to Venice’s central islands, after years of complaints that they damaging the city’s fragile foundations . But they continue to cross the lagoon, sometimes with more than 3,000 passengers, causing damage to the city and its natural environment, according to researchers at the local university. Large private yachts docking near St. Mark’s Square also cause damage, they say. The city council is wondering about the damage.

Advocacy groups want Venice cracks down on short-term rentals , as did New York City. They also want the city to provide incentives for apartment owners to rent to residents, limit the construction of new hotels and stop approving the conversion of existing buildings into hotels.

The number of tourists arriving here this year is expected to surpass the record 5.5 million in 2019, before the pandemic limited global travel.

Many European cities, from Barcelona to Dubrovnik, are grappling with the stress of overtourism. But Venice has become the symbol of the problem, due to the conflict between its global appeal for visitors and the delicate fabric of a centuries-old city built on more than 100 islands.

View of gondolas on a canal during a low tide in the city of Venice, Italy. Photo: Reuters

Last week, the Venice City Council approved a 5 euros fee, about $5.33, for hikers entering the city’s historic center on the busiest days of the year, starting next spring. Residents, workers and students will be exempt from fees which will be paid online or via a mobile phone application.

Initially there will be no turnstiles to enter the city , but visitors should be prepared to show their ticket anywhere in the city if requested by authorities. The penalty for violators is probably around 100 euros said Venice budget councilor Michele Zuin. The upfront costs mean the city will likely lose money in the first year of the program. After that, the funds raised will be used to reduce local taxes and pay for the upkeep of the city, he noted.

“If I don’t book the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, I won’t make it. It’s no different,” Zuin commented. “We already book flights, hotels, dinners and more when we go on vacation.”

Many residents view these fees as a proof that your city is becoming a theme park , a capitulation to the idea that the city will soon be reserved for tourists. City planners say it won’t help reduce the scale of tourism or limit its impact.

“These fees are a band-aid that doesn’t get to the root of what’s wrong here,” said Sebastian Fagarazzi, 38, a Venetian who works as a tour guide and co-founder of Venezia Autentica, an organization that seeks to help visitors move around the city in a way that supports local life.

People sitting at outdoor tables in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, May 16, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Among Fagarazzi’s 20 high school classmates, 16 remaining Venice especially because life here has become too expensive and difficult. He was the third generation of his family to run a store near the Rialto Bridge that sold clothing made in Venice and other parts of Italy. The store closed in 2015 when It could no longer compete with stores selling cheaper products made overseas. Today, in its place there is a store selling bags and suitcases.

Some longtime residents are resisting. Giovanna Baoduzzi and her husband own a paint and hardware store in the Cannaregio neighborhood, which until recently was Known for having many stores catering to Venetians. Today, Baoduzzi’s store sits on a canal lined with bars and restaurants popular with tourists, who mingle with casual residents.

“We have been here for 13 years and will remain here until we retire. It’s hard all the time you hear about friends leaving “, said Baoduzzi. “I don’t want to think that one day there will be no more Venetian children running on this canal.”

Source: Latercera

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