Venice’s Overtourism Crisis: Balancing Beauty With Sustainability

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The early morning sun reflects off the Vaporetto's windows. The gently lapping water and the low hum of the engine, as it starts up, churning the water of the Venetian lagoon, gently vibrates the boat, and you know that you're in for a treat. As the vessel departs, moving through Venice's winding canals, your eyes feast on the stunning historic grandeur of the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Basilica.

The only downside is that you're sharing the trip with a crowd of people, hoping that some will get off at the next stop so that you can get that coveted seat at the front for the best video footage. Several years ago, crowds were rare at this time of morning, and you could almost effortlessly find a seat toward the front of the boat. Today, it's not so easy.

Tourism in Venice 

Venice has long been a city that has fascinated people worldwide. With its enchanting canals, winding cobblestone streets, amazing cuisine, and historic charm, it's not hard to see why people flock to the city in droves. However, this is precisely what is causing an issue in the romantic town. While it's unpleasant to fight through the thronging crowds while dragging your luggage to your hotel, over-tourism is causing more problems than just the unpleasantness of squeezing past other sweaty bodies.

According to UNESCO, efforts to combat this issue are not having an impact, and they are considering putting Venice on their heritage danger list. This isn't the first time this issue has been raised. Overtourism threatens the city's cultural heritage, environment, and the well-being of its local residents.

Social and Cultural Impact

The local population of Venice is slowly declining. Various factors, predominantly the emphasis on mass tourism, have contributed to this departure, resulting in a population overshadowed by the crowds of tourists filling its squares, bridges, and narrow alleys daily. If a city consists of nothing but tourists, the authenticity is lost. It starts to become more like a theme park than a city.

Venessia.com, an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding Venice's cultural legacy, has closely monitored the downward trajectory of the city's population. In 2022, the population fell below 50k. In the 50s, it was approximately 120k. The organization claims, “Below 50,000, it is no longer possible to define a ‘city' in the fullest sense of the term” (translated from the Italian).

Venessia's mission has been to make the government listen and do something about this continuous issue.

Environmental Consequences

At its lowest month, Venice houses half a million tourists, and at its highest, 1.4 million, with most centering around the areas near San Marco. Hotel pollution, littering, sewage, and chemical waste significantly impact the environment. Ironically, over-tourism detracts from the experience tourists seek. Long lines, congested streets, and overcrowded attractions diminish the joy of exploring the city's rich history and unique ambiance. However, this is still attracting the crowds.

Because significant income is derived from the Venetian tourist industry, some local business proprietors and overseas investors leverage this circumstance to focus on vacationers and yield substantial gains. In the meantime, genuine local endeavors and stores are facing an oppressive situation, grappling with escalating rents, an ongoing reduction in the local population's size, and the rivalry posed by tourist-targeting establishments tempting visitors with inexpensive, mass-produced items.

Economic Realities and Solutions

Ever since the advent of industrialization in the area several hundred years ago, a flooding phenomenon known asacqua alta has become more prevalent, caused by coastal subsidence and rising sea levels. The rising sea levels are finally being kept at bay from the use of floodgates known as MOSE, which were put into operation in 2022 — after four decades of construction.

The other recent change was to ban cruise ships from entering the port. Several years ago, you rounded a corner and were confronted with the site of towering sea vessels that overshadowed the city's skyline. These heavy ships were causing the sediment in the canals and lagoon to shift, which required it to be dredged. Today, most cruise ships dock on the Italian mainland in Marghera Porto.

Another measure to reduce the tourist population was to introduce an entrance fee. While this was discussed for many years, it was finally implemented in January 2023. Visitors entering from the mainland must pay between 3 and 10 euros. This amount is determined by the population currently in Venice. For example, if it's a ‘green' sticker day, the cost will be 3 euros; if the population is high, it's deemed a ‘black' sticker day and will cost 10 euros.

UNESCO's Endangered List

Currently, 55 world heritage sites are on UNESCO's endangered list. The next conference will be held in October 2023, and Venice is up for a recommendation to be placed on the list. This is not the first time UNESCO has considered adding Venice — due to the cruise ship ban, the city missed the classification in 2021.

The preliminary proposal asserts that there needs to be more advancement in dealing with the ongoing intricate challenges, notably those related to mass tourism, developmental endeavors, and climate shifts. The draft resolution pointed out that these concerns result in the decline and harm of architectural buildings and urban zones, degrading the property's cultural and societal essence and jeopardizing the wholeness of its cultural, ecological, and scenic characteristics and principles.

What The Future Holds

Confronting the situation of excessive tourism, Venice finds itself at a pivotal juncture. Ignoring this urgent matter further jeopardizes the city's valued legacy, the well-being of local communities, and its delicate surroundings. A collective effort is required from policymakers, businesses, and visitors alike to secure the future of Venice. Implementing responsible tourism practices, limiting visitor numbers, and promoting alternative destinations are essential steps toward preserving the Venice we know and love.

Venice is among the 1,157 locations presently recognized as World Heritage Sites, distinguished for their cultural or natural significance that holds exceptional universal value.

Things You Can Do To Support Venice

While the obvious answer is to stay away, many will still want to visit this beautiful historic city at least once. If you do, make sure you're employing the services of locals and local artisans when buying gifts. Travel during non-peak seasons from November through May — yes, you may need to pack a jacket and boots, but that doesn't detract from the city's beauty. You may also want to avoid the Christmas and Carnevale di Venezia seasons.

If you're serious about spending time in Venice, don't come in via cruise ship. While they're now offsite, most only stay for a short time. Spend three days at the very least and explore some of the lesser-known neighborhoods. Avoid Airbnb and try alternative vacation rentals — the demand for this accommodation type means real estate prices increase and drive locals out of the market. Stay in places outside of San Marco. The Vaporetto system is extensive and is a pleasant way to get around.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks

Author: Ree Winter

Title: Journalist

Expertise: travel, food, history

Bio:

  • Expertise: Travel, History, Food
  • Education: Monash University, Australia
  • Over 400 articles published in newspapers, magazines, and across the web

Ree Winter is a versatile journalist hailing from Australia and now making New Orleans her home. Ree's passion for solo travel shines through as she expertly tracks down fantastic flight deals and accommodations, sharing her extensive travel experiences with readers. With a Master's degree in Journalism and a Bachelor's degree featuring double majors in history and literature, she brings a unique blend of skills to her work. Ree's historical expertise extends to the world of architectural history, where she has worked as a tour guide in historic house museums. But her journey doesn't stop there; she's even delved into the art of coffee as a barista, running a coffee van at events and markets, making her a genuine connoisseur of coffee preparation. Today, Ree channels her insights and expertise into sharing these topics with readers at Wealth of Geeks.