Venice’s Overtourism Problem
The beautiful fact about travel is that you can go just about anywhere, have memorable experiences, learn about cultures, and return home more informed. Some places are more popular than others, and as such, these same places may be on the top of most people’s travel bucket lists; however, when too many people want to visit a destination at the same time and during the same season, thus harming the region’s tourism economy, it becomes a problem. We can’t lie and pretend overtourism isn’t a growing issue that needs to be addressed, and more regions are being forced to take extreme measures to sustain themselves as visitors multiply.
Just how many people is “too many” people? Responsible Travel, a vacation-booking site specializing in responsible and authentic travel experiences, best explains:
In short, overtourism occurs when there are too many visitors to a particular destination. “Too many” is a subjective term, of course, but it is defined in each destination by local residents, hosts, business owners and tourists. When rent prices push out local tenants to make way for vacation rentals, that is overtourism. When narrow roads become jammed with tourist vehicles, that is overtourism. When wildlife is scared away, when tourists cannot view landmarks because of the crowds, when fragile environments become degraded – these are all signs of overtourism.
Venice hosts about 30 million visitors each year, which is becoming a bit much for the small city with even narrower streets. There is barely enough room to walk, as the cobblestone streets are choked with tourists, and the famous canal is overflowing with gondola riders–hardly a relaxing and memorable experience when everyone is fighting to get that perfect selfie. Of course, this many tourists can be a good thing, as many local economies rely on tourism to prosper, but as the tourist population continues to increase each year, it has had crippling effects on this Italian city.
Tourism within Venice usually has a rhythm: the high season and the low season. During the low season, the city has time to recover from the high volume of travelers and prepare once again for the next groups to arrive. Recently, though, there has been no lull in the number of visitors to the city, and the constant influx of travelers is damaging the city instead of helping it prosper. More tourists mean overcrowding, souvenir shops, and restaurants and bars filled to the brim–making it difficult to have a truly authentic experience. Residents are being driven away because of the rising cost of living, leaving their empty residences to be taken over by housing rental companies such as Airbnb. Local amenities are also suffering great strain, and overall, causes waste management strain, environmental damage, and physical and visual pollution.
Of course, the city hosts many incredible events to cultivate tourism, such as the Carnival festival in February; however, the hordes do not disperse in the off-season and the city strains to accommodate this year-round tourism boom. As a result, the city is struggling to develop a plan that will somehow regulate the number of tourists who visit each year in order to preserve the delicate, historical sights.
During peak tourism times, gates have been installed at different sightseeing spots to regulate the flow of people, reduce congestion, and avoid overcrowding. The city has also taken it a step further by implementing an entry fee or “tourist tax.” This fee has not yet been put into effect, but the purpose would be to help regulate tourism, especially of those who visit for 24-hours or less and contribute to excessive crowding and garbage being left behind. Keeping the city clean is becoming more and more difficult with the constant flow of tourists. The purpose of this tax will, in part, deter some tourists from visiting during peak seasons, but mostly it will assist in bringing more capital in order to keep up maintaining the city with the mass of tourists visiting annually.
Local residents, commuters, and students are exempt from this tourist tax; however, there is still a lot of pushback and differing opinions about this fee, especially from Italian locals from nearby cities and others who live in Europe and are able to travel freely across borders, but would be forced to pay an entry fee to visit Venice. Many believe that this tax will make Venice seem like a theme park, similar to places like Disneyland.
Venice’s unique geography makes entering and exiting the city possible only by boat. This makes the city a popular day-trip destination for passengers on mammoth cruise ships. While the ships are docked, they obstruct the stunning skyline and architecture that is seen when looking out towards the lagoon. These ocean liners are causing tons of air pollution, while at the same time damaging the fragile ecosystem found within the lagoon. Ships passing through five or six times a day are causing long-term environmental problems and depleting the quality of life for the locals, not to mention the amount of garbage these additional cruise ship guests leave during their day on the island. This wouldn’t be a problem if the city wasn’t an island, which makes trash removal more difficult, but because of this, the trash disposal for Venice is 40% more expensive than other Italian cities.
Air pollution is also becoming a big issue for Venice. In 2018, Venice was ranked as having the fourth worst air quality in Italy, something Italy needs to assess as more and more tourists stream in. Choosing to ride a bike instead of driving a car can be helpful, but it’s no match for the tons of diesel fumes poured into the air from huge cruise ships porting multiple times a day.
Some variables, however, cannot be controlled by a tourist tax. Flooding in Venice is old news, as the city is prone to a flooding season known as “acqua alta” where the Adriatic sea experiences high tides from fall to spring. In October of 2018, Venice was hit with a high tide that ended up covering 70 percent of the city with over 5 feet of water. Elevated walkways were installed within the city to keep up with the hordes of tourists, although they too were underwater as the tide continued to rise. The flood waters haven’t stopped the constant influx of tourists, and now Venice is trying to deal with a combination of damage from both at the same time. This overtourism, alongside dealing with unpredictable natural disasters, are taxing the cities resources and making it all the more difficult to maintain the city as a whole.
Unfortunately, overtourism is all too familiar in many other places around the world, but there are different and sustainable solutions that will rework the tourism industry so there is a better way forward.
Have you ever experienced overtourism while traveling? How are you able to minimize your impact while having an authentic travel experience? Let us know! And don’t forget to Pin!