Overburdened Venice just wants a little respect from tourists

August 3, 2017, 9:44 a.m.
Tourists look at the view across the Grand Canal from the Rialto bridge in Venice, Italy.
Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

The problem with a city that attracts tourists is, well, the tourists. Venice is a one-of-a-kind city teeming with culture, history and beauty. And all those stellar attributes mean tourists flock to this Italian city of canals by the boatload — literally. Cruise ships dump thousands of tourists on the shores and they stream throughout the city, up and down the bridges, snapping photos, grabbing a quick bite to eat, then jumping back on board.

Dubbing this "low-quality tourism," Italian officials are considering limiting the number of visitors who can go tromping through the city, including its vaunted piazzas.

“If you arrive on a big ship, get off, you have two or three hours, follow someone holding a flag to Piazzale Roma, Ponte di Rialto and San Marco and turn around,” Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, told the New York Times. He called it "Eat and Flee" tourism and blamed it for harming the historic city.

“The beauty of Italian towns is not only the architecture, it’s also the actual activity of the place, the stores, the workshops,” he said. “We need to save its identity.”

But it's not just the cruise tourists that get the blame. It's also people who just drop by for a few hours while vacationing in Italy's nearby holiday resorts on the Adriatic beaches. When they get bored, they head to Venice for the day and don't spend any money, tourism director Paola Mar tells the Independent.

“The problem is that Venice is perceived as a beach,” she says. They pack a lunch and eat on the steps or along the canals, and often arrive in inappropriate swimwear.

To promote responsible tourism, the city of Venice launched a #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign. Suggestions include visiting artisan workshops and choosing only original products, while avoiding illegal vendors. Tourists are asked not to linger on bridges and not to picnic on the steps of churches, bridges, monuments or other public places. Head to the parks instead.

Right now, people counters have been put in place at Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) and there's talk of eventual ticketing for admission to the site. But Mar says that's not a possibility ... yet.

“I have no intention of doing that,” she says. “But this is the first time we’ve looked at tourism as a whole. We need to know all the possibilities. Then we can choose.”

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