Venetians ‘suffocated’ by mass tourism as population hits record high

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The ‘Canalazzo’ Venice’s Grand Canal is the main artery of Italy’s floating city. It’s exceptionally busy during the February carnival season, as gondolas of couples descend on the world’s most romantic body of water

Residents of Venice’s historic center have expressed concern that they will become like “relics in an open-air museum” as the population plummets to a record low.

The main island’s population has declined since 1950 for several reasons, but the most important is mass tourism. Each year, thousands of visitors flock to the downtown area, crowding out longtime residents.

According to Venessia.com, a group that has campaigned for the preservation of Venice’s heritage for several years, the population will drop below 50,000 by Friday.

The organization’s leader, Matteo Secchi, said he used vital statistics data to predict the decline.

“We’ve been warning about this for years…we don’t want to give up, but no administration has been able to turn the tide,” he told the Guardian.

Residents who remain feel “suffocated” by the emphasis on tourism, said Secchi, which has turned the city into “a slot machine” that is difficult to live in.

“Tourism is a double-edged sword because you take money but at the same time you push out all activities and space for [the residents]”Secchi said.

“There are those who are not from here but who own a house, rent it out and then spend the money elsewhere.”

The result, according to Secchi, is a higher cost of living, a lack of affordable housing and essential businesses replaced by tourist souvenir shops.

In January, authorities in Venice launched a scheme to attract young, remote workers to the historic center.

Inspired by similar programs in Europe and the United States, “Venywhere” attempted to sell the destination to increase the population, but appears to have had minimal impact.

The program is good, Secchi said, but avoided addressing fundamental issues resulting from overtourism.

“We need a change of era and for the council to take important steps, such as offering financial incentives to landlords who, for example, only rent to Venetians,” Secchi said.

“The danger is that we are disappearing, soon we will be like relics in an open-air museum.”

Venice City Council appears unimpressed with the population decline and said the number does not reflect foreign workers and students traveling to the city or part-time residents.

Additionally, the city has introduced new limits and fees for visitors over the past two years.

In July 2021, the city finally banned large ships weighing more than 25,000 tons from entering the historic center of Venice via the Giudecca Canal in July 2021.

A year later, in 2022, the city announced a new fee for day trippers.

Starting January 16, 2023, visitors not staying overnight in the city must register online for the day they plan to come and pay €3 to €10 ($5 to $16.80).

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