Venice divided on the return of mass tourism


Piero Dri depends on the millions of tourists who come to his hometown of Venice every year. However, he admits to feeling already “suffocated” by foreign visitors who return gradually after a forced absence.

“Over the past year, Venice has become habitable again,” he said from his workshop near the Grand Canal, where he handcrafted wooden forcolas – oar ladies for the gondolas that carry the boats. tourists on the city’s waterways.

“With the streets empty due to the pandemic, we realized that we didn’t have to fight tooth and nail every day to get around, and that we could live our lives loving this place. “

As cities emerge from pandemic closures, attracting foreign visitors with deep pockets will be key to restarting their economies. Venice is no different: it depends almost entirely on the roughly 30 million tourists who came each year before the pandemic.

However, the return of mass tourism to a city loved by couples and famous for its canals and carnival has not been universally hailed by its 50,000 year-round residents.

There was anger this month when a cruise liner sailed into the Venice Lagoon for the first time since the pandemic despite a pledge from the Italian government that giant tourist ships would be banned from the historic center.

The return of the liners, pending the construction of a new terminal further from the city center, rekindled historic divisions in Venice, as posters proclaiming “No Grandi Navi” – No Big Ships – were stuck on stores and restaurants that have been barricaded due to a lack of customers.

Huge tension

Tommaso Cacciari, leader of the protest group, said: “Big ships are the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem.

He said overtourism was evicting long-term residents, destroying jobs unrelated to the holiday industry and putting enormous pressure on housing.

“The tragedy of Venice – of which the large ships are only a part – is the fact that the mono-economy of tourism has wiped out the socio-economic diversity of the city,” he said, adding that people treated her city like her. was “the largest amusement park in the world”.

Yet for many Venetians, the return of tourists is a cause for celebration. Deborah Rosetto, who sells glassware on the pretty Murano archipelago, said she couldn’t be happier to find her customers.

“We haven’t received any money for almost two years. We spent all our savings on paying the rent and buying food. If mass tourism is our only way to make ends meet, then start it. Of course, it needs to be better organized. But if London, Paris and Barcelona have mass tourism, why not us?

Even before the pandemic hit, Venice faced an existential threat from rising sea levels, which caused severe flooding in 2019.

Cruise ships, in addition to transporting thousands of visitors every day to St. Mark’s Square, are accused of polluting and damaging the lagoon and its delicate marine ecosystem.

The government of Rome has presented a plan to temporarily divert ships to the nearby port of Marghera, while plans are made to build the terminal outside the lagoon.

Yet progress has been slow. Unesco, the United Nations agency, said this week it would consider putting Venice on its endangered species list if a permanent ban on large cruise ships docking in the city center is not addressed.

Rialto Bridge

Vanda Lumine (76), who sells traditional shoes on the famous Rialto Bridge, said the town needs tourists, while noting that the street in front of her store is sometimes so busy that customers who stop for looking out the window were swept along by the tide of people.

“Mass tourism is a sore spot, but without it even plumbers, electricians, hairdressers and laundries would not work,” said the 76-year-old. “Everything is linked, even though here the situation has gotten out of hand. “

Simone Venturini, the head of tourism, defended the approach to the city, and said there was a realization that it was “time to focus more on quality tourism”.

“Everyone feels the need to get back to normal but it is our responsibility to do so with respect for our city,” he said, adding that he was working to “promote international events and exhibitions and to attract visitors who wish to stay more than a quick visit ”.

Nicola Ussardi made a living selling souvenirs to tourists in St Mark’s Square before losing her job when the pandemic hit.

He thinks Venice is at a crossroads and must decide whether to run after profit and risk killing the city, or choose another path. “Covid has accelerated a process that started a long time ago. It is clear that the current system is gradually destroying the city and brings nothing.

For him, Venice was a “museum made of real life and real people”, which is why “it is our duty to protect it with all our might”.

Dri, one of the few remaining forcola makers, knows that Venice needs its foreign visitors, but hopes that a new path can be found that promotes “genuine tourism … that appreciates the traditions and heritage of the region. city ​​”.

“We have been shaken by the pandemic, but we must take advantage of it to create a different future for this city,” he said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021


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