The meeting was described as an “unprecedented initiative” by the Gruppo 25 Aprile which has long protested against Venice's overcrowding and organized the first meeting of the Mediterranean network.
Representatives from similar organizations from Rhodes, Santorini, Dubrovnik, Corfu, and Paphos arrived in Venice to share their experiences and tactics for coping with the impact of mass tourism on local populations. Talks and debates at the inaugural meeting will help the cities “compare experiences and priorities”, with a long-term goal of working together to combat excessive tourism, the Gruppo 25 Aprile said.
Over 9.5 million people visited Venice itself during 2017, an increase of eight percent on the visitor numbers the previous year, according to newly published figures. Meanwhile, tourist figures for the entire Veneto region were 19 million, a similar increase on the year before.
“When it comes to tourism in the Veneto region, it has become normal to talk about records,” said regional councillor for tourism Federico Caner at the presentation of the soaring figures on Thursday. He added that initial figures for the first three months of 2018 suggested the trend would continue throughout this year.
The lagoon city has an uneasy relationship with visitors, as The Local has reported for several years.
And though the report had plenty of plus signs, not all the increases were equal. One bugbear of Venetian locals and business owners is that tourists spend their money in cheap souvenir shops or on fast food rather than at locally-run shops and restaurants, and the total amount spent by foreign tourists increased by only 5.7 percent last year, implying a higher number of lower value visitors.
At the same time, mass tourism has pushed up rents on city accommodation, forcing many families out of their hometowns.
In recent years, frustrated Venetians have staged frequent protests against the overcrowding, and mayor Luigi Brugnaro has made tackling overcrowding a priority.
He has introduced measures ranging from promotion of the lesser-explored corners of the city to the installation of people-counters at the most popular sights, as well as 'locals first' policies on water buses. Last summer, the mayor's office banned both new tourist accommodation and new fast food outlets (with an exception for artisanal gelato) in the historic centre.
But critics argue these policies are too little, too late.
Another meeting between the six Mediterranean tourist hotspots has already been planned for October in Corfu, with the stated aim of “formalizing the network and the shared values we aim to defend and represent.”