As Venice’s famed carnival got underway on Saturday, local authorities began trialling a new monitoring system to keep track of tourist numbers in the city, which often struggles with overcrowding at peak times.
The system of sensors and cameras was installed along the city’s busiest streets in time for the carnival period, which runs from February 8th-25th this year.
It’s usually one of the busiest periods of the year in Venice, with thousands of visitors arriving from around the world and hotels booked out well in advance.
But it’s a lot quieter than usual this time, as tourist numbers in Venice have dropped. Many visitors are staying away following devastating floods in the lagoon city last year, while others are thought to be avoiding travel due to coronavirus fears.
Hotels have an average of 70 percent occupancy this year, regional newspaper Il Gazzettino reports, and many of the parties and masked balls held annually during the carnival period have been cancelled – including the famed VIP party, the Ballo del Doge, which has reportedly “been halved of participants.”
The tourist-counting system is being trialled in attempt to understand “where visitors come from, how long they stay in the city, and to distinguish tourists from commuters”.
Masked visitors on a busy canal in Venice during the 2018 carnical season. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
“There are 34 cameras positioned in strategic points in the city, placed in concentric circles around the destinations favoured by the main tourist flows,” Venice tourism councilor Paola Mar told Italian media on Sunday.
“The idea is to give a reasonable picture of the people passing through and understand the trends in places where changes in flows could occur.”
Using wifi, the system sends data to a control room every five seconds on the number of people present, how fast they’re moving and in which direction.
The measure has long been planned by city authorities as a way to prevent overcrowding in parts of the lagoon city.
“This way we can predict when pedestrians will arrive in a certain critical point and create a detour ahead of time in order to avoid blocking pedestrian circulation,” said Mar.
Officials insisted the system would respect visitors’ privacy “since it will not monitor faces,” though said sensors would “interface with cellphones” to find out where people had come from.
“Soon we will be able to manage flows well, after that we will be able to get to know our visitors better and better and further equip the smart control room with more information to answer any other questions,” stated Mar.
“Complete utility is not yet predictable, because we have raw data that needs to be refined.”
Tensions have long been brewing between local residents and visitors in Venice, as the city suffers the negative effects of mass tourism.
A long list of rules have been introduced as the city cracks down on the “unruly” behaviour of some tourists, with visitors to the city last year being fined and expelled from the city centre for offences including cycling shirtless and brewing coffee in the street.
Ciity officials have announced – and then postponed – a number of measures aimed at combatting overtourism in the city recently. Proposals include charging an entry fee, now planned for July 2020, and insisting that visitors should book entry to the city in advance.
The municipality has also said it plans to introduce limits on the number of properties being used as accommodation, a measure already being used by Spanish authorities in Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona.
As well as restricting visitor numbers, this measure is intended to curb the depopulation of Venice, as rents pushed up by tourism have forced residents to leave the city centre.