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TOURISM

Dress up and pay up: Venice mayor announces updated plans to control tourism in the city

Booking to enter the city via an app, a tourist tax and turnstiles are all closer to becoming a reality in Venice, as its mayor announced further details about how authorities plan to make tourism in the city more sustainable.

Dress up and pay up: Venice mayor announces updated plans to control tourism in the city
Photo: ANDREA PATTARO/AFP

Venice has long been discussing plans for a so-called ‘tourist tax’ that would help city authorities keep up with the 25 million tourists arriving annually pre-pandemic.

After repeated delays, the city is once again looking to bring in the levy – which is targeted at day-trippers excluded from an existing tax on tourists staying overnight.

Day tourists could pay anywhere between three and 10 euros to enter the historic centre and could be asked to pre-book their visit on an app, according to news reports.

The city’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro acknowledged there’ll be backlash to the proposals, but that they are necessary to ensure Venice’s future, saying “no one should get angry”.

“I expect protests, lawsuits, everything – but I have a duty to make this city liveable for those who inhabit it and also for those who want to visit,” he added in a press conference on Sunday.

Crowds in Venice. Photo: Miguel Medina / AFP

Plans to introduce a booking system, turnstiles and other crowd-control measures to the city were first discussed in 2019 but subsequently put on hold

The plan to charge an entry fee meanwhile was first proposed in 2018 and most recently delayed in November 2020 after severe flooding and the coronavirus pandemic decimated visitor numbers.

Authorities in the city said at the time that the tax would be pushed back until January 1st, 2022.

As travel restrictions ease and tourists return – although not to pre-pandemic levels – the project is back in the spotlight once again and some measures are now being tested out.

In limited trials, airport-style turnstiles are used to control the influx of tourists and will place a limit on those entering if the city gets too full.

READ ALSO: 16 surprising facts about Venice to mark 16 centuries of the lagoon city

Brugnaro hasn’t yet said how many visitors is too many, nor has a new date been given for when the plans will come into force. 

Reports suggest that the proposals could now be implemented between next summer and 2023.

And even then, it’s not as simple as following the procedures of booking and paying tax. If you go to Venice, you need to abide by certain codes of conduct.

“There’ll be conditions attached to obtain priority bookings and discounts,” Brugnaro said.

“You can’t come in your swimsuit. You can’t jump from a bridge or get drunk. Whoever comes must respect the city,” he added.

As for how it will work in reality, the mayor conceded they haven’t developed the technology yet.

“We have to find the tools, technical solutions to allow people to enter the city and leave out those who cannot enter,” he said, adding: “Venice is open to the world and always will be.”

READ ALSO: ‘The myth of Venice’: How the Venetian brand helps the city survive

But the ideas aren’t unanimously backed by Italian authorities. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini reacted to the plans on Tuesday, objecting to the ideas of turnstiles and taxes.

“We must fight the excessive overcrowding of art cities, but without any entry levy,” he said.

“We must exploit less invasive technologies to control the flows,” he added, but on the question of turnstiles he said “an airport comes to mind, not a city”.

Methods to deal with overcrowding, such as tracking how many people are in Venice at any one time are already in action.

CCTV cameras and mobile phone-tracing systems show where people are moving in the city and even who’s a resident and who’s a tourist.

A cruise ship sails past Venice’s city centre. Photo by Miguel Medina / AFP

Other initiatives are also in motion to protect Venice, as authorities moved to ban large cruise ships from sailing into the city centre from August.

For years, campaigners have been calling for an end to ships sailing past St Mark’s Square, arguing that they cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.

This is a problem exacerbated by climate change, which – if no action is taken globally to reduce carbon emissions – could see the demise of Venice by the end of the century.

Plans to divert the huge floating hotels away from the historic centre to the industrial port of Marghera instead have been criticised by environmental campaigers and local residents, who question the motives for the plan.

Brugnaro’s role of mayor and his other interests as an entrepreneur have become the subject of parliamentary debate, according to reports this week.

The construction of a new terminal in Marghera for access to the city by water presents “a conflict of interest” that is reaching “worrying levels”, according to senator Orietta Vanin, as Brugnaro owns land in this area.

“The citizens who are questioning the legitimacy of these operations are now aware that choices about the city’s future are not aimed at the common good, protecting the environment and defending the rights of residents,” she added.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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