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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.