Is Venice about to introduce long-awaited entry fees for tourists?

Nearly three years after it first broached plans for a 'tourist tax', the city of Venice says it will soon make day-trippers pay for access to the city centre.

Is Venice about to introduce long-awaited entry fees for tourists?
Tourists in front of the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) in Venice in summer 2021. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

After a two-year-long slumber, it seems the winged Lion of Saint Mark is roaring again. Venice saw the return of pre-pandemic numbers of visitors over the Easter holidays, with some 160,000 tourists thought to have poured down the city’s calli on Saturday alone, according to local authorities.

Though the return of international tourism to La Serenissima is welcome news for many, it also brought renewed concerns about the floating city’s ability to support such large numbers of visitors and the previously chronic problem with overtourism.

It was no coincidence that, on Monday, the city’s mayor announced he would go ahead with long-discussed plans to regulate access to the city by means of an entry fee 

“Today many have had the chance to appreciate that a booking system is the most appropriate course of action to achieve a more balanced management of the city’s tourism,” Mayor Luigi Brugnaro wrote on Twitter:

“We will be the first in the world to carry out this difficult experiment,” he said.

The idea to charge day-trippers a contributo d’accesso (entry fee) had first been mooted back in early 2019. But the plan was delayed indefinitely by the second-worst flooding in Venice’s history in November that year, followed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

OPINION: After flooding and coronavirus, is it time Venice stopped relying on tourism?

Now that international tourism is gradually picking up again in Italy, Brugnaro’s plans seem to be finally set to materialise.

The city plans to bring in the first measures by this summer, Venice Tourism Commissioner Simone Venturini told newspaper La Repubblica.

“We will start with an ‘experimental’ phase wherein day-trippers will be encouraged to book their visit through a website,” he said.

Tourists arriving in Venice in July 2019. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

During this phase, entering the city’s centro storico (old town) will remain free of charge, but those registering their personal details on the relevant online platform will receive a reward “such as discounts on museum admissions”, he said.

Only after this initial trial phase will the city council introduce the much-touted entry fee.

The expected start date will be announced in the coming weeks, but it will most likely be sometime in early 2023. 

People who visit Venice just for the day will pay between three and ten euros for entry depending on the season, according to reports. This is expected to mean €3 in low season, €8 in high season and €10 on days of exceptional overcrowding.

The fee will not apply to those staying overnight in Venice.

City residents will be exempted from paying the toll, though people travelling from other Veneto provinces might not.

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

Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Venturini also said the number of daily visitors should be capped at either 40,000 or 50,000, or “roughly one tourist per city centre resident”. 

The measure will reportedly be enforced with the help of a state-of-the-art control tower located in the Tronchetto area, where the main car park for tourists is located, and at turnstiles at the city’s major entry points.

Those entering Venice without having paid the relevant fee will be liable to fines, with the amount expected to be specified in the coming weeks.

As could be expected, Brugnaro’s plans have already attracted plenty of criticism, with opposition parties questioning the efficacy of the toll gate system and vowing to oppose the proposed measures.

“Turnstiles won’t solve Venice’s problems; only a conscious, preemptive handling of visitors’ inflow would,” Leader of the left-wing Partito Democratico (Democratic Party) in Venice, Monica Sambo, wrote on her Facebook page on Wednesday.

The council should have a comprehensive tourism management project by now but they don’t and now everything is pretty much like it was before the pandemic.”

Criticism aside, the mayor, who was re-elected for a second term in September 2020, enjoys the support of a solid majority within the city council.

As such, the leading party’s propositions are likely to come into effect rather seamlessly and, after a three-year delay, Venice should finally have its entry fee system up and running by early 2023. 

With that being said, whether the planned measures will actually help the city (and its disgruntled residents) cope with its notoriously large waves of tourism remains to be seen. As ever, chi vivrà, vedrà.

Member comments

  1. Wonderful news, finally! To protect Venice, these measures are really overdue.
    But most importantly, stop the hideous huge cruise ships in the main lagoon near San Marco. They buy very little in Veniceand just add to the mess and tat that you see in too many Chinese shops there!

  2. Nothing said about people who own a second home in Venice. Are they expected to pay an entrance fee to go their own house, on which they already pay city, rubbish, electricity, water and gas taxes?

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OPINION: Why Italy should let the rich pay for ‘private moments’ at tourist hotspots

Instead of criticizing actor Jason Momoa over his VIP visit to the Sistine Chapel, Italy should encourage wealthy visitors to pay large sums for such experiences, says Silvia Marchetti.

OPINION: Why Italy should let the rich pay for ‘private moments’ at tourist hotspots

Signing a generous cheque in order to enjoy a private, exclusive moment – without crowds – at the Colosseum, the Pantheon, or sitting on the Spanish Steps should not be seen as scandalous nor outrageous.

Imagine taking in the view of the Trevi Fountain at sunset, by yourself in a deserted Rome, after having splashed out ten or hundreds of thousands of euros, just to see the sun go down and relax for an hour.

READ ALSO: ‘I love Italy’: Jason Momoa apologises over Sistine Chapel photos

The big fuss over American actor Jason Momoa taking pictures of the Sistine Chapel recently during his Roman stay while shooting his next movie has raised eyebrows worldwide and caused much ado about nothing. It even made global headlines.

The main complaint was that the actor had been granted the privilege of taking photos. in spite of the ‘no-photo’ ban, which many said apparently applied only to ‘ordinary people’.

Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is about Momoa’s not-so intimate moment in the Sistine Chapel.

We Italians tend to look down on tourists who are constantly grabbing their camera to take pictures. We consider our artistic heritage untouchable, or in a way, non-reproducible through photography. 

But Momoa was not committing a crime. 

He later apologized, and explained that he had paid for an exclusive “private moment” by giving the Vatican Museums a large donation.

I think this is something positive: a ‘mechanism’ that could be exploited to raise cash for city coffers and urban projects – instead of raising local taxes that weigh on Italian families.

Rome, and all other Italian cities, should rent out such locations for events – even for just one night, or one hour – in exchange for a high fee.

The rich and famous would be more than happy to pay for such an opportunity to enjoy Italy’s grandeur. As would ordinary people who may decide they can afford it for a special occasion.

These are solo, one-in-a-lifetime experiences in top sites, and must be adequately paid for. 

Rome’s Colosseum in February 2021. Lower visitor numbers amid the Covid-19 pandemic meant Italian residents were able to see the country’s major attractions without the crowds. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Italy is packed with historical, artistic and archeological gems that the entire world envies, people flock here just for a selfie in front of the Looming Tower of Pisa.

So why not make a leap forward and raise the bar for ‘private moments’; something Momoa, despite the unknown sum of money he paid, did not even actually get.

I’m not suggesting Italian cities lease monuments for weeks or months, for they belong to all humanity and everyone has a right to enjoy them. But allowing exclusive, short private experiences at Pompeii, or Verona’s arena, or just time to stare at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus or Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, should be seen as a source of extra revenue, not a taboo.

Italy should economically exploit its infinite artistic treasures as a powerful money maker, unleashing the full potential of it. 

If offered the chance, I think Elon Musk would not mind paying hundreds of thousands of euros, or even millions, for a private corporate cocktail party at the Colosseum.

OPINION: Italy must update its image if it wants a new kind of tourism

Of course, you’d need rules: a strict contract with specific clauses in case of damage or guest misbehavior; a detailed price list; and surveillance to safeguard the site during the private event. And extremely high fines if any clause is breached.

It’s a matter of looking at a city from a business and marketing perspective, not just a touristic one.

Today you can already take a private tour of the Vatican Museums for a higher ticket price, but it’s mostly for groups of 10 people, and there’s always a guide with you. You’re never really ‘still’ in your favorite room, so forget having a completely ‘private moment’.  

Taking photos inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel is usually forbidden, except for members of the media with special permission and, apparently, celebrities. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

One model city to take as reference is Florence, which in the past few years has done a good job of promoting the city brand.

The mayor’s office has set up a special committee that rents out Renaissance piazzas for private wedding celebrations and birthday parties, as well as several key historical spots like the Giardino delle Rose, and Palazzo Vecchio, the historical headquarters of the town hall.

There is an online menu with all the locations available for weddings and other private events, depending on the number of guests and type of celebration. 

Those interested should contact the town hall’s special ‘wedding task force’ if they want to book frescoed rooms in ancient palazzos or other buildings owned by local authorities. Last time I enquired, some elegant rooms are available to hire for as little as €5,000.

Would you pay big money to have major attractions, such as Rome’s Colosseum, all to yourself? Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Venice, too, has attempted to raise cash by renting the façades of public buildings overlooking the Canal Grande to global fashion brands for advertisements, but the move raised eyebrows among locals. 

Even in Florence, residents weren’t so pleased to see huge, lavish billionaire Indian weddings celebrated in front of their palazzi, blocking access to their homes.

Italians need to reset their mentality. If anyone is willing to pay big money to enjoy the solo thrill of a site or location, we should be more than happy to allow it. 

As a result, we might end up paying lower city taxes for waste removal, water and other services. Every day, for free, we share the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona with masses of noisy, coin-throwing, gelato-slurping tourists; why not occasionally accept a generous donation from a VIP or philanthropist eager to pay for a moment alone in the company of Bramante and Brunelleschi? 

We would only be helping our cities to maintain their artistic heritage, which fills us with pride.