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.
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.
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 confirmed in the coming weeks, but Venturini indicated in comments to the media that it is expected to be 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.
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.