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 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.

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 more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

A growing number of Italian destinations are bringing in rules aimed at controlling the summer crowds. Such measures often prove controversial - but they should go further, says Silvia Marchetti.

OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

Each summer, as tourists flock to Italy, the question of limiting crowds and ensuring sustainable travel comes up. Especially so with Covid.

Placing a threshold on the number of visitors to some of Italy’s top spots has a two-fold goal: that of preserving the artistic and cultural value of the site, and of preventing out-of-control mass tourism from leading to accidents.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which parts of Italy will get the most tourism this summer?

Proposed crowd-control measures usually raise eyebrows, but they shouldn’t. They’re a good way to balance sustainability, and existing rules should be extended to more hotspots.

The Cinque Terre park, known for its stunning hiking trails connecting the area’s cliffhanging fishing villages, has introduced summer tourist limits to preserve its delicate ecosystem. A few parts of the trails, like the Lovers Path connecting Manarola to Riomaggiore, are closed due to soil erosion and landslides.

Groups of no more than 15 hikers are allowed inside the Cinque Terre park in rotation, and there’s a cap of 200 available boat tickets for those preferring to admire the views comfortably from sea while bathing.

Liguria remains a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy this summer.

The Cinque Terre remain a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy, attracting huge crowds. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

Many locations across Italy are reverting to, or are considering, some kind of restricted access to offset high demand with ‘green’, safe travel. 

The Amalfi coast has a summertime limit on driving along the route connecting Positano to Vietri sul Mare to ease congestion, while a few years ago the mayor even banned tourist selfies to stop massive crowds of people invading the whitewashed alleys and sitting on brick walls.

There are currently strict limits on the number of people allowed to visit the Tuscan archipelago national park each summer, mainly the protected islands of Montecristo (uninhabited other than a caretaker), and the two prison islands of Gorgona and Pianosa (boasting a hotel run by inmates on probation). A maximum of 150-200 tourists are admitted annually to each of these isles.

You also need to move fast if you want to spend a weekend in Sardinia, touring its tropical-like baby powder beaches and paradise isles. The number of restrictions in place is on the rise.

On Budelli island, the pearl of the La Maddalena archipelago, other than the pink coral beach, the Cavalieri beach is also now totally off limits, meaning landing on the entire island is forbidden.

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

The beaches of Lu Impostu and Brandinchi along San Teodoro’s coast will allow just 1500 and 3300 sunbathers each, while Stintino’s popular La Pelosa beach allows 1500, making tourists pay €3.50 per day and wear a yellow bracelet for identification.

The paradise archipelago of La Maddalena is seeing more tourist restrictions imposed. Photo by Leon Rohrwild on Unsplash

The abandoned former prison island of Santo Stefano, off Rome’s coast, which is part of a protected marine park brimming with barracudas and groupers, is currently undergoing a transformation into an open-air museum with a tiny hostel. Project managers have already pledged daily tourism will be “contained”’ to preserve the unique habitat.

In the mountains too, authorities are eyeing tougher limits. At Lago di Braies in the Dolomites, 14 tourists recently fell into the freezing water trying to take awesome, but silly, selfies of their acrobatic skills despite warning signs.

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

In my view, all of Italy’s tourist hotspots should have some kind of regulation and police patrols, including top city highlights like the Trevi Fountain, Florence’s Duomo, and Venice, which in fact is expected to become Italy’s first city with a tourist limit from January 2023. People will have to book and buy a special pass to see the canals, bridges and piazzas.

If Venice succeeds in doing this, then it will show other cities that they too can control access to at least their biggest hotspots.

In Rome, the Pantheon has done a great job in introducing mandatory (but free) reservations on weekends, putting a stop to visitors just stepping inside to take a peek.

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

The Fontana di Trevi, Piazza Navona and especially Piazza di Spagna should be more heavily patrolled, and Rome authorities should really consider a set tourist limit.

But just the idea is controversial, seen as a no-no depriving tourists of the thrill of throwing coins inside Rome’s iconic fountain to make a wish.

The Trevi fountain in Rome attracts a constant stream of tourists. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

There is a constant, sterile discussion within the city council and the national arts department on tougher regulations and limited entrances to Rome’s main sites.

Culture minister Dario Franceschini is pushing for a more sustainable ‘fountain experience’ that limits crowds and prevents heat-struck visitors from diving inside. He recently argued that allowing “1,000 or 100,000 visitors in front of the Trevi fountain” puts both them and the masterpiece at risk.

Ugly red tape, orange nets and rusty fences are occasionally placed around the Trevi Fountain without much of an outcome.

There are architectural barriers to stop people from sitting on the edges and dangling their feet inside the water at Fontana delle Tartarughe and Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona, but it’s not enough. 

Setting a daily cap on visitors is the best solution; even better than introducing a ticketing system, because any tourist, once in the Eternal City, would pay to get in, and it would not be fair to discriminate based on money.

After all, if Italian universities can restrict enrollment for medical students, when new doctors are vital during Covid, I see no reason why tourist attractions can’t set limits when their own survival is at stake.