by Julia Buckley, The Independent, May 2, 2017
First they introduced separate lines for locals and tourists on the vaporettos. Next came rumblings about wheeled suitcases being banned. In between we’ve had protests about locals being priced out and viral videos of badly behaved tourists swimming in the Grand Canal.
And now Venice has taken a step closer towards Barcelona’s deliberate discouragement of tourists by bringing in people-counters at the city’s most popular sites, and planning to introduce a ticketing system for Piazza San Marco, the main square.
A city council meeting last Thursday approved plans – proposed by mayor Luigi Brugnaro and councillor for tourism Paola Mar – to effect the changes as quickly as possible.
Initially, the counters will merely register the number of people at popular sites, and share the figures in real time on social media and the city’s website, in the hope of deterring visitors from over-subscribed places such as Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, rather than capping numbers.
But ultimately, according to local newspapers, the council plans ticketed entry to the “area marciana” around the city’s most famous square.
Paid-for tickets to book entrance into Piazza San Marco "is an eventuality that exists, though not immediately", Mar told local paper Il Gazzettino, adding that any ticketing would be introduced "as part of an agreed route".
The council has also announced plans to bring in new maps highlighting lesser known routes around Venice, as well as a publicity campaign highlighting lesser known areas.
There is no indication so far as to when the counters will be introduced, but Brugnaro – who last year received an ultimatum from Unesco that unless swift action is taken, Venice will make its way onto its black list of at-risk sites – has announced that action will be taken sooner rather than later. The sites announced so far include the Riva degli Schiavoni (the waterside promenade which ends at Piazza San Marco), and bridges leading away from the railway station and Piazzale Roma, the terminus for the mainland.
Free WiFi will also be opened up to all, allowing the council to track and profile visitors in each location.
Not everyone is on board with the proposals, however. One Venetian shopowner, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Independent that they didn't like the idea "because I'd feel like the city was even more of an amusement park than it already is." Meanwhile, Italy’s minister of culture Dario Franceschini told reporters: “I’m against the idea of a ticket. You cannot make people pay a fee to access a historic centre or a square. Cities must stay open and free.”
However, he did acknowledge that “places of art that already suffer from overcrowding today, and that are fragile themselves, cannot hold an unlimited number of tourists. Places like… Piazza San Marco… have a finite capacity. They must be protected.”
Venice currently receives 30 million visitors per year, most of whom confine themselves to the most popular sights and routes around the city. A significant number are day trippers or cruise visitors, who contribute little or nothing to the local economy.
Charging visitors to enter city centres is a new idea for Italy, but not for the world. Visitors to Lijiang in China’s Yunnan province must shell out 80RMB (£9) to entre the historic old town