by Nick Squires, The Telegraph, December 19, 2019
Hotel bookings in Venice are down by 40 per cent as images of the city under water during last month’s record flooding dissuade tourists around the world from visiting.
Tens of thousands of bookings have been cancelled since the city was inundated by a series of unusually high tides and tourism officials fear the worst for Christmas and New Year.
The high tides of mid-November, the highest of which reached 1.87 metres, were the worst since the big flood of 1966 and left gondolas marooned on canal banks and tourists struggling through murky water up to their waists.
Venetians say that tourists who think the city remains underwater for days are mistaken, pointing out that when an “acqua alta” or high tide event happens, it comes and goes in a matter of hours.
A pair of Wellington boots or waders are enough to cope with all but the most extreme floods, they say.
Lanes and piazzas that are knee deep in water at breakfast can be dry by lunchtime.
“It’s a disaster. Tourists don’t understand how the high tides work and think that Venice is badly flooded every time,” Claudio Scarpa, the director of the Association of Venetian Hoteliers, told La Repubblica newspaper.
Vittorio Bonacini, the association’s president, said: “We want to show the world that there is no danger and that Venice is as splendid as always.
“People think that if there is a high tide of 1.1 metres they’re going to have to swim across St Mark’s Square. It’s not like that.”
Marco Polo airport, just across the lagoon from Venice, has reportedly seen a 20% drop in traffic since the dramatic flooding.
“The flooding was dramatic but we are back to normal,” said Claudio Vernier, the president of an association of businesses in St Mark’s Square. “I’ve never seen so few tourists.”
The winter floods are by no means over – on Saturday there is expected to be a high tide of 1.45 metres which will leave 60 per cent of the city underwater, albeit just for a few hours.
Ordinary Venetians have long complained of being swamped by tourists but campaigners said they would rather see a decline in the number of day-trippers and cruise ship passengers, rather than a drop in hotel bookings.
“People who overnight in hotels put far more money into Venice’s economy than those who stay just for the day,” said Matteo Secchi from Venessia.com, a pressure group which campaigns against over-tourism and the decline of the city’s population.
“They are high value visitors. We’d rather see cancellations from the big cruise ship companies-they are the ones who bring the congestion.”