The current state of tourism is hurting Venice
With the ever increasing offering of low-cost travel transportation, housing, and planning, the industry of tourism has boomed in the past decades. In the summer of 2017, 1 billion people are expected to be traveling the world. The problem is that the main actors of the tourism industry focus on profit, not on sustainability. Today, tourism happens in mass and it is an issue rather than a resource for the hot spots of tourism. Venice is one of them, and it suffers a lot.
Venice population dropped from 174.808 inhabitants in 1951 to the current 54.976 (October 2016). Why?
The fact that the native Venetian population keeps on decreasing since several decades can be explained by several factors, within which the increase of cost of living, decrease of quality of life (shops and activities for locals have been replaced by low-quality souvenir shops), lack of spaces for the youth and of job opportunities, staggering increase of the cost of housing..
All of the above can be linked directly to the dramatic increase of mass tourism and, as a consequence, of activities exploiting this situation. As a result, authentic activities and shops have been strangled by ever increasing rents, constantly decreasing the local market size, and by the success of tourist traps seducing tourists with their cheap made in china products.
Venice is a beautiful and unique city, which has to be preserved and can only be preserved by the very people who have the love and the knowledge to do so.
Therefore, one of the biggest threats to the survival of Venice is the disappearance of its citizens and, with them, the mastery and the know-how that keeps and kept Venice alive for thousands of years.
New generations are forced to move out of the historical center because of the unaffordable cost of housing, leaving Venice in great peril.
As of 2015, the Venice I.V. (“indice di vecchiaia” or “age index”, which represents the ratio between people over 64 and children under 15) is 2,80: there are almost 3 people over 64 for every child under 15. This, coupled with a 35% decrease of the population aged 20-34 set between 2001 and 2011 (just 10 years!), does not leave much hope to the city if no strong measures are taken to repopulate the city.
The above trend represents the number of locals and the number of tourists in Venice since 1950.
Due to the decreasing cost of international transportation, the touristic flow in Venice has been constantly increasing for the past decades, reaching up to 30 million stays in 2015, in a city of fewer than 8 km2 (or 3 square miles). This increase in tourism coincides however with a decreased length of stay, and a shift of touristic behavior that is harming deeply the inhabitants and the local businesses.
The daily saturation of the city leads to an overwhelming invasion of cheap, imported, souvenirs and tourist traps, which are destroying local businesses and artisans’ shops as they cause an increase in the cost of living and renting. The consequences of this are a decrease of life quality and opportunities for the locals, as well as a worsened experience for responsible and caring visitors.
Why are we speaking of a decrease in quality of life for the inhabitants as well as a decrease in quality of the stay for visitors?
Until the early 2000s, most visitors would come and stay in Venetian hotels for a few nights, taking a few days for exploring the city as a whole, visiting Venice beyond the landmarks, discovering the local life and culture.
In recent years, along with a yearly staggering increase in the number of the visitors, the way of visiting the city has changed: many tourists now come to Venice as a day/hour trip, as part of a cruise, for example, dramatically modifying social, logistic, economic and touristic aspects of the city.
A vivid effect of this shift towards day-trips is that the only walkways used by dozens/hundred of thousands are the main streets connecting Piazzale Roma and the Train Station (the arrivals area) with the Rialto Bridge and Saint Mark’s square.
For 11 months a year, Venice assists to an almost daily gigantic human wave arriving in the city and trying to quickly move to and back from the two most known Venetian landmarks, resulting in a total jam.
To make things worse, Venice cannot provide picnic or resting areas because of its small size and its morphology, resulting in visitors sitting down for resting and eating on bridges, narrow alleys, house doors and shop windows blocking even further the already jammed city.
Even though they are not perceived as such, alleys and bridges in Venice are the equivalent to streets and crossroads in other cities. Blocking them is a guarantee for Venetians to get angry at you.
Another effect of this approach to visiting the city is the impossibility for day-trippers themselves to take the time to appreciate the city and to understand what is genuine and worth their money, and what is absolutely not.
Foreign investors and investment funds have decided to take advantage of this situation by purchasing shops on the busiest paths to display their cheap/very cheap merchandise, luring in the passing tourists and selling mass produced plastic goods which, at best, are of no value. At worst, they have been found to be toxic.
A further problem is the fact that Italy has a high unemployment rate but no minimum wage, and these businesses, in particular, exploit the situation even further: employees struggle to live even in Mestre (which has much lower rents), while the company they work for is destroying local and family businesses and artisans’ shops.
The investment race for selling 99cents souvenirs has led to a spike in the price of shops and rents that forced many genuine local activities, which were not aiming at masses, to try and move to less visited and therefore less expensive areas.
Because of the day-trip approach and the ever decreasing local population, however, those less visited areas struggle to have enough customers, leading an ever increasing number of local activities to close and never to open again.
This lack of opportunities and the negative outlook for young Venetians is leading more and more people to leave the city, well knowing that they will never be able to come back unless the current situation changes.
Are the negative effects of mass tourism in Venice really that bad?
The situation we just described could seem to be a bit too gloomy to you, maybe a result of a pessimistic approach.
The considerations we made, however, are perfectly in line with UNESCO’s last report about the current situation of “Venice and its Lagoon”, that lead to the decision to put Venice in the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list by February 2017, if, by then, the Townhall and the Italian Government have not passed laws to take back the control over multiple problems that are endangering this city and its inhabitants.
Is there any chance for Venice?
We absolutely think there is!
Our strong determination and optimism make us believe it is possible to change this very negative trend and to improve the life of the Venetians, the health of the city, and the quality of the stay of the visitors… but we don’t trust the authorities for making this change happen.
We believe that Venice can prosper again, but only thanks to the people like US. We believe that YOU can make a difference! Travel Responsively, please.
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