The current state of tourism is hurting Venice
The ever-increasing offering of low-cost travel transportation, housing, and planning has helped the tourism industry to boom in the past decades.
The year 2019 alone counted over 1.5 billion international arrivals.
However, most major stakeholders of the tourism industry focus on profit, not on sustainability.
Today, tourism hotspots are affected by mass tourism – when visitors arrive in masses of tens of thousands of people – and the industry in the most popular destination has turned into a problem, rather than a resource. Venice is one of them, and it is suffering a lot.
Venice residents dropped from 175.000 in 1951 to 50.000 in 2022. Why?
Data shows that the population in Venice has been constantly decreasing for several decades.
Several factors can explain why this is happening:
- An increased cost of living
- Higher cost of housing
- A decrease in quality of life (traditional shops replaced by low-quality souvenir shops, constant, for example)
- Lack of spaces for the youth
- Lack of rewarding job opportunities
All of the above can be linked directly to the impact caused by the dramatic increase in mass tourism in Venice.
Indeed, some local entrepreneurs and several foreign investors exploit this situation to target tourists and generate great profits. Meanwhile, authentic activities and shops have and are being strangled by: ever-increasing rents, a constantly decreasing market size of the local population, and the competition of tourist traps seducing tourists with their cheap mass-produced products or frozen food.
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Venice is a beautiful and unique city that must and can only be preserved by locals, who are the only people with the knowledge (and love) necessary to do so.
This is why one of the biggest threats to the survival of Venice is the disappearance of its citizens.
Without citizens, Venice loses the mastery and the know-how that keeps and kept Venice alive for thousands of years.
Alas, however, younger generations are forced to move out of the historical centre because they can not find rewarding jobs and unaffordable housing, having to give up on their dream of living in their city.
Currenlty, the Venice I.V. (“indice di vecchiaia” or “age index”, which represents the ratio between people over 64 and children under 15) is well above 2,80.
In other words, there are almost 3 people over 64 for every child under 15.
This, coupled with a 35% decrease in the population aged 20 to 34 between 2001 and 2011 (just 10 years!), does not leave much hope for the city.
To give Venice a chance of survival, strong measures must be taken to repopulate the city.
The above trend represents the number of locals and the number of tourists in Venice since 1950.
One of the reasons behind the constant increase of tourism arrivals is the decrease of international transportation.
Since 2015, Venice counts up to 30 million stays every year. And that in a city of fewer than 8 km2 (or 3 square miles)!
This increase, however, has also been coupled with a decrease in the average length of the stat of tourists and a shift of touristic behaviour that is harming deeply Venetian inhabitants and local businesses.
These changes in tourism and the daily saturation of tourists within the city has led to an invasion of mass-produced souvenir shops and tourist traps, that are putting many local enterprises and artisans’ shops out of business by causing an increase in the cost of living and renting.
The consequences of this are a decrease in 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.
One more problem is 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.
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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”, which lead the institution to consider putting Venice on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list in 2017.
Is there any chance for Venice?
We are convinced there is still hope for Venice, of course!
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 you and us.
We believe that YOU can make a difference! Travel Responsively, please.
Here's how you can start making a positive impact in Venice
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Make sure to check out the resources below to make the best out of your stay in Venice, while making a positive impact on the local community.
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