Venice has been luring people to her watery canals and romantic atmosphere for centuries. Founded in the 5th century as temporary settlements to escape invasions by Attila the Hun, Venice rose to be one of the greatest capitals in the medieval world. After a rise and fall as a maritime superpower between the 9th and 15th centuries, she kept her worldwide recognition during the Renaissance period by becoming the hotspot for arts and culture. In 1987 Venice became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and nowadays tourists are her biggest patron…biggest patron, indeed. To the tune of over 20 million visitors a year. Venice over-tourism is now a huge problem for the city.
Low-cost travel transportation, cheap lodging and easy tech-driven travel planning has spurred over one billion people to leave their home and go see the world. One can hardly argue why Venice is at the top of so many of those travelers’ bucket lists. For starters the entire city is an architectural masterpiece, follow that with being surrounded by a magical atmosphere of waterways and bridges, a rich cultural history, the romance of getting around only by foot or in a boat, now bookend all of that with delicious Italian food and wine. Yes, please! Who wouldn’t want to make this a “must-see” destination?
Over-tourism in Venice is taking a massive toll
The daily visitor count in Venice can rise as high as 120,000 people in high season. Venice only has 55,000 permanent residents to begin with. Visitors from cruise ships, as many as 40,000 a day pour into the city, stay for a few hours and leave. This type of tourist usually visits the main attractions, buys a few trinkets, clogs up the bridges for the selfie, and hops back on the boat before dinner is served. There is no significant financial contribution made at all.
People that come into the city and only stay a night or two might also be part of the problem. Property in Venice is expensive. Many home owners are turning their real-estate into lucrative short-term rentals. This practice is nice for the traveler on a budget but makes it impossible for locals to find affordable housing.
The tourism industry in Venice is by far the largest employer. It’s hard for locals to find opportunities outside of that field. The charming restaurants, shops, and experiences become just for tourists. All of the workers are there just for tourists.
When people can’t go about their daily routines without being hit by a selfie-stick every single day, they are annoyed. When people can’t afford housing because it’s all rented out to tourists, they can’t live there. When locals can’t find work except in tourism, they might not be able to pursue their career there. It stands to reason that when Venetian residents can’t afford it, don’t desire it and aren’t fulfilled by it, they leave their beloved city and the population shrinks. Authenticity is lost and the city becomes nothing more than a Disneyland park built for tourists.
How to Responsibly Visit Venice
It’s ok to still want to visit this amazing city. There are ways to be a responsible tourist and make sure you aren’t contributing to the problem. Travel in the off-peak season. Stay several nights and eat and shop local. Get out and explore beyond the tourist hotspots and spend your money there too. Adhere to the local traditions for dress and behavior. Learn a few phrases in Italian and use them when you interact with shop owners and restaurant staff. Most importantly just be kind and respectful.