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Overtourism: divide and conquer? #2

Disruptions, incivility, depletion of resources and inhabitants, degradation of the visitor experience... tourism would, for some destinations, be a source of unrest felt too frequently by indigenous people. Between myth and reality, what are the real issues? What do the hotel activity figures say? What solutions have been provided? Hospitality ON is launching a series of analyses on this subject, which has been in the news since the beginning of the summer. Part Two: Venice.

What the press and politicians are saying

The Mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, is trying to fight mass tourism in its city, at least to reduce its negative impact on the urban environment. An entrepreneur hailing from the working class, this former business leader has a popular and populist political image, giving residents priority over tourists. The situation is such that the demographic balance is negative: the city's residential population is declining every year as residents flee the constant tides of tourists that swarm into the city every day of the year. Matteo Secchi, president of the association, explained:

The center of Venice is losing 1,000 residents each year. It now has fewer than 55,000, compared to 100,000 forty years ago, there is great danger. We are becoming Pompeii, a city people come to visit, say it is magnificent, but where no one lives.

Among other things leading to this mass exodus of residents is the explosion of real estate prices, whether it is in terms of buying or renting. This crisis was greatly generated by the increasing scarcity of square meters that have been taken over different temporary accommodation solutions for tourists. Residents are moving out to the suburbs where the cost of living is much more affordable.

The figures

The Serenissima has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1987 and continues to attract increasing volumes of visitors who want to discover the famous lagoon city. Each year it hosts 30 million visitors on average, while its residents are only about 55,000. Demonstrating an undeniable appeal, the city outperformed throughout almost all of August 2019, placing it among the Top-3 best growth results in terms of occupancy rate during the weeks of August 5 to 1112 to 18 August, and 19 to 25 August.

On average over the year, Venice's hotel supply shows an occupancy rate of 73.1% (Hospitality ON data), with a peak during the summer period when occupancy is around 90% in 2019, and a slow period in winter, with an average TO of between 40 and 50%. In other words, during the peak season hotels are well filled or even full, while during the low season, about half of the available rooms are not occupied. The number of visitors to Venice is therefore very cyclical, alternating between periods of very high demand and periods of relatively low demand. Overtourism thus takes place "only" during a certain period of the year, stretching more or less from May to September.

Average daily rates follow a very similar variation curve. The annual average daily rate is €218.92 ex-VAT, and it varies during the year between €147.39 ex-VAT in January 2019 (the slowest in the winter season) and € 259.34 ex-VAT in May 2019 (beginning of the peak season). The RevPAR, meanwhile, is estimated at €159.99 ex-VAT  on average from August 2018 to July 2019.

The solutions

Further to deterioration of places caused by tourist flows, Luigi Brugnaro launched the slogan "EnjoyRespectVenezia". This slogan illustrates a campaign to raise awareness in 2017 during the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It was intended to encourage visitors to respect places by observing a certain number of rules to preserve "the environment, the landscape, artistic beauty, the identity of Venice and its residents".

These rules have been listed in a guide to good behavior for visitors called Un Ospite di Venezia, qui explique "Good rules for the responsible visitor":

  • Discover the hidden treasures of Venice in the least visited places to appreciate Venice’s exceptional beauty.
  • Explore the islands in the lagoon and Mainland Venice, participate in events spread throughout the Metropolitan City.
  • Taste the local products and typical Venetian cuisine.
  • Visit the artisans' workshops and learn about the ancient trades that still exist today in Venice. Choose only original products and do not buy any goods from illegal vendors.
  • Book tours with qualified tourist guides able to recount Venice's thousand-year-old history.
  • Walk on the right, do not stand at any time on bridges, do not even lead bikes by hand.
  • Steps of churches, bridges, wells, monuments and banks of streams, canals etc. are not picnic areas. Please use the public gardens for this necessity. Consult the map.
  • St. Mark's Square is a monumental site and excluding pertinent bars and restaurants, it is forbidden to stand at any time in order to consume food or drink.
  • Venice is a city of art: it is forbidden to camp, walk about in swimwear, dive and swim. The beaches at Lido and Pellestrina can be easily reached.
  • Respect the environment and artistic wealth: do not litter, do not vandalize with graffiti, or padlocks. Do not give food to the pigeons.
  • If you are staying in an apartment or flat, please get informed about the garbage recycling collection.
  • Plan your trip and choose to visit Venice when it is less crowded. Consult the Tourist Report.

These rules go beyond simple courtesy and must be followed at all times. People who do not respect them risk fines ranging from € 25 to 500.

Due to the abundant supply of temporary accommodations, such as hotels, hostels as well as accommodation rented via digital platforms, the supply of housing is becoming increasingly scarce. The mayor therefore took a radical step to limit this "nibbling away at" the city's residential supply, by prohibiting the creation of new hotels in 2017.

The following year, municipal authorities set up during the first weekend of May and the Easter period, usually very busy for Venice, a system of routes connecting the city's key tourist attractions. This limited tourist's access to other streets, reserved for residents of these neighborhoods who hold what is called the Venezia Unica card. An official statement explained that these were "urgent measures to ensure public safety and quality of life in the historic city of Venice". The mayor also indicated that such measures could be taken again during busy weekends.

More recently, the City of Venice has announced that it will soon introduce an entry ticket system for visitors who do not stay inside the city, in other words, for excursionists. This measure should take the form of a visit tax applied to transport tickets to access Venice, regardless of the mode of transport chosen (boat, train, etc.). The tax, which should be implemented this month (September 2019), will be collected by the carrier, who will in turn remit it to the city. It will range from 3 to 10 € depending on the season of the visit. The more intense the period (such as low, mid or peak season), the higher the tax will be. People staying inside Venice will be exempted from it as they will already pay the tourist tax with their accommodations. The visit tax would allow the city of the Doges to collect some 50 million euros per year, which will be reinvested in the maintenance of urban facilities (streets, paving stones, bridges, cultural heritage...).

Finally, the last solution found by the municipality, which has already been raised several times, is to ban high-capacity cruise ships. Cruise ships weighing more than 1,000 tonnes will no longer be able to dock at the quays of Venice starting September 1, 2019. This decision by the municipality follows an incident in early June 2019, to which Mayor Brugnaro responded, saying, "once again it has [been] shown that large ships cannot cross the Giudecca Canal". In the early morning of Sunday, June 2, 2019, a ship, the MSC Opera, experienced engine failure, causing a violent collision with one of the city's docks as well as a collision with a tourist shuttle, injuring four people and causing a wave of panic.

In addition to the fact that this measure will unclog the Port of Venice, according to Ralph Hollister, tourism analyst at GlobalData, it is above all a response to residents' discontent:

Diverting cruise ships out of the centre of Venice will make local residents feel like their complaints have been taken into account.

Or il explique que loin d’entériner le problème, cela ne fera que le repousser en périphérie, laquelle souffrira à son tour des conséquences de l’activité des grandes croisières :

Il est probable que les touristes redirigés se déplaceront vers les îles centrales via de grands autocars et des services de taxi (…) cela étendra la question du surtourisme à de nouvelles zones en dehors du centre, créant ainsi des embouteillages qui pollueront les banlieues.

Moreover, the mayor has attempted to have Venice added to the List of World Heritage in Danger further to this event. In reality UNESCO had already asked the Italian government to take measures to preserve the city from mass tourism in 2017, and to do so before 2021, or under penalty of which the international body would include the Lagoon City on the list of endangered sites. For the moment That request has thus been refused.

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