Why does Venice charge tourists to enter?
An increase in holidaymakers in certain places in recent years has added a word to the English language: overtourism. The idea that beauty spots are being overrun arose long before the pandemic, but the relaxation of covid-19 restrictions made things worse, resulting in another term being coined. “Revenge tourism” refers to the millions of people who are pouring out, who want to travel after two years of cooperation. On September 12 the city council of Venice, one of the bravest cities, voted to accept the worst response so far: imposing a high-season entrance fee of €5 ($5.40) for day-trippers. What are other places doing?
There are two types of problems. One includes places that are just too beautiful for their size. Take Hallstatt, a beautiful lakeside town in Austria. It has 700 residents and up to 10,000 visitors per day. Last month, the local people blocked the tunnel that leads to the town. The equally interesting Boracay in the Philippines tries to squeeze 2m tourists a year onto a four square mile island without spoiling it. How come? Impossible, it would seem. The amount of uncollected waste is so great that schools have had to close for a short time in recent months.
The second type of flashpoint is the “must see” site, whether it’s the Acropolis in Athens where the number of visitors will be limited this month, or the main temple at Angkor Wat, in Cambodia . But even cities like Barcelona or even entire countries, albeit small, like Iceland have seen protests against overpopulation.
Revenge tourism has only intensified an already existing issue. Several other reasons can be identified. First, the growth in tourism from rapidly developing countries with a high population. In 2000 just 10.5m Chinese tourists traveled abroad, according to the World Bank. In 2019, the year before China locked down, 154.6m did. India’s export market grew from 4.5m to 26.9m over the same period.
Secondly, an increase in the size of cruise ships, the largest of which carry thousands of passengers. Juneau, the capital of the state of Alaska, has limited the number of arrivals at five large ships a day; residents of Maine’s Bar Harbor, gateway to Acadia National Park, hope to put a more radical end to 1,000 daily trips.
At the same time sites such as Airbnb have provided large numbers of additional tourist beds. And social media has previously been incredibly popular in individual establishments, especially fast food establishments. Tourists queuing next to the scores to buy a outlinea strong sandwich, from Antico Vinaio in Florence, or the gourmet chips offered by Fabel Friet in Amsterdam, lining the streets, disturbing the locals.
Many of the countermeasures introduced so far are aimed at reducing the impact of mass tourism, rather than cutting its numbers. According to research by Holidu, a vacation rental agency, Dubrovnik is the busiest vacation destination in Europe. But the only response from the Croatian authorities was to suggest that visitors should deposit their wheeled suitcases before entering the city to reduce noise. Even the Venice campaign will only apply for limited periods.
Why the reticence? Big tourism brings money. It could also have the indirect effect of reducing complaints, as residents leave, either out of desperation or to rent their homes. One way that might help is to try to spread the tourists more thinly. France has unveiled a plan designed to attract holidaymakers to less-visited parts of the country. But that is unlikely to appeal to new tourists who have never been to the Louvre or visited St Tropez. TooLate, a street artist working on the Riviera, offers a more radical solution. He has been building large rat traps with which he can “exterminate” tourists, at least symbolically. The bait is an equally large ice cream. ■