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Venice tests a 5-euro fee for day-trippers as the city grapples with overtourism

Stewards check tourists' QR code access outside the main train station in Venice, Italy, on Thursday.
Luca Bruno
Stewards check tourists' QR code access outside the main train station in Venice, Italy, on Thursday.

VENICE, Italy — Under the gaze of the world's media, the fragile lagoon city of Venice launched a pilot program Thursday to charge day-trippers a 5-euro (around $5.35) entry fee that authorities hope will discourage visitors from arriving on peak days and make the city more livable for its dwindling residents.

Visitors arriving at Venice's main train station were greeted with large signs listing the 29 dates through July of the plan's test phase that also designated separate entrances for tourists, and residents, students and workers.

"We need to find a new balance between the tourists and residents,'' said Simone Venturini, the city's top tourism official. "We need to safeguard the spaces of the residents, of course, and we need to discourage the arrival of day-trippers on some particular days."

Not all residents, however, are persuaded of the efficacy of the new system in dissuading mass tourism, insisting that only a resurgence in the population will restore balance to a city where narrow alleyways and water buses are often clogged with tourists.

Hundreds of Venetians protested against the program, marching festively though the city's main bus terminal behind banners reading "No to Tickets, Yes to Services and Housing." Protesters scuffled briefly with police with riot gear who blocked them from entering the city, before changing course and entering over another bridge escorted by plainclothes police. The demonstration wrapped up peacefully in a piazza.

Citizens and activists stage a protest against Venice Tax Fee in Venice on Thursday.
Luca Bruno / AP
Citizens and activists stage a protest against Venice Tax Fee in Venice on Thursday.

Tourists arriving at the main station encountered almost as many journalists as stewards on hand to politely guide anyone unaware of the new requirements through the process of downloading the QR code to pay the fee.

Arianna Cecilia, a tourist from Rome visiting Venice for the first time, said she thought it was "strange" to have to pay to enter a city in her native country, and be funneled through separate entrance ways for tourists. She and her boyfriend were staying in nearby Treviso, and so downloaded the QR code as required, but she was still caught off-guard while soaking in her first view ever of Venice's canals by the sight of the entrance signs and her boyfriend telling her to get out the ticket.

On the other side of the entrance ways, workers in yellow vests carried out random checks at the train station. Transgressors faces fines of 50 to 300 euros ($53 to $320), but officials said "common sense" was being applied for the launch.

The requirement applies only for people arriving between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Outside of those hours, access is free and unchecked.

Venice has long suffered under the pressure of overtourism, and officials hope that the pilot project can help provide more exact figures to better manage the phenomenon.

The city can track the number of hotel visitors, which last year numbered 4.6 million and is down 16% from pre-pandemic highs. But the number of day visitors, which make up the majority of the crowds in Venice, could only be estimated until recently.

Stewards check a tourist's QR code access outside the main train station in Venice.
Luca Bruno / AP
Stewards check a tourist's QR code access outside the main train station in Venice.

A Smart Control Room set up during the pandemic has been tracking arrivals from cellphone data, roughly confirming pre-pandemic estimates of 25 million to 30 million arrivals a year, said Michele Zuin, the city's top economic official. That includes both day-trippers and overnight guests.

But Zuin said the data is incomplete.

"It's clear we will get more reliable data from the contribution" being paid by day-trippers, he said.

Venturini said the city is strained when the number of day-trippers reaches 30,000 to 40,000. On peak days, local police set up one-way traffic for pedestrians to keep the crowds moving.

Residents opposing the day-tripper tax insist that the solution to Venice's woes are to boost the resident population and the services they need, limiting short-term rentals to make available more housing and attract families back from the mainland.

Last year, Venice passed a telling milestone when the number of tourist beds exceeded for the first time the number of official residents, which is now below 50,000 in the historic center with its picturesque canals.

"Putting a ticket to enter a city will not decrease not even by one single unit the number of visitors that are coming,'' said Tommaso Cacciari, an activist who organized a protest Thursday against the measure.

"You pay a ticket to take the metro, to go to a museum, an amusement park. You don't pay a ticket to enter a city. This is the last symbolic step of a project of an idea of this municipal administration to kick residents out of Venice," he said.

Venice officials expected paid day-tripper arrivals Thursday to reach about 10,000. More than 70,000 others had downloaded a QR code denoting an exemption, including to work in Venice or as a resident of the Veneto region. Hotels in Venice, including in mainland districts like Marghera or Mestre, should provide a QR code attesting to their stay, which includes a hotel tax.

Venturini, the tourist official, said that interest in Venice's pilot program has been keen from other places suffering from mass tourism, including other Italian art cities, and municipalities abroad such as Barcelona, Spain, and Amsterdam.

But Marina Rodino, who has lived in Venice for 30 years, doesn't see the fee as the cure-all. Neighboring apartments in her residential building near the famed Rialto Bridge once inhabited by families are now short-term apartment rentals.

The corner butcher shop closed. Yet she noted that the new entrance fee requirement will still allow young people to flood the city in the evening for the traditional aperitivo, which can grow rowdy.

She was passing out mock European Union passports for "Venice, Open City," underlining the irony of the new system, and challenging its legal standing with citations from the Italian Constitution guaranteeing its citizens the right to "move or reside freely in any part of the national territory."

"This is not a natural oasis. This is not a museum. It is not Pompeii. It is a city, where we need to fight so the houses are inhabited by families, and stores reopen. That is what would counter this wild tourism,'' Rodino said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]