But not all locals are happy, saying the mayor is treating the city like a theme park.
On the first weekend in May, the mayor of Venice announced a plan to segregate tourists from locals. Rather than leaving the city wide open for anyone to explore, Luigi Brugnaro ordered the installation of turnstiles and barriers to redirect visitors to popular landmarks. CNN reported that tourists coming from the water would be prevented from disembarking on the usual landings and diverted to special facilities. Only locals carrying "Venezia Unica" cards would be allowed access to the other parts of the city.
This drastic decision is part of an attempt to cope with the enormous numbers of tourists that descend upon Venice each year. 2016 saw 52 million visitors, which is nearly as much as Italy's entire population, while Venice itself has only 50,000 inhabitants -- one-third of what it had in the 17th century.
Too many tourists means clogged walkways and bridges, congested canals, dirty enormous cruise ships parked out front, and excessive trash and litter. It causes wear and tear on already fragile old buildings, and fuels frustration among locals who have to compete with slow-moving crowds of selfie-snapping sightseers to get wherever they're going. Many Venetians have called for cruise ships to be rerouted, but so far this hasn't happened.
One might suppose, then, that Brugnaro's efforts to "experiment with a new tourism management system" would be lauded by the locals, but many were, in fact, furious. There were protesters in the streets on the first weekend in May, shouting "Venice is not a fun fair," "free Venice!" and "This is not Veniceland." The Guardian cites anti-cruise ship campaigner Tommaso Cacciari:
“This is the worst initiative imaginable, which does nothing to solve our tourism problem. Mass tourism has destroyed this city in the last 10 years. Rather than stupid turnstiles and police checks, we need housing that allows Venetians to live in their city, rather than tourist B&Bs, and an economy that is diverse rather than solely about tourism. The real problem is that the politicians who run this city want to turn it into a theme park. So these metal barriers are not to limit access but the opposite: to show that our home is already a museum and entertainment park. It announces to the world that, like Disneyland, Venice opens and closes with a gate.”
Some other locals did approve, telling Guardian reporters, “At last, something is being done to control these daytrippers who don’t give a darn about our city.”
It's a tricky situation, and I don't envy Brugnaro his job. The numbers of tourists obviously do need to be limited to maintain a livable city, and this has to come from municipal and provincial governments. But it would also be nice to see tourists taking greater responsibility for the problems they're causing and understanding that their industrial-style methods for seeing the world cause real harm to others. There need to be broader discussions about the ethical and environmental impacts of travel, and how one should behave while visiting a city. As hotelier Gloria Beggiato said,
"People need to understand and respect the little things that are so important in Venice’s daily life: keeping to the right when crossing bridges, not stopping on the raised walkways to take pictures during Acqua Alta [high tide], not littering and not sitting down for lunch on someone’s doorway."