At the end of 2018 the Venice city council announced that it would be introducing a new entry fee, a tax on every tourist entering the city. This is partly a response to overtourism, and partly a way of bringing in much needed revenue. But what precisely is the problem, and how far will the Venice Tourist Tax address it?

Rialto Bridge, Venice
The Rialto Bridge is a popular spot for tourists

The Problem of Overtourism in Venice

Overtourism in Venice has led to several related problems. Approximately 25m tourists now arrive in the city each year. More than 50% of these visitors only stay for one day (about a million of these arrive on cruise ships). Many of them spend little or no money during their visit, leading to accusations that they are enjoying the city for free while not contributing to the costs of cleaning and upkeep.

St Mark's Square, Venice
Like many places in Venice, St Mark’s Square is “free” for tourists to visit

This puts a tremendous strain on Venice’s already fragile buildings and infrastructure. And local people complain that the city is losing its character, that its traditions and way of life are giving way to the needs of tourists. The permanent population is in decline, to the extent that the ratio of tourists to residents is now approximately 140:1!

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Introducing the Venice Tourist Tax

The tourist tax (also known as the “Venice Fee”) is to be introduced in the summer of 2019. The amount will be variable, ranging from €2.50 to €10 depending on the season, and will be charged on entry, whether by land, air or sea. However, tourists staying overnight in hotels will be exempt, as they already pay a visitor tax.

Venice Tourist Tax
Pinnable image – can the Venice Tourist Tax combat overtourism?

The Venice Fee is in addition to other measures. Visitors can already be fined for unauthorised or antisocial activities. These include littering, dragging wheeled suitcases through the historic area, and sketching in the street without a permit… And a ban on the largest cruise ships is expected in the near future.

Is the Venice Fee a Good Solution?

The modest amounts being charged are unlikely to deter many visitors. However they will go some way towards offsetting the expense of accommodating millions of tourists every day. Just as important, the Venice Tax will establish the principle that there is a cost to visiting the city, that it should be paid for like any other tourist attraction.

Gondola in Venice
Gondolas are traditional transport in Venice, but today they are mostly used by tourists

However, there is another side to the question. A substantial part of Venice’s economy – and its jobs – derives from tourism. A drop in visitor numbers could result in a further fall in the city’s population. In fact, there are already signs that visitors are starting to avoid the city, put off both by crowds and by a feeling that they are unwelcome.

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The Right Kind of Tourist?

This leads us to the question, is there a right kind of tourist? It certainly seems that there is a wrong kind: the people who visit, take a few selfies in iconic locations, and leave again without having contributed to the local economy.

I’ve written before about how tourists can benefit from travelling differently, by engaging more deeply with the places they visit. Perhaps the answer is for Venice to have fewer tourists, who stay for longer. After all, it has lots of hotels and restaurants that deserve to be patronised…

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