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Rialto Bridge: a »Year of Experimentation«

Photo: sborisov / iStockphoto / Getty Images

The height of summer is over, even in Venice, but tourists continue to celebrate La Dolce Vita. And why not? When the sun is shining and around 25 degrees, it is all the more beautiful in the lagoon city and people come in droves to marvel at St. Mark's Square and walk through the alleys and over the Rialto Bridge. Backpackers sit on the cobblestones with pizza in their hands. Wheeled suitcase owners squeeze past. Cruise vacationers with name tags try to keep up with their group.

Many of them will have to buy some kind of ticket next year if they want to visit Venice. From 2024, short-term visitors who only stay a few hours in the lagoon city will pay a fee of five euros. This has now been decided by the city council.

What can Venice tourists expect in the future?

Who will have to pay the fee in the first place, how expensive will it be – and when will the new rule come into force? The overview:

  • Only short-term visitors who do not spend the night in Venice will be asked to pay, according to the Italian news agency Ansa. Children up to 14 years of age are also allowed to enter Venice without a ticket.

  • Tourists have to pay five euros per day per person. The daily newspaper »Corriere del Veneto« calls the first year a »year of experimentation«. Whether the price will remain or whether it will be changed in the future is still open. It is also conceivable to introduce a dynamic fee based on the flow of tourists.

  • First of all, the new fee system will be introduced for around 30 days in 2024. At Carnival and Easter, of all times? The exact dates are still open. According to Ansa, the focus will be on the spring and summer weekends.

  • Day visitors will have to obtain a QR code in advance via the Internet and download it to their mobile phone.

  • According to the »Corriere del Veneto«, there should be no tourist limit – in the form of a limit on tickets.

  • According to the report, the fee will not apply to the smaller islands such as Lido, Pallestrina, Murano, Burano and Trocello.

The Contributo d'Accesso (in German: access fee) is one of the issues that has been debated in Venice for years. "I call on everyone to work together so that Venice can be saved and become the oldest city of the future," says Mayor Luigi Brugnaro. He wants to achieve a "balance of interests" between residents and tourists. The centre-right politician has been pushing ahead with the plans for some time, but the fee has been postponed several times and also watered down. In the meantime, there was talk of up to ten euros, all year round.

Fines of up to 300 euros possible

The "Venice Ticket" is to be checked primarily at the train station and at the landing stages of the boats. If someone is caught without, a fine of 50 to 300 euros will be due. Children under 14 are exempt. The revenue – estimated at six million euros – is to be spent on preserving Venice without further damage.

However, many experts doubt that the fee will bring anything. Why should visitors be deterred by five euros – in a city that demands a lot from them anyway? The official fare for a half-hour gondola ride in the evening is now 100 euros. At Caffè Florian on St. Mark's Square, the cappuccino costs 11.50 euros, and the Bellini cocktail in "Harry's Bar" costs twice as much.

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Its owner, Arrigo Cipriani, simply calls the fee "harassment," which appeals to many businessmen. Several citizens' initiatives, on the other hand, do not believe that the fee is meant seriously by the municipality. The newspaper »Corriere della Sera« has calculated that the expected revenues are just enough to finance the necessary infrastructure and controls.

It's true, you don't want to cash in, says city councillor Simone Venturini, according to Ansa. For Venice, it is a "question of survival". The introduction of the fee guarantees "a better quality of life" for residents – and a better stay for overnight guests. Assuming the new fee would deter day tourists.

More beds than inhabitants

For cities like Venice, the word "overtourism" – the extreme form of mass tourism with all its negative effects – was invented. More than five million visitors come every year. In the high season, there are often more than 100,000 foreigners in the city at the same time – with less than 50,000 inhabitants at the core.

The Venetians are now very precise when it comes to the numbers. They illustrate the imbalance on the ground. "We now have more beds for tourists than residents in Venice," reported the residents' initiative Ocio last week. Specifically, according to the data, there were 49,693 beds compared to 49,308 inhabitants in the same area of the center. It is a "punto di non ritorno", a point of no return, wrote the "Corriere del Veneto". Fewer and fewer people live in Venice, and more and more come to spend their holidays here – in districts such as San Marco, Castello, Cannaregio and Dorsoduro.

But those who spend the night in Venice are still the lesser problem for the city. At least they pay the hoteliers a lot of money, empty their travel budgets in cafés, restaurants, gelateria – and shop for souvenirs. The anger is mainly directed against day holidaymakers, for whom the fee is now also being introduced. People like the Hartings from Vechta, Lower Saxony. Arrival at Santa Lucia station: 8.22 a.m., departure: 17.32 p.m.

"It's going to be uncomfortable," says Otto Harting, 58, as he stands on the Rialto Bridge. His wife Bernadette says: "It's crowded at the Eiffel Tower too. But I've never experienced anything like this." The two would pay the new fee without much objection. "It can't go on like this," says the 57-year-old.

Is Venice losing its status as a World Heritage Site?

Many speculate that the decision – and especially the date now of all times – is related to the fact that Unesco is currently deliberating whether Venice should be placed on the Red List of "Threatened World Heritage Sites".

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In July, experts from the UN cultural organization had recommended the listing because the city and lagoon were exposed to irreversible changes due to mass tourism and climate change.

This would put Venice in the same league as war zones such as Damascus, Sana'a or, more recently, Odessa – which the municipality, which is worried about its reputation, naturally wants to prevent at all costs. So the international headlines come in handy for Mayor Brugnaro. Unesco wants to decide in the next few days.