Back in 1882, Henry James wrote about his disdain for tourists in Venice, Italy. “Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice,” he wrote. “There is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors.” Now, some 136 years later, it’s even worse.
Nearly 30 million people set foot in the canal city each year, according to the Italian tourist bureau. But not even a third spend a night in one of its more than 1,500 hotels and B&Bs. Those who do stay are charged around $5 extra per night as part of the city’s seven-year-old tourist tax. Now, thanks to a measure included in Italy’s 2019 budget that was passed over the weekend, the rest—primarily cruise-ship passengers who sleep on their boats—will now have to pay, too.
As part of Italy’s 2019 budget, which was passed with a parliamentary majority, Venice has now been given permission to charge tourists who do not spend the night as much as $12 a day for just setting foot in the canal city. But implementing the new tax may prove a logistical nightmare. Water taxis traverse the canals from the airport far outside the city center, meaning it might be easy for those flying in to avoid the tourist tax if they arrive directly in the city center, though city officials argue that anyone flying in is likely also spending at least a night.
Last May, the Venice city council introduced turnstiles into the old city from the main square used by the hordes of cruise-ship passengers who are seen to be the most problematic tourists—and primary target of the new tax—to the city. The turnstiles are intended to ebb the flow of people into the city when it is impossible to move or when the number of people poses a security risk. The city can close the turnstiles and only allow citizens and those staying at hotels into the city. Those opposed to the turnstiles argued that it was one step closer to turning the canal city into a Disneyland. The new entrance fee will likely do nothing to calm those fears.
The city’s 50,000 citizens have proof of residence, and hotels and B&Bs are supposed to give their guests special cards that let them enter when the turnstiles are closed.
Now, the turnstiles are likely to be used to collect entrance tickets from those on cruise ships or day trippers who come in by train from nearby towns.
Cruise ships have been a problem for Venice for years. Not only do the massive ocean liners erode the canals when they pass by the Grand Canal near St. Mark’s Square, but the tourists themselves contribute nothing but chaos with little return, because they generally eat their meals and spend their nights back on their ships.
Venice has struggled to find a balance to pacify the thousands of Venetians who work in the cruise-ship sector and the millions of euros made by local companies that supply the ships when they dock. Cruise-ship arrivals have slowly been declining, from a peak of 1.8 million a year in 2013 to around 1.45 million last year.
The current tourist tax that applies to those who stay in the city overnight nets about $35 million a year. The new tax is expected to increase that to nearly $58 million a year—assuming the tourists keep coming knowing that have to pay an entrance fee.