#Venexodus: Responsible Tourism - Striking a Balance

Earlier this week, residents of Venice staged a protest against the decline in local population caused by an increased focus on tourism. With banners strung from the Rialto bridge and decorating the ever-present scaffolding, the #Venexodus protest culminated in a ceremonial departure from the ethereal city.

And when you look at the figures and how the daily hordes affect the day to day life of Venetians, it is easy to understand why.

During the summer months, cruise ships can offload up to 30,000 tourists a day into the city. Whilst this is beneficial for the local economy with shops, restaurants and the cultural sites generating much needed income and jobs for a country that has high unemployment and is financially in the doldrums, the downside is that those who live there permanently find it increasingly hard to live a normal life. 

"This is not a protest against tourism, it's a protest against the policies that the city has followed in the last 40 years," Venetian resident Andrea Castelli said.

"We don't want to leave the city, we are Venetian, we want to live here so we are asking the City of Venice to help us to stay in Venice," he added.

Not all Venetians live in
beautiful crumbling palazzos

Daily errands such as food shopping and getting to work are increasingly difficult as the city focuses on the tourist trade to the detriment of the those who live and work there full-time. There is also a housing shortage as more and more apartments are let out at high rents to the tourist market, which also makes it increasingly unaffordable for the locals.

It is estimated that the dwindling population decreases by a 1,000 every year as people escape the narrow alleys and scenic bridges crammed with the 60,000 daily tourists (greater than the current population of 54,926 as the pharmacy near the Rialto indicates) gorging on gelato and taking non-stop photos.In September, Venetians launched protest after protest as they came to the end of their tether. 

In early September, they took to the streets with trolleys and pushchairs and signs in Venetian dialect saying, “Ocio ae gambe che go el careo” – “Watch your legs, I'm coming through with a trolley.” They also complained against tourists taking up too much room with their large suitcases on the vaporetto water buses, not leaving any room for them to board and go about their business. The large suitcases, though, should be less complained about, at least those tourists are planning on staying at least one night, if not more. The majority of tourists (65% is oft quoted) are only there for the day.

copyright Deborah Cater

Later in September, there was another protest as Venetians tried to stop cruise ships from docking in Venice. The cruise ships are a double-whammy to Venice's fragile structure (both physical and social), dispatching huge numbers of tourists onto the islands and creating wash that damages the physical structures. 

Venetian protest to stop cruise ships

What is needed, and wanted, is a move from mass tourism to a controlled and more responsible form of tourism, one that meets the criteria set out in the Cape Town declaration in 2002:

  • minimises negative economic, environmental and social impacts;
  • generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;
  • involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life changes;
  • makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
  • provide access for people with disabilities and the disadvantaged;
  • is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.(my emphasis)
It is not just Venice that is fighting against the tide of tourism, Barcelona also broke out in protest in 2015 against what residents called "drunken tourism" which was making once-peaceful neighbourhoods almost impossible to live in. On top of the behaviour of the tourists was the fact that many apartments were now being turned into short-stay tourist rentals through companies such as Airbnb. The Barcelona council took measures with more closely regulated tourist flats and increased community police patrols among other actions. There is still discontent in areas such as La Barceloneta and banners saying "Cap pis turistic" (no more tourist flats) hang from balconies, that go largely unnoticed by the 9 million visitors* to the city.

I sincerely hope the authorities listen to the people of Venice: if not, 20 million tourists** will be walking round a ghost town populated by sellers of tourist tat, over-priced pizzas and spooky empty-eyed masks who, at the stroke of midnight vanish from the city leaving just the ghost of a beautiful, soulless city behind.

**annual tourist figures for Venice


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