by Nick Squires, The Telegraph, April 25, 2018
Venice is to employ unprecedented crowd control measures to separate tourists from locals as the World Heritage city braces for a busy bank holiday weekend.
Tourists trying to reach the most popular landmarks – St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge – will be diverted to visitor-only routes, away from long-suffering locals who have for years complained that their day-to-day lives are made a misery by the invasion of visitors.
With the arrival of warm weather in Italy and the tourist season in full swing in La Serenissima, as the maritime republic was once called, there are fears of severe congestion in the city’s narrow streets and alleyways.
Tourist numbers are expected to peak between Saturday and Tuesday, May 1, which is a public holiday in Italy and many other countries.
Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor, signed a decree which contains “urgent measures to guarantee public safety, security and livability in the historic city of Venice.”
“The tourist flows heading to Rialto or San Marco will be directed on alternative routes,” the city council said.
Tourists who try to arrive by car from the Italian mainland may be blocked from using the one bridge that spans the lagoon, the Ponte della Libertà.
The effect of mass tourism is so smothering that Venice has long debated the possibility of setting a limit on the number of visitors who can enter each day and the restriction on cars appears to be a step in that direction.
The mayor said the package of extraordinary measures was “maybe the first (of its kind) in Italy”.
The objective was to “manage pedestrian and water traffic and the flows of people”.
The mayor said the measures were an “experiment”, suggesting that they may be implemented again if successful.
They appeared to be a response, in part, to this year’s Easter long weekend, when Venice was inundated with even more tourists than usual and visitors had to wait for up to an hour to board the city’s “vaporetto” water buses.
During this year’s Carnival, the city experimented with new technology, including laser sensors, to keep tabs on the huge crowds who descended on the city.
In 2016 Venetians, clutching suitcases and holdalls to symbolise exodus, staged a protest against the rapid depopulation of their city, warning that it risks turning into a cultural Disneyland unless drastic measures are taken.
The city’s population has dipped below 55,000, an historic low and a sharp drop from the 190,000 who lived there at the end of the Second World War.
Venice is not the only place in Europe that says tourists are threatening to extinguish the very thing they have come to see.
The Greek island of Santorini and Dubrovnik in Croatia have recently put limits on the number of tourists they are prepared to absorb.
Nearly two million people visited Santorini last year, 850,000 of them on cruise ships. The mayor has capped the daily influx at 8,000, fearing that the Cycladic island is otherwise in danger of losing its charm.
Campaigners from Santorini, Dubrovnik, Venice, Corfu and Rhodes gathered in Venice earlier this month to discuss how to control mass tourism.
They blame low-cost flights and the booming cruise ship industry for bringing ever greater numbers of visitors, and home-letting websites such as Airbnb for emptying historic destinations of locals and killing off community spirit.