From the hardware store that recently became another café for tourists, to the souvenir shop that replaced a fruit stand, to the last school closing in a remote neighborhood, daily life for many residents of venice continues to change day by day.
For the first time this month, there are more tourist beds on Venice's main islands than residents, including hotels and short-term rentals such as Airbnb, according to Ocio, which campaigns for affordable housing in a city that has struggled for decades with the impact of mass tourism. The estimate has made national headlines in Italy and deepened fears that the city will soon be populated only by tourists and a few locals.
The tourist takeover of Venice used to be a problem in the summer and a few other peak times of the year. Now it is spread over the whole calendar, and at the same time the resident population is in steady decline, falling below 50,000 last year for the first time in more than three centuries. Twenty years ago it was 66,000 and in the early 1950s it was 175,000.
Locals in Venice waved their arms at the mass of tourists filling a square near the Rialto Bridge and said, "Look at this, it's out of control. We have become the Disneyland of Italy." Nearby, a group of Japanese tourists posed for photos in front of a nondescript pharmacy. In the window, a digital display showed the city's population, with a note about how much it had declined in recent years. Although the display was intended to raise awareness about the precarious situation Venice is in, it has become another hub of tourist material ready to be shared on Instagram.
Lorenzo Calvelli, a native of Venice and professor of history at the University of Venice, told Tourism FM that he fears there is little hope of saving Venice, but that he will continue to fight it every day. The large number of apartments rented through Airbnb and other platforms has pushed rents beyond the reach of many locals. As the number of residents has dwindled, so has the number of shops and other services needed to sustain daily life. Some doctors are hard to reach, forcing residents to travel to the mainland to receive certain treatments.
Large cruise ships have been banned from sailing too close to Venice's central islands after years of complaints that they were damaging the city's fragile foundations, but they continue to travel in the lagoon, sometimes with more than 3,000 passengers, damaging the city and its natural environment, according to local university researchers. Large private yachts docking near St. Mark's Square also cause damage, which the city council objects to. Advocacy groups want Venice to restrict short-term rentals like New York. They also want the city to offer incentives to apartment owners to rent out their properties, limit new hotel construction and not approve the conversion of existing buildings into hotels.
Tourist arrivals this year are expected to surpass the record of 5.5 million set in 2019, before the pandemic restricted global travel. While many European cities, from Barcelona to Dubrovnik, have struggled with overtourism, Venice has become a symbol of the problem because of the clash between its world-class visitor attractions and the delicate fabric of a centuries-old city on more than 100 islands.
Last week, the Venice City Council approved a 5 euro fee for day-trippers entering the city's historic center on the busiest days of the year, starting next spring. Initially there will be no turnstiles to enter the city, but visitors will have to be ready to show their tickets anywhere in the city if asked by the authorities. Michele Zuin, Venice's councillor in charge of the budget, said the fine for offenders would be around 100 euros.
Many residents see the fee as proof that their city is turning into a theme park, a capitulation to the idea that the city will soon be just for tourists. City planners say it will do little to reduce the scale or impact of tourism.