Business picks up as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. But a decision by the Italian government last month to ban cruise ships from entering the Venice Lagoon threatens to deprive the city of its most lucrative visitors for yet another summer season.
“It’s good that the tourists are back, but the real money is coming from the cruise lines with the Americans and the wealthy Asians,” said Rizo. “They spend a lot in a short period of time before they set sail.”
Venice, which visited an average of around 20 million tourists a year before the pandemic, is desperate to bring back the foreign visitors who are keeping its economy afloat. Tourism income has dried up in the past two years, but the city’s canals and squares are full again and hotels are on average 80% booked in August.
Access to the lagoon and St. Mark’s Square has been a bone of contention between environmentalists, tourism associations and cruise operators for years. Critics argue that runaway tourism – fed by the giant ships that carry more than 5,000 passengers each – has displaced many of Venice’s permanent residents, drained housing and destroyed jobs unrelated to travel and hospitality. Tensions heightened in 2019 when a cruise ship collided with a small tourist boat in the lagoon, injuring five people.
“With Covid, the city was a ghost town and we spent our savings on food and rent,” said Stefano Esposito, who owns a Murano glass shop on Rialto Bridge, one of Venice’s busiest intersections. “The cruise crowd can be overwhelming, but they put food on the table and if the ships don’t come back we’re done.”
Before the pandemic, the hotels in Venice hosted around 10.5 million foreign guests annually, according to the Italian statistical office. The number does not take into account day visitors from cruise lines; According to the Italian Ministry of Tourism, they increase the total number of tourist arrivals to around 20 million annually.
The tourists, mostly concentrated in an area of two square miles around Piazza San Marco, pour in about $ 3.3 billion annually, according to tourism ministry officials. About a fifth of the city’s 50,000 year-round residents depend directly on cruise lines for work, officials say.
The government has outlined a plan to temporarily divert ships to the nearby port of Marghera while construction of a cruise terminal outside the lagoon is underway. Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural and heritage agency, said in July that it could put Venice on its list of countries at risk if a permanent ban on cruise lines docking in the city center was not addressed.
Venice bans could have a wider impact on the cruise industry trying to lure passengers back after Covid-19 outbreaks and travel restrictions halted most journeys in 2020. Itineraries in the Adriatic depend on Venice being a homeport where passengers fly in and board a ship, or arrive on one ship and board another after spending a few days in the city.
“If you can’t call at Venice, you can also cancel many of the itineraries in the Adriatic,” said Francesco Galietti, director for Italy at the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s main trade association.
The cruise season here runs from late March to early October. In 2019, before the pandemic, 600 ships docked in Venice. There were virtually no arrivals in 2020, and by the end of September this year, only 20 ships should call at nearby ports such as Ravenna and Falcone.
Gianmatteo Zampieri, the general manager of Baglioni Hotel Luna overlooking the lagoon, says the cruise ship debate is mostly political and that practical steps are needed to control the crowd. “You can’t have half a dozen ships in the lagoon,” he said. “The ship arrivals must be distributed.”
Still, many Venetians cannot wait for the foreign masses to return.
“If Athens, Paris and Barcelona can cope with mass tourism, so can we,” says Luigi Rossi, who drives tourists through Venice’s canals in his gondola. “To stop the ships so abruptly is absurd.”
This story was posted through a news agency feed with no changes to the text
Never miss a story again! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our app now !!