At the end of March 2021 the Italian government announced that large cruise ships would no longer be allowed to sail into the centre of Venice. But what does a Venice cruise ship ban mean in practice? What does it mean for cruise ship passengers? And what will be the impact on the city of Venice?
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Why Ban Cruise Ships From Venice?
Venice is a World Heritage Site, and for many years UNESCO has been expressing concerns about multiple threats to the fabric of the historic city. They requested a ban on very large cruise ships (as well as oil tankers) as far back as 2014. This was because the ships were threatening the already fragile foundations of the city’s buildings. The wake of the very large vessels was also damaging the ecosystem of the lagoon.
The scale of the problem is immense. By 2019 up to 700 cruise ships were entering the lagoon each year, depositing around 1.6 million tourists in the city centre. This has also contributed to a wider problem of overtourism in Venice (another issue highlighted by UNESCO).
What Is Being Proposed?
As a temporary solution it is proposed to divert the largest ships (over 40,000 tons) to the industrial port of Marghera. This will allow them to bypass the historic centre. Alternative solutions are being sought for the longer term. One possibility is the construction of a new terminal at Chioggia, connected by road to the historic centre.
The interim solution is not without its own problems. For one thing, cruise ships will still have to enter the lagoon to reach Marghera. There will also be an environmental cost to ferrying large numbers of cruise passengers from the port to the city. Furthermore, Marghera is not yet ready for cruise ships, and it seems likely that even the largest ships will continue to sail into Venice during 2021.
Will A Ban Affect Tourist Numbers?
Structural damage caused by cruise ships is only a part of the problem: it is all part of a wider debate about the future of tourism in Venice. It is unclear whether the ban will do anything to reduce the number of cruise ship passengers coming into the city. However, everyone seems to agree that something has to be done to reduce the number of visitors to Venice.
During the pandemic Venice has seen the benefits of a reduction in visitor numbers. There are no crowds clogging up the streets, and the canals are full of fish rather than ships. However, the city has also felt the economic impact: no visitors means no tourist income. The city needs tourists, but not so many that they damage the infrastructure.
A Move Towards Intelligent Tourism
The answer seems to be what deputy mayor Simone Venturini has described as a “move towards intelligent tourism”. It is a process that began with the proposal for a Venice Tourist Tax in 2018, in an attempt to force all visitors to contribute to the upkeep of the city. (The implementation of the tax has now been postponed until 2024, but the principle remains.)
Part of the resentment against cruise ships is that, not only do their passengers all crowd into the same places, but they rarely spend any money while they are there. The long term aim is to attract fewer visitors, but ones who will spend more time here. These are the tourists who, it is hoped, will spend time exploring Venice’s lesser known sights as well as the major tourist attractions. Crucially, they will also spend money in the city, making a vital contribution towards its maintenance.