Venice, Italy, is like a beautiful and fragile museum. At any given time, there are more tourists than locals in the small city. The whole place has, in fact, been handed over to the tourist trade—even more so than in other Italian cities that are popular with visitors but still maintain a semblance of local culture. But at the same time, Venice is highly vulnerable to flooding, turning the town into a river on a seasonal basis. It’s a problem that’s expected to get worse as climate change causes the seas to rise.
Over at The Art Newspaper, Anna Somers Cocks suggests that the small city should charge visitors €30 per visit as a way to prevent overcrowding, pitch in to efforts that could prevent future flooding, and supplement central government funding, which has been so lackluster in recent years that the mayor and town council have little power to act.
The concept of managing and limiting access as well as making a financial contribution to the maintenance of a site is already well established in ecotourism (for example, at the Galapagos Islands). As to the ticket price, I have suggested €30 ($40) because it costs $25 to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Venice is so much more than one museum. As with a museum, there can, however, be reductions for children, the old etc.
The essential point, though, is that it must be a sum large enough to provide a useful annual income. The only certain statistic for the number of tourists to Venice is the 6.4 million who spend at least one night in commercial accommodation in or around Venice. This does not take account of the day-trippers, who are numerous and should also pay, but for argument’s sake, 6.4 million x €30 equals €192m gross, and Mayor Orsoni says that he needs a minimum of €140m each year in special funding to maintain the city.
As Cocks rightly surmises, any effort to systematically collect money from tourists would have to be closely watched; Italy has a reputation for making public money disappear. But the idea makes sense: Venice is a museum more than a living, breathing city at this point. And it will continue to crumble without a funding boost.
New York City’s aborted congestion pricing scheme, where vehicles entering midtown Manhattan would have to pay a fee, shows that people won’t gladly accept plans where they have to pay to enter cities (or certain parts of cities). Venice is, however, in a much more dire (and different) situation than New York, which simply wanted to cut down on traffic. Perhaps one day, when events like superstorm Sandy aren’t so rare, even New Yorkers will really consider whether charging visitors to enter climate change-threatened cities is a reasonable idea.