Venice Access Fee — Money for nothing

Why I normally avoid Piazza San Marco if I can in any way

The municipal administration of Venice has introduced a ‘Venice Access Fee‘ of €5/day for visitors to the city.

Venetian Stories

This post is an issue of our newsletter — Venetian Stories — which goes out every few weeks, to keep in touch and share stories and titbits from and about Venice and its history.

It is their answer to decades of complaints that the city is becoming impossible to live in due to the sheer mass of tourism.

It will achieve absolutely nothing, exactly as intended.

The problems

Venice is beautiful. Venice is romantic. Venice is photogenic.

Consequently, everybody wants to come here, but Venice is also very small. There is not room for everybody.

Too many tourists

Venice is less than two by three kilometres. It is a medieval city with narrow alleyways and tight spaces. It is built in the middle of the water.

You simply cannot have half a million visitors entering the city on a hot summer’s day. They just won’t fit physically into the available space.

Yet, this is how the city has been run for decades.

If something bad happens, there are no safe exit routes to get all those persons out again. It is a small miracle nobody has died, like it happened in Turin in 2017.

Why do people do that to their own city?

Because of money! And because it might not really be their city.

Too few residents

Mass tourism is only one of the reasons for the slow but inexorable depopulation of the city of Venice.

The population of the city was around 170.000 in the 1950s — well in line with historical numbers — but now we’re fewer than 50.000.

Let’s take that again.

Venice has lost 70% of its population in 70 years.

For over a thousand years there have not been so few residents in the city. Venice had over 50.000 inhabitants when London and Paris were little more than wooden huts on a river bank.

Not only have people been leaving Venice in droves for three quarters of a century, they continue to leave. Currently, on the average about a thousand leave every year.

Venice is dying. There’s no point in mincing words. Venice is dying.

Affordable housing

But, even if some people leave, certainly others will want to move in, right? After all, Venice is beautiful.

And yes, lots of people would like to move to Venice, if only they could afford it.

The thing is, they generally can’t.

If the owner of a small apartment in Venice can get €500 or €600 a month in rent on a residential contract, but they can get €500 or €600 a week by renting short term to tourists, the choice is not that hard.

However, common people with average income cannot pay what the tourists pay. Italy has some of the lowest wages in the EU, so it’s not relevant comparing rents with Paris or Berlin, where people have higher wages.

Venice cannot revive if there’s no housing within the economic reach of common people.

Somebody recently counted the number of beds in Venice advertised on AirBnB, and there were over 50.000. We’re fewer than 50.000 residents.

There are more beds in Venice for tourists than there are for residents.

This is the crux of the problem: affordable housing.

Population distribution

The market follows the money, and the city dies.

But why would the owner of a small apartment in Venice rent it to tourists, when the city is dying around them?

All too often it is because the owner of the apartment doesn’t live in Venice. That is, they live in the Municipality of Venice, but not in the City of Venice.

A century ago Venice was joined up with all the neighbouring municipalities, in the lagoon and on the mainland. Later industrialisation lead to population growth on the mainland, while the city of Venice depopulated. The young moved for the jobs in industry and trade, while the old remained behind in Venice.

Consequently, of about 280.000 residents of the Municipality of Venice, around 200.000 live on the mainland. There are fewer than 50.000 in Venice, and another 30.000 scattered around the lagoon islands.

Lots of the tourist apartments in Venice used to belong to the grandparents and great-grandparents of people who are born and have grown up on the mainland.

Local politics

If two thirds of the population of the Municipality of Venice live on the mainland, two thirds of the voters are on the mainland.

Logically, the composition of the city council and the giunta — the municipal executive — is similarly shaped.

Except it’s worse. The current major, Luigi Brugnaro, doesn’t even live in the Municipality of Venice, and the vast majority of the giunta are from the mainland. Out of some 18 members, there are one or two who live in Venice proper.

Venice is run by people who don’t live here and often never have.

Venice is a cow

Venice is just a cow to be milked.

While everybody wants a share of the milk, nobody actually cares about the cow.

There happens to be this tourist magnet in the lagoon, where nobody important lives anyway, so everybody wants to cash in.

This might sound like a caricature, but it’s not. Our beloved major is actually on record telling some of the few residents near the Rialto, that if they didn’t like the crowds of tourists, they could just move to Zelarino, which is a small fraction of the Municipality of Venice on the mainland.

Nobody cares about the residents of Venice, and they have almost no political representation. There are at least three voters on the mainland for every voter in Venice. The major doesn’t even pretend to care about the residents of Venice.

The Venice Access Fee

That was almost a thousand words talking about everything but the Venice Access Fee of five euros per day.

What is the problem that this fee meant to solve?

Supposedly the purpose was to limit the number of people entering to ancient city, as the local administration has taken to call Venice.

But no, there are no limits to how many people can pay the fee and enter the city. It is stated explicitly, that there is no limit of the number of people who can pay the fee and enter.

What is it for, then?

Let’s ask the standard questions to figure out.

When?

The Venice Access Fee is only required for some specific dates and periods.

This year the Municipality of Venice will charge the fee for eleven days from April 25th to May 5th, and then on weekends until mid July.

No access fee for the Carnival. No fee for Easter at the end of March. No access fee for the Festa del Redentore on the third Sunday of July. No fee for the Venice Film Festival or for most the period the Biennale is open.

On the days when the Venice Access Fee applies, it is only in the hours from 8:30 to 16.

Who?

Not everybody has to pay, but if your normal documents isn’t sufficient to prove that you’re not eligible, you still need to get a exemption voucher in case you’re checked.

Exempt groups are:

  • Residents of the Veneto region, which includes the Municipality of Venice;
  • Relatives of residents in the ancient city or on lagoon islands;
  • Guests of residents in the ancient city or on lagoon islands;
  • Workers whose place of work is in the ancient city or on lagoon islands;
  • Participants in sport events in Venice or the lagoon;
  • Students of schools in Venice or the lagoon;
  • Owners of tax-paying apartments in Venice, and their family members;
  • Members of the armed forces, police, or fire brigades;
  • Participants of school outings;
  • Tourists staying in accommodation in the Municipality of Venice.

Much of this is quite sensible, but there are 3,5 million residents in the Veneto region, so that’s a rather large chunk of people who live nearby.

Also, as a tourist you’re exempt if you’re staying in legal tax-paying accommodation in the Municipality of Venice, two thirds of which is on the mainland, including Mestre and Marghera.

How many of the tourists visiting Venice aren’t staying in accommodation in the Municipality of Venice? There are the ones arriving by train from Padova and Treviso, and those arriving by boat from Jesolo and Punta Sabbioni.

Will it apply to passengers on the cruise ships, which now moor in Marghera, which is in the Municipality of Venice?

It is hard to find precise numbers about how many there are in the different categories, but my guess is that well under half the tourists will have to pay.

They will, however, have to obtain a QR code from their accommodation and use that on the web site of the Municipality of Venice to get the exemption voucher. More hoops and hurdles, for nothing.

Where?

The Municipality of Venice is clear that the Venice Access Fee is only for the ancient city, and not for islands in the lagoon, which they list as: Lido di Venezia, Pellestrina, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Sant’Erasmo, Mazzorbo, Mazzorbetto, Vignole, S. Andrea, la Certosa, San Servolo, S. Clemente, Poveglia.

Now you can get to quite a few of these islands without passing the ancient city, but it’s far from obvious. For the Lido di Venezia and Pellestrina there’s a car ferry from the Tronchetto, or a boat from Chioggia. The shuttle boats from the airport sometimes stop on Murano, and also on the Certosa island. You can get to Murano, Burano, Torcello, Sant’Erasmo, Mazzorbo, and Vignole by lagoon vaporetto (lines 12 and 13) from Treporti on the Lido di Jesolo which is a peninsula. Good luck getting there if you’re not travelling by car.

The island Mazzorbetto is all private property, and you need a boat to get there. Any dock there leads into somebody’s garden. It is not somewhere the random tourist normally goes.

The island of S. Andrea is abandoned and requires a boat, while S. Clemente is a hotel, but has no public transport, only shuttle boats from Venice. Poveglia is abandoned, and it is all but illegal to actually go there.

Why have they mentioned S. Clemente with a hotel, but not Sacca Sessola, which is nearby and also a hotel? They also forgot San Lazzaro degli Armeni.

It is so nice to see, as a resident of the ancient city, how thoroughly the city administration understands the part of the territory where you can’t go by car.

Why?

So we’re back to the essential question of why oh why?

What’s the point of introducing the Venice Access Fee in such a ridiculous way?

The problems of the city are well known. We’ve been discussing them for years, if not decades. Depopulation of the ancient city, unregulated tourism, lack of affordable housing, lack of interest in the ancient city except as a money machine.

The Venice Access Fee will do absolutely nothing to resolve any of those issues.

It will do a few other things, though.

  • The city administration can now point at this initiative and say: “See, we’re doing something,” while
  • Attention is diverted from the real issues of the city, and
  • Money enter the rather empty city coffers.

This is symbol politics at its worst, and it shows that this municipal administration do not want to confront the real issues.

Money and votes!

There are many vested interests in the type of tourism devouring Venice. Hotels, restaurants, taxis, transport companies, gondolas, tourist rentals, just to name a few.

Lots of businesses and people, mostly from outside Venice, have invested much money in the current model of tourism, and they don’t want change. They want a return on their investments, whether it hurts Venice as a living city or not.

The people on the mainland who’ve inherited their grandparents’ apartments in Venice, don’t want restrictions on those rentals, which supply a good income with little effort.

Absurdly, attempts at reviving the residential housing market in Venice will meet opposition from a huge chunk of the local electorate, who live on the mainland, and, if you ask them, will claim that they’re as Venetian as can be.

Any municipal administration which tries to confront the real problems of Venice, will run counter to the economic interests not only of moneyed lobbies, but also a large part of their own electorate.

It’s a lose-lose proposition for the politicians, so Venice must die.

As a long time resident of this ancient city it is very hard not to be angry.

Comments are open on my site, and I’ll be happy to hear your opinion on the topic. You can find the newsletters here.


More about mass tourism in Venice

I’ve written about some of the issues before:

Are you curious about the lagoon and the islands where you can or can’t go? There’s more here:

And about specific islands:



4 responses to “Venice Access Fee — Money for nothing”

  1. Peter Brown avatar

    @info @seindal @venice @histodons it would have to be a significant sum to have any impact. A minimum of €25 could produce some real changes.

    1. History Walks Venice avatar

      You could charge a million, but if the fee isn’t charged of those who stay in tourist accommodation in Venice, it would do nothing to bring apartments back on the residential housing market — which is what Venice needs to stay a living city.

      1. Peter Brown avatar

        @info @seindal @venice @histodons many cities are embarking on licences and controls for short term tourist rentals for precisely that reason. I hope Venice is doing the same, and that they are successful in reducing the total number of houses available for tourists.

        1. History Walks Venice avatar

          The Municipality of Venice is not and will not do any such thing for the exact reasons I’ve outlined in the article.

          The politics of Venice are the politics of the mainland. Venice is just a cow to be milked.

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