Everything is wrong with the much publicised €5 entrance ticket to Venice that daytrippers will be paying from spring 2024: it is not intended to limit the number of visitors; it will certainly cause huge queues at the three entry points into the city as ticket-holders’ QR codes get checked at random (“But we’ll be able to tell a Venetian from a tourist by their appearance,” said an official at a press conference); it will cost as much to administer in its first year as it will raise; and it will cause maximum annoyance in exchange for a pittance. Above all, it will not do anything to educate visitors and make them proud to contribute to saving the world’s most beautiful and fragile city.
There is now excess demand everywhere for places of outstanding beauty and fame, so the concept of managing numbers in order not to spoil their exceptional nature is widely accepted. French Polynesia will be imposing a limit of 280,000 visitors by 2027; the Acropolis now allows only 20,000 a day, with a time-slot reservation system from next April. The Galapagos Islands restrict numbers by imposing a $100 entry charge, Amsterdam has ceased to advertise itself as a tourist attraction, and Trentino-Alto Adige has stopped private cars from driving up to the Alpine meadow, the Seiser Alm. In more and more cities and towns, from Berlin to Barcelona, permission to open B&Bs is being denied so that they do not reduce the supply of housing for residents.
In short, we are realising that tourism, like agriculture or mining, has to be sustainable. For it not to destroy the thing we love, it will have to be rationed so that there is enough for everyone, even though this may mean that we will not be able to go to places as often and with as little planning as in the past. The municipality of Venice has dodged this because it fears an electoral backlash, from the airport and the lower grades of the tourist sector—the pizza restaurants, the water taxi cooperative, the shops selling tat—which are the ones that benefit from the flood of daytrippers, and that is why it has set the entrance fee so low.
Without becoming elitist and limiting Venice to the rich, the municipality needs instead to listen to the experts at Ca’ Foscari University and restrict the number of “presences” (over-nighters plus daytrippers) to 50,000 a day while raising the expectations of the tourists, rather than offering them a cheap theme-park-combined-souk (Mayor Brugnaro’s latest bright idea is to open a huge disco in the Arsenale).
If it costs €25 to enter the Uffizi, then surely Venice with all its wonders can charge at least the same, and a €25 fee, assuming an average of 40,000 entries a day, would raise around €380m a year. This would allow the city to set up a project-financing scheme of the kind that pays for the building of motorways with the toll charges. For Venice will need protective engineering and ecological works costing billions to be carried out and maintained—for ever— if it is to survive the rise in the water level.
Lindblad Expeditions, which has been organising Galapagos tours since 1967, has shown that, by explaining the beauty and fragility of the islands to their clients, these become keener to make an extra contribution to their preservation, rising from 40% before the visit to 54% afterwards. Lindblad has thus been able to give $3m to the Galapagos Conservation Fund.
Similarly, every visitor to Venice should be seen as a potential supporter and treated as such, not as a crass intruder or sheep to be fleeced. The glories of the city, but also the signs of the rising water level, the eroding stone and brickwork, the dire predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should be pointed out to them so that they get roped in as a global club of Venice champions, contributing to a ring-fenced Venice conservation fund that would be administered on a public-private basis, with progress reports and transparent, audited accounts.
But for this to happen, the mayor and his officials would need to realign their priorities, learn from good examples elsewhere, and plan for a future beyond their own time in office. Above all, they would need to love their city but they give no sign of that at present.
• Anna Somers Cocks was the chair of the Venice in Peril Fund, the British charity for the safeguarding of Venice, 1999-2012