Conservation Comment Italy

Why Venice should charge every tourist €30 ($40)

Our founding editor Anna Somers Cocks lays out her argument on how charging can help save the fragile city

The numbers of tourists will need to be managed so that the visitors, many of whom are there for the first and only time in their lives, have a decent experience and not just the memory of shuffling among walls of people down the calles and over the bridges

I have never seen my words in print so much as this last month: my article on the inadequate governance of Venice came out in the New York Review of Books, the quarterly Il Giornale dell’Architettura, and in an abridged form in La Repubblica newspaper. What attracted most comment in Italy and abroad was not my revelation that the town council of Venice lacks a plan to deal with sea level rise, but a suggestion, almost an aside, that tourists might be charged €30 to visit the town. The interviewer at the BBC World Service clearly thought that this was a toff’s attempt to keep out the riff-raff when it is nothing of the sort, so to ward off further misunderstandings, here are the reasons why I think charging would be good for everyone, rich and poor, Venetians and non-Venetians, as well as the mayor himself and the preservation of the city.

Premise 1: Ever more people will want to come to Venice and it is already uncomfortably crowded for both visitors and Venetians, who are despairing of it continuing as a real community with the usual, varied range of activities that a town of 60,000 people should have as they see it abandoned to the tourist trade. It is only a matter of time before the crowds become intolerable, even hazardous, in the narrow alleyways.

Premise 2: The numbers will need to be (should already be) managed so that the visitors, many of whom are there for the first and only time in their lives, have a decent experience and not just the memory of shuffling among walls of people down the calles and over the bridges. This inevitably means rationing their access while keeping the city open to normal users (don’t let’s get stuck at this point on how to do it; let’s just assume that a way will be found once we have made it a priority).

Premise 3: Managing numbers will involve some sort of ticketing and if you are ticketing, you can also charge.

Premise 4: The city is immensely fragile and under attack by the waters. It needs very large sums of money to maintain it and will need even more as the sea level rises, so it is right that those who come to enjoy its beauty should make a direct contribution to its survival.

Premise 5: Central government funding for the maintenance of Venice has become inadequate and unpredictable over the last decade. In 2002, it was €592m, but in 2003 the flood barriers known as Mose began to be built and nearly all funding has been diverted to the project since. Thus, in 2005, the council received just €23m, and the €40m allocated to it in 2011 only arrived from Rome in April 2013.

Premise 6: The lack of funding has severely reduced the power of the mayor and the town council, which is serious as it is they who are most directly responsible for the city. A ring-fenced fund, into which the tourist contributions were paid, would go a considerable way towards giving them back the power to act.

We have to accept that the days of unlimited access, not just to Venice but to most famous cultural sites, will very soon be over. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation predicts that global tourism, currently standing at 1 billion people, will reach 1.6 billion by 2020, with Europe as the most popular destination.

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.

Charging is therefore potentially a game-changer as it gives Venice a regular, predictable source of funding, and if presented properly, would not be a hard sell to visitors, who can all see how vulnerable the ancient buildings are. But for this same reason, the money would need to be seen to be spent on protecting Venice, so it would have to be ring-fenced to prevent it being deviated or just disappearing into the black hole of Italy’s public finances.

For this reason, it would need to be paid into some independent instrument such as a trust whose board would have the mayor as its leading light but surrounded by people powerful enough to protect the integrity of the fund: the president of the Banca d’Italia, the president of the European Development Bank, a senior figure from Unesco (Venice being a World Heritage Site), a leading international lawyer and a representative of a top accounting firm, an outstanding ecological scientist and an economist such as Amartya Sen. These are just my suggestions, but you get the picture.

At the end of the year, a very detailed account of projects and expenditure (almost unheard of in Italian public life) would be published online for all to see, which would not only reassure those who had contributed their €30 but would encourage other organisations (for example, the EU) and major donors who might wish to contribute much larger sums to saving the loveliest city on earth.

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4 Feb 14
15:9 CET


This is a really interesting article. I find that these articles can cause a lot of debate in my family. It gets crazy.

3 Sep 13
21:27 CET


I agree wholeheartedly with Anna. As long as the revenue is policed so that it is used to maintain the city for future generations of residents and visitors, then this is a very small entry fee to see the world's best museum.

30 Jul 13
15:38 CET


Hi there, this is a very sensitive issue and I think the best solution to it is to allow only a certain number of day and night visitors in Venice. This would safeguard the local charm, prevent more hotels from cropping up and will ultimately make sure less human footprints each day for a greener Venice. I hope this comes true someday!

1 Jul 13
16:28 CET


My solution is the creation of VENICE TWO. See:

1 Jul 13
16:28 CET


Paradoxically, the tourists who stay in hotels create relative small damages because they are only 6 M on a total of 30 M a year (the usual account of 21 M refers to 2007 and is very partial), and contribute most to the city economy. The problem are the 24 million of day trippers. The overcrowded streets and water busses are due to their presence. It would be hard to charge them because they should be distinguished form the non-tourists who come to town, but we could start with the organized groups, easy to identify. The city should also put a quota to their number and require the tour operators to reserve and pay in advance. This first step is easy to take and Italia Nostra, an association to which I belong, has already asked the city Tourism Commissioner to do so, but the city defends the interests of the small shop keepers, gondoliers and taxi drivers. A tax or a quota will never be imposed by the city Council, elected as it is by a popolation of small merchants.

1 Jul 13
16:33 CET


Io sarei d'accordo ma si deve rivedere il prezzo delle autorimesse al Tronchetto e a Piazzale Roma. Un turista che viene con la macchina non può pagare il ticket e anche 25 euro al giorno di parcheggio. comunque è una proposta da discutere nel complesso.

1 Jul 13
16:38 CET


It seems all well to financially help such a city. However, it also seems to me that the issue lies in who would get the founds. It is well known that Italy has benefited from many and sometimes substantial economic helps, and yet not even half of which has arrived to what it was meant. How could you guarantee that the $30 (multiplied by x10000000 tourists per year) would actually go to the city and not to the hands of a few people?

28 Jun 13
15:1 CET


I completely agree that some sort of levy should be collected from tourists, many of whom will be staying on the enormous cruise ships, not paying hotel tax, eating on their boat in the morning and evening, and contributing little more than buying a few souvenirs. Working out a system to collect a levy would be the least difficult of the problems, the most would be ensuring the funds collected were well spent on the preservation of Venice. I was shocked to read in the AFR that boats of more than 40,000 tonnes were banned from the Giudecca Canal by government decree, yet this ban has been ignored. I do not think Venetians should have to pay. MONA, in Tasmania, has an excellent policy of charging viistors, while allowing all Tasmanian residents free entry. It is a policy I often wish was introduced in London. While the UK's policy of free access is to be applauded it is unfortunate that this is often, as in Venice, abused by large tour groups charging around behind a raised umbrella.

28 Jun 13
15:2 CET


However, viewed this is a sound idea. A small tax to save an art treasure. Who can argue that this would be wrong?

28 Jun 13
15:2 CET


Agreed about the fee but there is already a serious (and expensive) project being created at great expense with its only purpose to protect the city from incoming acqua alta. It is called Moise ... although there is some question about whether or not it will work.

27 Jun 13
21:39 CET


I completely agree with the strategy you propose in your article. A provision for some sort of "user pays/visits levy is entirely fair provided it is corralled away from disappearing into the Italian Govt system - a veritable black hole. However one more change to tourism would make a tremendous difference to the congestion in Venice and that is to limit the size of the tour groups permitted to walk as a group around the city. Large groups just do not work in the city of Venice. A ruthless approach needs to be enforced allowing tour operators to limit the number they physically walk around in the city to say 10-12 not the 40 or so we currently see who clog the narrow alleys. This could be an immediate new law that could passed very easily to alleviate the pressure on not only the city of Venice but the permanent residents.

27 Jun 13
19:25 CET


I totally agree. This amazing cultural heritage is in dire need of restorations, of alta aqua assistance... not to mention that one cannot move anywhere. In addition, often tourists have no respect, tossing old picnic stuff into the waters. I have been many times - and adore it.

25 Jun 13
17:31 CET


Simply ridiculous

25 Jun 13
16:14 CET


There's already a tourist tax newly introduced on hotels since 2011. It is 3-5 euros pp depending on the star rating of the hotel. Wouldn't it just be easier to turn this into a percentage and raise it than to try and ticket the entire island (not being particularly well known for policing vaporetto fares)?

25 Jun 13
16:14 CET


I am willing to even pay $50 if necessary. People are misunderstanding the whole thing. The money is not for the Venetians but to repair all the damage that tourists cause to the city. If you don't want to pay, then don't go to Venice, period.

25 Jun 13
16:15 CET


Many people agree that an entrance fee for Disney-Venezia should be levied. But, as Ms Cocks suggests, How? It is not that it has not been discussed to death. A hotel tax is one way, but the greatest amount of people with their damage and clutter is day-trippers. And recently in vast numbers, cruise boat passengers. They make a mess and the residents are taxed for the garbage disposal. There is talk of making the bridge from the mainland a toll bridge. No real big money in that, tho. A while back a fee for tour buses was tried, but they shifted to sneaking their passengers in from Chioggia via the Lido. Punta Sabbioni affords a back door as well. Hey, for 30 euro a head, I’ll sneak in a few in the trunk of my car. Lots of problems, perhaps surmountable, but very clumsy at best. Many many Venetians wish they would all go away, and let us become a quiet backwater

24 Jun 13
20:32 CET


The constant refrain "the Venetians make a lot of money from the tourists" will probably never stop, but the reality is that most of the middle to large size businesses are owned by corporations who have their headquarters -- and profits-- out of town. I live over a restaurant that is owned by people and staff who commute from Padova. Few of the waiters in the Piazza are Venetians. Ironically several good friends -- real Venetians -- work on the mainland or for businesses ( banks, for instance) that do not rely at all on tourists. Many many Venetians, in fact, work in Mestre or Marghera. Even my landlord lives in Senegal.

24 Jun 13
19:46 CET


Every year there is Biennale of some sort too that attacks lots of people, how about moving it elsewhere?......true, the number of tourists is huge and the old buildings are sinking.....but Venetians make a lot of money from tourism, a lot! 30eu will be welcomed but you can't turn the clock back and if there is any comparison with Galapagos, money did not save it!

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