Overtourism in Venice, Italy: Tourists will have to book, pay fee if they want to visit

The gondoliers in their straw hats and striped shirts are doing brisk business, St Mark's Square is thronged with crowds, and pavement cafes are packed with tourists sipping glasses of chilled prosecco.

After a difficult two years, which started with devastating acqua alta floods in late 2019, tourism is returning to Venice with a vengeance, with hotels reporting healthy occupancy rates, the narrow streets pulsing with visitors and the city celebrating the 1,600th anniversary of its founding in AD421.

Also making a return is the vexed question of how to control the invasion of tourists and prevent them from smothering the very thing they have come to see.

Venice's leaders believe that they have come up with a solution: to build airport-style turnstiles that will enable the authorities, for the first time ever, to close the city to visitors when the numbers become overwhelming.

Relaunching an initiative that was first mooted prior to the pandemic, Venice is to start installing turnstiles at major entry points.

For many, that crosses a line - the idea of setting a cap on the number of tourists allowed into the city has long been discussed but never adopted.

Only tourists with a special app and a QR code will be able to pass through the turnstiles, similar to those seen in railway stations or ski resorts.

"To come to Venice, you are going to have to make a booking," said Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor, speaking in a newly-restored park on the banks of the Grand Canal.

"We cannot continue to have such huge numbers of tourists. Venice is a small and very delicate city. The number of visitors must be compatible with Venice's size. If there is no room, you won't be able to come in."

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Visitors who stay at least one night in a hotel in Venice will be granted the QR code automatically on the basis that they will already have shelled out for the overnight tariff that is levied by the city.

But anyone wanting to visit Venice just for the day - as millions of people from all over the world have done over the years - will have to have the app and the QR code on their phone.

And they will have to pay for it - €3 ($A4.78) per person during the low season but €10 ($A16) per person during busy periods such as Easter and summer months.

The authorities are calling it a "contribution to access" but in effect it is a tourist tax.

If the city is assaulted by too many day trippers, then no more access passes will be sold and the turnstiles will be closed.

Trial turnstiles are about to be installed and the system is expected to be up and running next spring.

The fact that Venice is surrounded by water will help with implementing the system. "We will have five or six main entrances," the mayor said.

He estimates that based on the flow of tourists during normal times, before the pandemic, the turnstiles will be in operation for around 90 days a year.

Accusations that the gates are just a way of squeezing more cash out of hapless visitors were wrong, said Mr Brugnaro, who was re-elected for a second mandate last year.

"It's not as though we will make money from this new system because it will be costly to implement."

With the turnstiles and cap on numbers, Venice is delivering a clear message - in place of day trippers who spend little during their lightning visits, the World Heritage destination wants people to stay a while.

"We think that less is more," said Simone Venturini, the city councillor in charge of tourism.

"We'd like to see tourists who want to experience Venice, not just dash to St Mark's Square and leave. Please come to Venice, but take your time, slow down."

Mariacristina Gribaudi, the president of a foundation which runs 11 museums in Venice, said that as the planet recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, destinations like Venice need to forge a new model of tourism.

"The world needs to move on from the pre-pandemic days when tour groups came to Italy and rushed around, spending a day in Rome, a day in Florence and a day in Venice.

"We need to move away from just ticking destinations off their list."

But the turnstile project has divided opinion, not just in Venice but in the rest of Italy.

In Rome, the culture minister recently came out against the idea. "If I think of turnstiles, an airport comes to mind, not a city," said Dario Franceschini.

"We must exploit less invasive technologies to control the flows."

The Telegraph, London

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