St. Marc’s Basilica amid the Venice skyline

Spare some change for a drowning city?

On December 30, Venetian mayor Luigi Brugnaro unveiled his city’s new tourist tax, which is expected to fill the municipality’s coffers with an estimated €50 million (~$56.8 million ). The levy will charge visitors of the lagoon-festooned city a season-dependent fee between €2.50 (~$2.84) to €10.00 (~$11.35). Taxation will begin on May 1, just ten days before the 2019 Venice Biennale’s opening. Anyone caught attempting to avoid the fee will be fined up to €450 (~$511).

Venice attracts upwards of 30 million tourists each year, according to the Italian tourist bureau. They outmatch residents in the floating city 600-to-1, with 50,000 locals struggling to house and feed their guests — let alone navigate around the teeming masses of visitors on the city streets.

“From today, the disembarking tax in the historical center of Venice is law,” Brugnaro said in a Twitter video about the new regulation. “This will help us to better manage the city, keep it clean, and offer visitors better services.”

Over the last few years, Venice has tried to implement different forms of crowd control around its canals with middling success. The city already has a tax for tourists spending the night, which brings in about €30 million (~$34.1 million) per year. During last year’s busy May Day weekend, the mayor instituted a series of temporary restrictions to curb visitor overflow. Tourists were restricted from certain streets and directed toward popular landmarks like the Piazzale Roma; cars were banned from entering the city unless they had reserved a parking spot; and people had to funnel through unannounced turnstiles that appeared at the entrances of Venice’s famous canal bridges.

The tourist tax may be irksome to those traveling to Venice for the biennale in May. Early-bird tickets to the international exhibition already cost €21.50 (~$24.40). The show’s 2017 edition saw a record 615,000 visitors, which is only a relatively small percentage of the city’s yearly intake of tourists.

Nevertheless, Italy’s tourism minister Gian Marco Centinaio has described the new regulations as “useless and damaging.”

“Do we want to become a country that repels tourists?” he wrote on Twitter, asking if it was “enough to make you weep”.

More crucial is the government’s urgent need to address the environmental impact of tourists and cruise ships on Venice’s ability to stay afloat. Last October, the city experienced its worst flood in decades. The rising tides shuttered museums around the city and caused such intense seawater damage to St. Mark’s Basilica that one Catholic official described its effect on the church as aging it “20 years in one day.” The plan to surround Venice’s lagoon with mobile flood barriers had an initial budget of €1.5 billion (~$1.7 billion), but has since ballooned to €5.5 billion (~$6.2 billion), according to a 2017 article in the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Now, the estimated start date for this initiative is 2021.

Still, many Venetians believe the $11 tax at peak season will help streamline tourists interested in luxury vacation rentals and expensive gift shops. “As a Venetian I often found myself stuck in crowded lanes. Venice is engulfed by tourists,” local Marco Malafante told CNN back in December, “and we have to reduce the day trippers in favor of a more qualified, let’s call it ‘luxury’ tourism. The alternative is simply that we all are uncomfortable in Venice.”

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Zachary Small

Zachary Small was the senior writer at Hyperallergic and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, Artforum, and other publications. They have...