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Venice Has Begun Charging an Access Fee to Try to Curb ‘Hit-and-Run’ Tourists

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Venice, the historic Italian city known for its canals, would like to draw a balance between its residents who live there and help to keep the place running and its visitors, an important source of economic revenue but increasingly also a burden on social services and the livability of the city.

In recent years, the balance has shifted: in the 1970s, Venice had some 175,000 residents; as of last year, its population dipped below 50,000—and the number of tourist beds outnumbered residents for the first time. Venice attracts about 20 million visitors annually, many of whom are referred to as “hit-and-run” tourists since they don’t even stay overnight but rather swing by for a few hours just to see the top attractions.

Venetian authorities have long discussed measures to counteract overtourism, and on Thursday, the municipal government rolled out a new experimental scheme to charge daytrippers a fee to access the city center.

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro insists the access fee isn’t meant to generate revenue but rather to “decongest” the city. At a modest cost of €5 (a little over $5 depending on exchange rates) per person per day, the measure is intended to curb but not entirely cut out foreign foot traffic. “The objective is not to close the city, but not let it explode,” Brugnaro said at a press conference in February.

For now, the access fee only applies on 29 peak travel days—mostly weekends—from April 25 to July 14. The fee is payable online through the city website.

A person shows a calendar of the paying days to visit Venice, on April 19, 2024 in front of Santa Lucia train station in Venice.
A calendar shows the days visitors will have to pay to access Venice, in front of Santa Lucia train station on April 19, 2024. Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images

The access fee is applicable to visitors between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. of Venice’s historic center but not its smaller outer islands. Overnight visitors who pay a tourist tax, which was introduced in 2011, included in their accommodation fees are exempt from the access fee, as are residents, commuters, students, and children under 14.

While initial talks of an access fee included the potential for turnstiles, the system as implemented will be enforced instead through random checks by security personnel. Payers of the access fee will receive a QR code they can present, while certain exempt categories can present their IDs and others can apply for an exemption QR code. Fines for not paying the access fee will range from €50 to €300.

The fee has been met with some criticism: a former mayor called it “pure madness, completely illegitimate and unconstitutional.” But Brugnaro stands by the move. “We have a duty to preserve these great historic centers of the world,” he told reporters earlier this month, adding that if the experimental scheme, which he admits can be improved as its outcomes are observed, succeeds, it could become a model for other cities around the world.

“The phenomenon of mass tourism poses a challenge for all Europe’s tourist cities,” Simone Venturini, a member of the Venetian city council responsible for tourism and economic development, told Reuters. “But being smaller and more fragile, [Venice] is even more impacted by this phenomenon and is therefore taking action earlier than others to try to find solutions,” he said, adding that the fee could even be increased at different times of the year  to discourage arrivals.

The access fee is just the latest of a number of recent schemes Venice authorities have implemented to lessen the impacts overtourism has wrought. In 2021, the city banned large cruise ships from entering inner waterways, and earlier this year, it imposed a 25-person cap on tour groups and a ban on loudspeakers in the city’s historic center.

Venice and its lagoon was first designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site in 1987, but the U.N. agency last year considered putting it on its list of world heritage sites in danger, as the city reels from the effects of climate change and mass tourism.

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