Venice’s cruise ship ban is hiding its tourism problem, not fixing it

Image: Reuters/Manuel Silvestri
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The Italian government announced a ban on cruise ships in the historic center of Venice after a long-fought campaign to prevent them from entering the famous Grand Canal.

Big ships pose a threat to the city’s precarious ecosystem, and have continually upset locals, who feel their presence spoils Venice’s scenery. Ships arriving on the Grand Canal obscure historic monuments, and even block out the sun at certain times of the day.

However, it will take four years to implement the changes, which will see ships weighing 100,000 tonnes or more redirected to the neighbouring industrial town of Marghera.

The decision, announced by local mayor Luigi Brugnaro this week, follows the United Nations’ warning that Venice would be placed on UNESCO’s list of endangered heritage series if steps weren’t taken to move the ships away.

“We want it to be clear to UNESCO and the whole world that we have a solution,” he said in a statement.

“This takes into account all the jobs created by the cruise industry, which we absolutely couldn’t afford to lose, and we can start to work seriously on planning cruises.”

Tourism has become an increasingly contentious issue in the area, as the number of visitors has continued to grow each year. Over 30 million people now visit the historic city annually, with tourists outnumbering locals on most days.

Whether this really solves Venice’s tourism problem is debatable. Environmental campaigners have fought for cruise ships to be completely banned from the Venetian lagoon, rather than just the city center, and this announcement falls well short of that.

The levels of pollution from ships, even if they are moved slightly further away from the Grand Canal, still pose a huge risk to the city’s future, which is vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Anti-tourist sentiment in Venice led to protesters attempting to block a cruise ship from arriving into the city center last year, whilst officials have put a stop to new hotels opening.

It’s not a uniquely Venetian problem either—other historic cities around Europe are also becoming victims of their own success.

Barcelona and Amsterdam have introduced similar caps on hotels, while Dubrovnik is limiting the numbers of tourists scaling its Medieval walls as cruise ships and Game of Thrones fandom sends more and more tourists their way.