How was Venice before tourism

Venice (AP) - signs like "Don't sit down", "Respect for Venice" or "Priority for Venetians" are from times long past. Times when Venice was still debating a restriction on tourists.

There was ranting about mass tourism, the many people who clog the small alleys and have their picnic on the Rialto Bridge. About the cruise ships that nobody really wants and yet so many need.

You can now hear the clacking of your own shoes in the alleys or the sloshing of the waves in the canals louder than the hustle and bustle of tourist crowds. Venice has been in crisis since the Corona lockdown. Venetians or Italians from the region may suddenly discover the city for themselves and enjoy an almost magical atmosphere - but the money for hoteliers, restaurant owners, tourist guides and the municipality is missing. The economic damage can hardly be quantified.

"Today we are facing a city that is really empty and at one point zero," says tourist guide Elena Degan. The single mother, like so many others, lives on tourists and has not had any income since March. At the same time, she disgusts the masses. "The situation in Venice, Rome or Florence has reached an unbearable level." She lives in the center of Venice. Wherever a craftsman closes down, a bed & breakfast or a hotel is created, she says.

The Unesco World Heritage City has only around 50,000 inhabitants. Most people move to Mestre on the mainland. On the other hand, tourism has increased continuously in recent years; according to the region, there were around 13 million overnight stays last year. Therefore, the city actually wanted to demand a controversial "entry tax" from July 1st. Then came Covid-19. The tax has been postponed until next year. And the politicians suddenly beg for tourists.

"We're open again," announced Mayor Luigi Brugnaro. A "reassuring message" to the world is now necessary: ​​Venice is safe. Now the borders should open again. Only then can international tourism, which is particularly important for Venice, begin again. After all, most of the visitors come from the USA, China, Great Britain and Germany. EU citizens can travel to Italy again from Wednesday.

The regional president of Veneto, Luca Zaia, speaks of a "Covid-free" region. That is not entirely true. Veneto was one of the first two sources of fire in Italy. But compared to neighboring Lombardy, the region has got the situation under control with many tests and has now reported around 2,000 positive cases.

Even before Corona, Venice had to experience bitterly what it means if you only rely on tourists and they suddenly stay away: In November, a flood caused great damage, the images of a city flooded for days put off visitors.

Cities that live mainly from foreign tourism, such as Venice and Florence, would now suffer greater losses than cities that also lived from intra-Italian visits, according to a study by the Italian tourist office Enit. Tourism there would not fully recover until 2023.

Mayor Brugnaro is now promising class instead of mass. So a "new and intelligent tourism". But what exactly he wants to do for it is unclear.

"We are currently experiencing tourism in the area, as it was 50 years ago," says environmental scientist Giovanni Cecconi from the Ca 'Foscari University in Venice. "It is not enough now to just open it again and carry on as before." Not only people from the area would come to Venice again. Fish and birds have returned to the lagoon because they are no longer deterred by the engine noise of the many ships. Without motor traffic on the water, the water quality increases.

Also, no cruise ships are currently docking in Venice. Cecconi is of the opinion that the time when cruise tourism is idle must be used to come up with a model for the future and to move the port out of Venice. "Cruise tourism is the maximum of superficial tourism." For years it has been argued that the cruisers destroy the environment and the city's substance.

The action alliance No Grandi Navi does not just want an end to the cruise ships in the entire lagoon. The organization now has a list of demands for the future: honest gastronomy for residents and tourists alike, the settlement of craftsmen and artists in the historic center, affordable rents for locals and a limit on vacation rentals.

Venice is now at a crossroads: back to mass tourism that is unbearable for residents and visitors alike? Or does the city really have the courage to start a new, more sustainable future?