Venice – Fabulous with Fragile Future (20.04.15)
This week as I took this photo, standing in Piazza S. Marco looking out to Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore’s island, travel and tourism representatives were gathering in Madrid to attend the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Global Summit. While they reflected on an industry now contributing 9.5% of global GDP (US$7 trillion), the Seychelles announced a plan to put a cap on international visitors to “maintain the islands’ sustainability”.
Alain St Ange, the islands’ Minister of Tourism, said that with a quarter of a million annual visitors the Seychelles received six times more tourists than there were local inhabitants. On a larger scale, as international traveller numbers are predicted to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, (having only last year cracked the 1 billion mark), the issue of sustainability is becoming more and more prevalent.
As I snapped from St Marks, I could almost hear the groans of approval in Venice, a city that receives over 60,000 people a day – again, more than the whole of the local population.
The reason for such visitor numbers is, as ever, all too apparent for anyone who has had the good fortune to visit the capital of Veneto. A World Heritage Site that includes a 50,000km² Lagoon and 118 islands, Venice remains one of the most majestic of destinations. It is quite simply a living museum with a maze of exquisite streets, alleys, canals and architectural masterpieces unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Whether viewing works of some of the world’s greatest artists or simply wandering the historic labyrinth of street and canals, you feel as if you could spend a lifetime exploring this city that dates back to the 5th century. As many a returning Nomadic Thoughts’ client has agreed, Venice is as infectious and inspiring, as it is magnificent and memorable. This greatest of medieval capitals continues to offer visitors sublime surprises to rival, if not out-do, any museum in the world.
As with the Seychelles, the subject of Venice’s overall sustainability is becoming more urgent. With international tourist numbers growing, there is a real danger of Venice being loved to death. Top of the agenda is how best to safeguard this most fragile of Italian cities.
Discussing the subject this week with Alain Bullo, the Londra Palace Hotel’s manager, I learned that the issues of controlling the city’s overall visitor footfall are intensified by the queue of high season cruise boats. Alain, who knows Venice’s Waterfront as well as anyone, having grown up with his father working at the Londra Palace, acknowledges the fact that Venice should remain available to all, but questions whether there should be a daily entrance fee, as there is to any other museum or cultural site.
For my part, having just returned from a glorious spring sunshine visit, I wonder how long it will be before visitor numbers are capped. As with many other World Heritage Sites, Venice is in the frontline of expanding international traveller numbers, and should rightly consider the most appropriate way of safeguarding its sustainability.
While only time will tell if the Seychelles’ lead on capping annual visitor numbers is the correct way forward, Venice is about to embark on another peak tourist season, which will enthral the vast majority of its three million plus visitors a year.
These images, all of which I took this week, offer I hope a different angle on Venice as it embraces the early spring weather, with gentler daytime crowds and a quieter night time street scene.