“Follow me please, this way for San Marco”. The loudly clues of tour guides that guide their group through the narrow streets of Venice have been back. On the canals, the gondolas and taxi boats bump together again.
In the city, 80 percent of hotel beds have been occupied again this month for the first time since the pandemic: only Americans and Asians are still missing.
While the Venetians who work in tourism are particularly happy, an even larger group is disappointed. In the pandemic, the city council had planned to tackle mass tourism in the city, and with new plans to make the city more livable for residents. But little of that has ended up.
“We had hope for a moment,” says Eleonora Sovrani. As an activist at citizens‘ collective ‘We are here Venice‘, she deals with one of the biggest problems in Venice: because so many apartments have been transformed into sleeping places for tourists, residents hardly find another home.
For her project ‘Solo Transitori‘, referring to the Italian term for short-term leases, Sovrani collected testimonials from city men who decided to leave Venice.
“During the corona crisis, we saw a decline in tourist demand, but that didn’t lead to homeowners wanting to rent out for a long time. Most put their homes on the market temporarily, waiting for tourism to recur.”
For example, the pandemic has not changed an evolution that has been going on for years: Venice is draining. Where the city still had 67,000 inhabitants ten years ago, there are still 50,000 – about as much as the number of beds available to tourists.
Moving out of town
One of the Venetians who left is Giovanni Da Ponte. The apartment he rented in the downtown area with his wife was too small for several years after the arrival of their third child.
“We searched for four years,” he says. “We wanted to stay downtown. My family lives there, we know everyone.” But they did not succeed even in the months when there was no tourist in Venice. “We were told that we could stay in an apartment for several months, until everything regained.”
Last summer, the family decided to move to Murano, an island a little further down the lagoon. “We have adapted by now. It‘s not far, but we have to take the boat for everything. Because one of my kids is in a wheelchair, it’s not useful.”
Ready to restart
Da Ponte found the situation particularly painful, as there is endless talk about more sustainable tourism in the lockdown. “We had talk evenings with the municipality and residents. So many plans have been launched.” Last May, the city council presented a document containing “ten commandments”: plans to prepare the city for the restart. One of them was the cessation of services such as Airbnb.
“That document was a question to the government,” clarifies the Alderman for Tourism Simone Venturini. “Cities like Amsterdam and Paris have succeeded in curbing Airbnb. But in Italy we can‘t start anything without a national law.”
However, the alderman has a different plan: a system of reservations so that the number of tourists can be reduced. From 2022 onwards, he wants to place gates at the access roads to the city. “The more we balance residents’ rights and the tourism industry, the more people want to live in places that are now being caught off guard.”
Giovanni Da Ponte sees that differently. “Those trellises make tourists feel like they‘re in a museum, not in a real city. That’s the opposite of what we want to achieve.”
The solution to the home problem is not simple, he realizes. “If he was simple, we would have found him.” Yet he hopes that the deadlock will soon come to an end, with the city council pointing to Rome and vice versa.
“You don‘t ask if they give you money, you don’t want to go to the moon. Only a house in the city where you were born. That is no longer a basic right here, but a privilege.”