Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Among the first of these Insights I wrote at Travel Weekly when I joined the staff in 2012 was one on Venice, and a protest movement about No Grandi Navi, or No Big Ships.

It didn't seem to be having a great impact at the time, but neither was it fading away as some protests do.

Six-and-a-half years later the No Grandi Navi sentiment has merged with another tourism backlash in Venice, this one against not just cruise passengers but a broad spectrum of visitors. A small protest has grown into a revolution of sorts that opposes what has been called overtourism, unsustainable tourism or a euphemism I heard recently: nonmanaged tourism.

The cruise industry was able to take some of the wind out of the sails of the No Grandi Navi movement by agreeing to limits on ships of over 100,000 gross tons and by negotiating a new entrance route to the Passenger Terminal in Venice.

But the genie had already escaped the bottle.

While ships and their ungainly size was one focus of No Grandi Navi, another branch of criticism was the temporary nature of cruise passenger visits and a skepticism about whether the benefits were exceeding the costs. That skepticism, if not quite mainstream, has graduated to the status of a Problem That Must Be Addressed, and earlier this month the mayor of Venice revealed his proposal to tackle overtourism while still preserving the tourism revenue stream.

The reality, not appreciated in some quarters, is that at least economically, if not socially or aesthetically, there wouldn't be much to Venice in the 21st century without tourism. Glass-blowing isn't enough to pay the bills. Neither is lace production.

Ironically, Venice's other 21st-century industry is shipbuilding, including cruise ship construction. Fincantieri's Marghera yard is in Mestre, in the mainland portion of Venice.

Also ironic is the notion that while big ships make fat targets for overtourism critics, there are hordes of day-trippers breaching the city boundaries more discreetly in motor coaches, limousines, water taxis and trains. Those modes of transport are the real source of the millions of gawkers arriving each summer.

So, starting in May, if the mayor's plan is approved, they will all pay 3 euros to gain access to the city. They'll pay even more in 2020, and by 2022 they will have to register their plans to arrive for the day with some kind of central authority.

Those discouraging measures should go a long way towards solving Venice's overtourism problem. Only time will tell if Venetians are happy with the result.

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