The city of Venice is poised to impose a tax of up to $11 on
day visitors to its historic city center, a move that mayor Luigi Brugnaro said
would help defray costs of maintaining the popular tourist destination.
Some travel companies, however, called it an impractical
money grab that would have little impact on crowds. They also questioned how it
would be implemented to exclude commuters and students.
Brugnaro announced the tourist tax, which was authorized by
the central government in Italy's 2019 budget, on Twitter. He said the levy, which
could range from 2.5 to 10 euros, "will help us to better manage the city,
keep it clean and offer visitors better services."
Cruise lines, which have been engaged in an ongoing battle
with activists who want to ban large ships in Venice, said they were
disappointed that the Italian government supported the proposal. But cruise trade
group CLIA said it would wait to see how Venice proceeds before responding
"Cruise companies have already voluntarily agreed not
to send ships bigger than 96,000 tons to Venice, steadily reducing the number
of cruise passengers visiting the city since 2014," CLIA Europe said in a
statement. "We recognize that Venice is a unique destination, and the
cruise industry is deeply committed to protecting its cultural heritage and safeguarding
its sustainability. The city is a treasure, and ensuring its preservation is
crucial for all who live and work here, and indeed all of us who love it."
Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tour Operators Association,
called the move an attempt to make money off the popular anti-tourist movement.
Further, he questioned how it would be carried out.
"How do you actually sort the tourists from
non-tourists," he asked. "Venice is a city that now relies on a big
influx of workers coming in from the mainland to keep everything running. You've
also got this statement that they don't like people not staying in Venice at
the same time they don't like people staying in Venice because it displaces
The move comes as Rome on Jan. 1 implemented a permitting
process to significantly limit the number of coaches in its city center.
Jenkins called that move, which was floated to reduce
emissions and improve air quality, "idiotic."
"Each coach occupies the road space of one-and-a-half
cars and, per person, delivers a fraction of the emissions," he said. "Yet
we are being asked to exclude coaches in Rome and replace them with up to 20
taxis. This is madness. How can you reason with madness?"
Given the current political climate and backlash against
overtourism, he said, the administration in Venice "had to be seen as
doing something. All we plead for, as ever, is due notice. The industry needs
well-run cities. It recognizes that taxes have to be paid. But they must be
levied on a fair basis with due notice applied."
Travel agents who specialize in Italy said the move appeared
to be targeting cruise lines but questioned if it would have any practical
"I don't think so," said Brian Dore, owner of CIU
Travel in Westbrook, Conn. "Last year, they set up temporary barriers to
try to restrict access to certain parts of the city at certain times of the day
and stuff like that. I don't know that that really did much of anything."
Clark Mitchell, a cruise specialist with Strong Travel
Services in Dallas, agreed, saying, "In my humble opinion, this is nothing
but revenue generation."
Diana Hechler, president of D. Tours Travel in Larchmont,
N.Y., however, described the move as being reasonable.
"While Venice serves as Italy's Disneyland, it is also
a poster-child for the dangers of overtourism that we're all hearing a lot
about these days in the industry," she said. "The city is a finite
area. They cannot just build more facilities in outlying areas like a theme
park can. They have to work with the limits of their geography. The tax is not
very high but if it pays for more cleaning and support services in the city
during peak periods, I think it's very reasonable."
Jamie Biesiada and Tom Stieghorst contributed to this report.