Far from the once crowds of Piazza San Marco, the tiny island of Certosa could be a model for building a sustainable future in Venice as it tries to relaunch the tourism industry without returning to its pre-pandemic hordes.
Private investments have transformed the forgotten public island just 15 minutes by water bus from St Mark’s Square into a multi-faceted urban park where Venetians and Venetians can mingle, free from the tensions inherent in the city’s perennial mass tourism plague.
“This is side B of the Venetian LP,” said Alberto Sonnino, who is heading up the development, which includes a hotel, marina, restaurant and forest. “Everyone knows the first song from the first aspect of our long play, almost no one, not even the most expert or local, knows the lake as an interesting natural and cultural environment.”
It may be now or ever for Venice, as its city and its fragile lakes are both protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Citing overtourism, UNESCO took the rare step this week of recommending that Venice be placed on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger. A decision is expected next month.
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After a 15-month hiatus in mass international travel, Venetians consider how to welcome visitors back to the canals of postcards with pictures and Byzantine backdrops without suffering past indignities from crowds clogging narrow alleys, day bikers cruising down the slopes and flocking to take selfies Rialto Bridge .
The recommendation by the UNESCO World Heritage Center took into account mass tourism, in particular the passage of cruise ships through the historic center, the continuing decline in the number of permanent residents, as well as governance and management problems.
“It’s not something we’d suggest lightly,” Mechtild Rossler, director of the World Heritage Center, told The Associated Press. “The goal is to alert the international community to do more to address these matters together.”
Veneto regional officials have presented a plan to relaunch the tourism-dependent city to Rome that calls for controlling access for day travelers, promoting permanent residents, encouraging start-ups, reducing the stock of private apartment rentals, and controlling commercial districts to protect Venice’s artisans. .
The proposal, submitted in March, aims to make Venice a “global capital of sustainability” and hopes to tap 222 million euros (375 million New Zealand dollars) in European Union recovery funds to help hard-hit Italy restart from the pandemic.
Venice is in danger of disappearing. ‘If we don’t stop and reverse it, 10 years later Venice will be a desert, with the lights on in the morning and off in the evening,’ said Nicola Bianone, a Venetian and managing director of a company. The Boston Consulting Group whose strategic plan was for Venice informed the district’s proposal.
The proposal responds to the urgency of Venetians to take back their city from mass tourism that peaked at around 25 million individual visitors in 2019, halting the exodus of 1,000 Venetians each year. It expects investments of up to 4 billion euros to attract 12,000 new residents and create 20,000 new jobs.
As much as Venetians moan about the huge tourist influxes, the pandemic has also revealed just how symbiotic the relationship is.
Besides the lost tourist revenue, the Venetians suffered a sharp decline in public transportation, greatly supported by the tourism movement. Even the city’s museums could not reopen their doors to residents when the lockdown was eased.
“Venice without tourists has become a city that cannot serve its citizens,” said Anna Moretti, an expert in destination management at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice.
The pandemic halted the city’s plans to impose a daily tax last year on visitors who sleep elsewhere – 80 percent of total tourist turnout.
About 19 million visitors visited each day in 2019, spending between €5-20 each, according to Boston Consulting. On the other side of this equation, 20 percent of tourists who spend at least one night in Venice contribute more than two-thirds of total tourism revenue.
A fee-access reservation system is expected to be launched sometime in 2022 to manage today’s visitors.
With tourist arrivals monitored daily, the city set up a state-of-the-art smart control room near the main railway bridge last year that identifies the number of visitors in Venice at any given moment using cell phone data that also reveals their country of origin and their location in the city.
The technology means that future reservations can be monitored using QR codes downloaded to phones, without the need to set up checkpoints. Bianone said the plan is feasible in a city like Venice, which has a limited number of access points and an area of just 5 square kilometers.
Relaunching more sustainable tourism in Venice will require diverting tourists to new destinations, encouraging more overnight stays, discouraging day trips, and enabling the city’s resettlement with new residents.
It could go wrong a lot. Tourism operators urgently need a return to business, and there is a pent-up global desire to travel. In addition, a decision must be made on the many changes that regional and city officials are seeking in Rome, including any restrictions on commercial zoning or Airbnb rental properties.
“I think the level of dystopia that we have reached has been of such magnitude that there has to be a reaction,” said Carlo Pagnoli, Head of the Innovation Lab, VeniSia, at Ca Foscari University. “There are many projects emerging from many places.”
Certosa Island, more than a decade later, is still a work in progress, but its success lies in the numbers: 3,000 visitors every weekend.
Sonnino sees 10 other public sites in the lake with potential for redevelopment, including former hospitals, deserted islands, and military bases.
And he blames the Venetians themselves for the predicament of the city, for they speak too long, and fall short of action. But he feels that the pandemic – along with the world’s ever-present interest in Venice’s future – may just be a boost the city needs to change.
“I’d rather hope we take a chance. ‘Carpe diem is not just a slogan but an opportunity,’” Sonnino said. “We need a lot of ideas and a lot of passion to take the gun from the past into the future.”