First came the crash of a 13-deck cruise ship, the MSC Opera, into a wharf and tourist boats along the busy Giudecca canal, the main thoroughfare that leads to St Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, that miraculously left only four people injured, in early June.
Then, this week came the global media coverage announcing that the Italian government had decided to ban giant cruise ships from Venice’s historic center and would reroute a third of them by next year.
Between those two events there have been massive protests in the city calling for “No Grand Navi,” (No Big Ships) and calls from residents to ban them altogether from the Venice lagoon.
The crash, an incident foretold for decades, triggered a scandal inside and outside Italy and was compounded a few weeks later when the 12-deck Costa Deliziosa narrowly missed colliding with a yacht during a storm.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the publicized ban of the massive cruises spilling thousands of tourists every day into the narrow Venetian streets, canals and plazas was, in fact, a media exaggeration.
“This is probably the end of an era,” wrote the French magazine Le Point. “The one where giant cruise liners could dock in the Venice lagoon, pouring their streams of tourists into St. Mark’s Square and the narrow streets of the city of the Doges.”
But is it?
As it has been repeated through the years, excessive tourism is killing Venice but it’s also the key to its survival, given that it is the city’s main economic activity.
Thirty million visitors a year jam into Venice, many ferried in by the more than 600 cruise ships that anchor in the lagoon, which means a permanent tourist flow and its ensuing need of food, lodging, tours and souvenirs that also represents both a financial windfall and a real threat to the city.
Venice has been a tourist mecca for centuries. Now with cheap air travel and giant cruises, massive tourism has topped its capacity and tensions keep growing between visitors and locals.
For many experts and residents, it’s a question of exactly what kind of tourism.”Responsible Tourism” is the answer for many of them, and effective regulations by authorities to ensure it. But other interests seem to get in the way.
An alarmed mayor of the city, Luigi Brugnaro, had asked for help from Unesco last June: “The city of Venice is in danger and we all feel in danger!” he said on Italian radio. His main complaint was the lack of support from the government.
Unesco has already issued a warning: “The exceptionally high tourism pressure on the city of Venice has resulted in functional transformations caused by the replacement of residents’ houses accommodation, commercial activities and services for the residence with tourism-related activities that endanger the identity and the cultural and social integrity of the city.”
The current wave of news implying that cruise-based holiday plans would be disrupted by an impending total ban on the ships was, in fact, just “an intention” expressed by Danilo Toninelli, the Italian transport minister who, during a parliamentary hearing, said that he would like to divert a third of the boats from the historic center to other nearby ports and that the re-routing could start by September.
“Such reports are completely baseless, as for now the idea of diverting some of the ships is nothing more than that: an idea,” The Local writes. “Despite massive media attention, Toninelli didn’t actually ban a single ship. He voiced nothing more than plans during a transport committee meeting. In fact, this government meeting was just the first in a long series of planned discussions on the issue.”
This is not the first time that Minister Toninelli has been at odds with local authorities about the need to control tourism in the iconic city. The Venetian authorities in fact “cast a very circumspect gaze on these proposals,” writes Le Point.
“The minister thinks he can move cruise ships across the lagoon as if they were small cars,” Nicola Pellicani, a local member of the Democratic Party complained.
The Venetian port authorities, for their part, “have called on Europe’s most popular cruise ship destinations to close ranks in tackling the dangers posed by massive vessels,” according to The Guardian.
They have appealed to the ports of Barcelona, Amsterdam, Marseille, Dubrovnik, Zeebrugge, Hamburg, Palma and Málaga as Venice leaders clash with central government officials over a solution to the problem.
“The cruise sector has been, and still is, a great source of income and a provider of jobs and innovations in our ports and our cities,” wrote Pino Musolino, the chairman of the North Adriatic Sea Port Authority, in a letter to his counterparts. “However, the growing size of vessels, their environmental impact on the areas surrounding the ports and the ‘burden’ that the increasing number of tourists are representing on the cities that are hosting them, are creating a situation of conflict…The recent situation in Venice has demonstrated that the risk of creating real and unrecoverable damage is ever present.”
This article was originally sourced from here.