The continual movement of cruise ship passengers in and out of Venice presents a conundrum in terms of tourist carrying capacity and sustainability. Over 60,000 visitors enter Venice each day, many from large cruise ships docking in Venice's port. The huge number of tourists coming into Venice provide a continual market for tours, gondola rides, water taxis, ferries, masks, venetian glass trinkets and jewellery and endless assortments of plastic souvenirs. Cafés and restaurants line the streets and canals targeting tourists with meal deals and views of iconic streetscapes or panoramic views of the historic canals. The Rialto Bridge is constantly packed with people after the perfect view, portrait or selfie shot. Surrounding the bridge the cafés and hotels nearby are flooded with tourists doing the traditional tourist trail around the islands.
The benefits of large scale tourism in Venice seem obvious - taxes, jobs (both direct and indirect), funds to support other aspects of the community. However given that many of those who travel on large cruise ships sleep and often eat on board, the benefits may not be as clear as one might expect. Despite the huge numbers of people coming into Venice they spend little per person compared to those who visit, stay in a local hotel and consume all their meals at local restaurants and cafés.
If managed correctly, funds received from the large numbers of tourists can be used to fund much needed restoration projects. Tourists pay a city tax when they stay in a hotel in Italy. In Venice this money is said to go towards conservation and restoration of historic buildings and monuments. However, a large proportion of money collected is used on administrative positions and policing, as well as marketing campaigns to encourage more tourists. Restoration and conservation initiatives exist but their funding comes from elsewhere.
Tourism has provided motivation and a source of income for preserving the gondola as a mode of transport. Traditionally a form of public transport, the gondola evolved until the mid 20th century. The profession of being a gondolier is strictly controlled by a guild and the vast majority of the actual gondolas are owned by one business. The gondola industry provides jobs not only for the gondoliers but also those working at Tramontin boatyard involved in repair and upkeep.
A main reason that people travel is to experience another culture. Given the global nature of the cities that many of us live in, we can already taste foods, purchase groceries, listen to music from foreign cultures in our own cities. Many who travel want to have an authentic experience of what life is like in another culture. However, the real Venetians are leaving the city in droves. Many leave in search of a professional life outside of the tourist industry. Abandoned flats are purchased by hoteliers and converted into guesthouses. The impact of the hotel industry has pushed up housing prices making housing affordability for locals a serious issue. Local stores have closed down leaving few options for local residents to buy groceries or necessities. Shop closures mark the creation of new tourist and designer clothing stores. The real Venice is dying.
The vast number of tourists reduces the ability of cafés and restaurants to provide authentic dining experiences. In some of the cafés in Venice packaged or frozen food is served to enable the cafés to cater for the vast number of people in peak periods. As a result travellers may be disappointed by this aspect of their stay as they are not experiencing the authentic taste of Venice.
Mass production of tourist items reduces the ability to see or purchase authentic and original works. The Murano glass industry (or Venetian glass) is known worldwide. Tourists can visit Murano glass factories and stores, but unless they get off the beaten track most tourists will only be exposed to fairly simplified designs and reproductions available in the main tourist areas. While some traditional Venetian mask and costume stores still exist, it is more common to see stores filled with plastic replicas made in China.
The huge numbers of tourists coming into Venice is seen as a curse by some of the locals. Various graffiti sites show slogans such as, "No big ships" and "No big ship, no stupid tourists". Handmade signage in various parts of the area indicate the continual intrusion of large numbers of tourists in the everyday life of locals. No Big Ships Venice Committee is a local protest group attempting to limit the size of ships entering Venice. In January a ban was out in place to limit the number of cruise ships entering Giudecca Canal, but the ban was lifted a few months later after lobbying from workers on the port.
Environmental impacts and structural damage
The huge cruise liners visiting Venice create huge water currents which erode the water ways and damage the city's fragile foundations.Venice, a sinking city, suffers from flooding regularly and it is believed that the extra erosion caused by the cruise ships is worsening the effects of flooding and damaging the lagoon ecosystem, itself a natural flood mitigator.