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En español | Venice is saying enough is enough to the throngs of tourists who crowd the Piazza San Marco, contribute to polluted waterways and clog the Bridge of Sighs: City officials have announced a plan to start charging day-trippers a fee to access the city.
The amount — reported to be between 2.50 and 10 euros (around $3 to $12) — and how and when the charge will be applied are yet to be announced, but proponents say the fee is intended to fund services, such as garbage collection, that all travelers use but only locals and overnight hotel guests pay for through taxes.
Venice’s decision is one approach to the growing problem of overtourism — the phenomenon of too many visitors crowding popular areas — that has struck certain destinations, including Dubrovnik in Croatia, and Barcelona in Spain, particularly hard. It can overwhelm city services as well as local residents. (The mayor of Florence is reportedly also lobbying for a visitor fee similar to Venice’s.)
In the last few years "the perfect storm of causes have come together and amplified overtourism,” says Martha Honey, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Center for Responsible Travel (CREST). She identified the growth of low-cost airlines, unregulated home rentals such as Airbnb, the race to post the perfect Instagram travel shot and the rise of the middle class in developing countries like China as reasons for the ballooning numbers of visitors heading to bucket-list sites.
Though high-season crowds have long swamped attractions such as the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, overtourism is a sustained issue that tracks with the rise in travel globally. The United Nations World Tourism Organization found that tourism grew by 7 percent in 2017, well above its projection of 3.8 percent.
Cruising, too, has grown by leaps and bounds and contributes to overtourism, with huge ships disbursing thousands of passengers a day into cities such as Amsterdam and small islands such as Santorini in Greece and Mallorca in Spain. Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA), which represents 95 percent of the world’s cruise lines, projects 30 million passengers will take a cruise in 2019, up nearly 70 percent from 17.8 million in 2009. While CLIA expressed disappointment in the proposed fee in Venice, the association stated that it is actively working on overtourism issues and that its lines have already "voluntarily" agreed not to send its biggest ships (those larger than 96,000 tons, which often carry 3,000 or more passengers) to the city. On Jan. 1 Amsterdam began charging cruise lines a tax of about $10 for every cruise passenger who arrives and leaves by ship within 24 hours.
Dubrovnik, an increasingly popular port city on the Adriatic Sea and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with fewer than 2,000 residents living in its historic center, is now limiting cruise ship arrivals to 4,000 visitors in the morning, and another 4,000 in the afternoon in order “to protect and preserve the city's cultural and historical heritage to allow all tourists to experience Dubrovnik properly, all year round,” according to a statement by the Dubrovnik Tourism Board.
Amsterdam, which has seen its Red Light District overrun by drunken visitors, recently launched its tech-based Enjoy & Respect campaign, which targets tourists ages 18 to 34 through geolocation with messages on what’s tolerated and what’s not, including public urination. The city has also banned any new stores that cater to tourists (include those selling the popular waffles spread with Nutella) from opening in the busy downtown core.
Overtourism also threatens national parks in the U.S. and Canada. Representatives of both authorities participated in an overtourism conference with CREST last fall when discussions included the possibility of instituting reservation systems for entry into some of the busiest parks, including Zion in Utah, that have seen record numbers of travelers in recent years.
“They are some of the most democratic of institutions so there’s resistance within park services to putting a lot of controls on visitors,” says Honey of CREST. But, she adds, in areas where they’ve had a reservation system, “they are finding visitors like it because when they go they know they'll get in and it won’t be overcrowded.”