After years of tension between Venetians and the tourism industry, Italy’s government will be banning giant cruise ships from Venice’s historic centre. It’s expected to take four years to implement the changes, with the new route to be in place by 2022. Whilst the ban is a welcome announcement, there are worries it may not be enough to safeguard the city’s future.
The new route
Currently, large passenger liners pass within only a few hundred meters of Venice’s historic centre and the famous St Mark’s Square as they sail to the UNESCO-listed city’s passenger terminal. Under the new ruling, cruise ships weighing over 55,000 tonnes will be diverted towards the industrial port of Marghera.
From there, ships weighing between 55,000 to 96,000 tones will be able to sail to Venice’s passenger terminal, having avoided the city’s Grand Canal. Those weighing upwards of 96,000 tonnes will have to dock at Marghera on the mainland. Passengers will then be transported to Venice in smaller boats on in coaches along the narrow bridge connecting the mainland to the famed city.
Why the ban?
The ban follows the United Nations’ warning that Venice would be placed on UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage Sites if Italy failed to move the ships from the lagoon. In addition, residents and campaigners have long-protested the huge vessels. An informal referendum in June 2018 revealed that nearly 99% of the 18,000 Venetians who took part were in favour of banning giant cruise ships from the lagoon altogether.
The cruise ships pose a huge conservation risk to the city, impacting the local ecosystem and eroding the canal banks with the waves they create – which also face increasing threats from rising sea levels. Their impact on the scenery is also significant. Giant cruisers dwarf and obscure the city’s spires, monuments and palaces, as well as often blocking out the sunlight.
Up to 5,000 passengers and crew can disembark from one cruise ship, flooding a city that’s already inundated with tourists. Visitor numbers have continually risen, with over 30 million people estimated to visit every year and tourists frequently outnumbering locals. Such high visitation is thought to be ruining Venice both environmentally and culturally.
Is the ban enough?
Whilst the ban prohibits large cruise ships from entering Venice’s historic centre, it doesn’t ban them from the lagoon altogether. Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, believes this is a sensible compromise. It’s thought to address the needs of the cruise ship industry, the environment and local residents.
However, campaigners believe that cruise ships should be banned completely from the lagoon as they produce high levels of pollution. The proposed ban is therefore a far cry from the measures needed to ensure a more sustainable future for Venice.
Other destinations under threat
The high numbers of tourists in Venice have even led to local protests, with locals in small boats attempting to stop cruise ships from docking in recent years. However, the problem of overcrowding is sadly far from unique to Venice. Many other destinations have also become victims of their own success and are introducing measures to tackle the issue.
Both Amsterdam and Barcelona are limiting the development of hotels in their city centres. Whereas Dubrovnik, which has seen more and more tourists since the release of Game of Thrones, has limited the number of daily visitors to 4,000.
It can seem difficult to avoid the tourist hordes when travelling. However, there are a few ways in which you can help reduce overcrowding.
Do your research
During your research, be sure to take a look at news reports as well as travel guides. This will help you determine if it’s a good time to visit a particular destination. In addition, it will also give you an understanding of any local issues such as overcrowding.
Consider off-season travel
When it comes to highly popular destinations such as Venice, it’s well worth considering travelling in the off-season. June, July and August are seen as the high-season months for travel in Europe as they coincide with the school holidays.
However, travel during the spring or autumn is often a much more pleasant experience. Not only will there be fewer crowds and cooler temperatures for sightseeing, but prices are usually lower as well.
Check out alternative destinations
It’s also worth investigating alternative destinations that provide a similar experience without the crowds. For example, rather than exploring the walled city of Dubrovnik, you could head to Tel Aviv in Israel, which boasts a beautiful old quarter overlooking the Mediterranean.
Another good alternative would be the Moroccan city of Fes, where you can explore the narrow streets of the ancient Medina quarter. No matter where you are thinking of going, you’ll find there are always opportunities to get off the beaten track.
Ensuring the benefits of travelling reach local communities is a key part of our ethos. Find out more about our sustainable travel initiatives.