Venice is to limit the size of tourist groups in an attempt to reduce the pressure of thousands of visitors crowding its squares, bridges and narrow walkways each day.
From June, groups visiting the Italian canal city will be limited to 25 people, or roughly half the capacity of a tourist bus, the city announced this weekend. The use of loudspeakers, popular among tour groups but “which can generate confusion and disturbances”, will be banned in the city and on nearby islands, officials said in a statement.
Elisabetta Pesce, in charge of security in Venice, said the policies were aimed at improving the movement of groups through the historic centre as well as the heavily visited islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. She said the decision was about “the need to protect residents” and better manage the flow of visitors walking around the city.
“It is an important measure aimed at improving the management of groups in the historic centre and on the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello,” Pesce said. “It’s about promoting sustainable tourism and guaranteeing the protection and safety of the city.”
Authorities in Venice have for years sought to ease the pressure of mass tourism and the vast numbers of visitors flocking to sights including the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square. About 3.2 million people stayed overnight in Venice’s historic centre in 2022, but about 30 million people visit each year, with a majority of the city’s tourists coming for just the day.
Venice, once the heart of a powerful maritime republic, has been on the Unesco world heritage list since 1987 as an “extraordinary architectural masterpiece”. But Unesco has since warned that tourism’s impact on the fragile lagoon city is a major issue and has twice considered placing Venice on its list of heritage sites in danger.
To avoid being put on the danger list, the city has moved to reduce the impact of tourism. First, it limited the arrival of large cruise ships through the Giudecca canal. Cruise ships, which once dropped off thousands of visitors a day, have now been rerouted to an industrial port.
Then, in September, Venice announced a day-tripper charge which will be tested from spring.
Day visitors will be charged €5 (£4.30) to enter the city’s historic centre in an attempt to reduce tourist numbers. A 30-day trial of the entrance fee will be spread across public holidays and weekends in the spring and summer. Residents, commuters, students and children under the age of 14 will be exempt, as will tourists who stay in the city overnight.
Venetians have held several protests in recent years against a tourism industry which they argue has eroded their quality of life, damaged the environment and driven residents away. On some days, the current population of just over 49,000 – down from about 175,000 in the post-second-world-war years – is dwarfed by the number of tourists.
In September, it emerged that the number of beds available to tourists on Venice’s main island had surpassed the number of year-round residents for the first time. According to figures from the activist group Venessia.com, last autumn there were 49,693 tourist beds across hotels and rented holiday homes, compared with 49,304 inhabitants.
There was a dip in visitor numbers to Venice linked to severe flooding in 2019 and another fall in numbers due to the disruption of the 2020 Covid pandemic. But high visitor numbers returned last summer. An average of 40,000 day- trippers pour into the city on peak days.