Irish Times view on over-tourism: Venice sinking under twin threats

Italian city fighting climate change-driven high tides and over-tourism

The physical and social fabric of Venice in its 1600th year is crumbling as the city sinks slowly – one millimetre a year – into the mud of the lagoon. The twin threats of climate-change-driven ever-higher tides and over-tourism are drowning the city. But it is open again for business post-lockdown. In June the giant cruise liners, towering over its churches and palaces, returned for the first time in over a year through the Giudecca Canal to dock on Venice’s main island, pouring their thousands of day-trippers on to the crowded streets.

Not everyone was happy. Protesters took to the water demanding a ban on these goliaths, whose wakes, a recent study in Nature warns, erode the shoreline and, through the “continuous resuspension of sediment in the area”, redistribute industrial pollutants already present in the lagoon. Not to mention their contribution to the tourism-driven depopulation of the city, which a thousand Venetians leave for good every year. Its population has declined by two thirds to some 50,000 since the second World War while over 40 per cent of its beds are now rented to tourists.

Record floods in 2019 affected 85 per cent of buildings in the city and seriously damaged half its 120 churches. St Mark’s Square now floods more than 60 times a year, up from four times a year in 1900.

Cruise travel contributes about 3 per cent to the local gross domestic product, but mostly not to the city itself, while it brings some 1.4 million of the 20 million annual day trippers. The latter constitute a massive 73 per cent of the yearly visitors to the city, but only contribute 18 per cent of the tourism economy.


Last month a Unesco report urged Italy's government to prioritise "the option of banning large ships from the lagoon altogether". It warned that it is considering adding Venice to its list of endangered World Heritage sites. The Veneto local authority says it is trying to rebalance the visitor flows but has done little, while delays continue to dog the massive anti-flood works under construction since 2003. Venice is in real peril.