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Venice to impose fee on day-trippers to preserve historic city

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Starting in January, Venice will oblige day-trippers to make reservations and pay a fee to visit the historic lagoon city, in a bid to better manage visitors who often far outnumber residents in the historic center, clogging narrow streets and heavily-trafficked foot bridges crossing the canals.

Venice officials unveiled the new rules on Friday, which go into effect January 16, 2023. 

Tourists who choose not to stay overnight — and do not patronize local hotels or otherwise pay for accommodations — will have to make an online reservation for the day they plan to visit the city. Reservations cost between 3 to 10 euros (the equivalent of $3.15 to $10.50) per person, depending on how far in advance the booking is made and what time of year it is. 

Tourists who don't follow the rules risk being fined as much as 300 euros ($315) if they are stopped and can't show proof of a reservation with a QR Code.

Roughly four-fifths of all tourists visit Venice just for the day. In 2019, the last full year of tourism before the pandemic began, some 19 million day-trippers visited Venice and provided just a fraction of the revenue that came from tourists who stayed for at least one night.

Venice's tourism commissioner brushed off any suggestion the measure would seek to limit the number of out-of-towners coming to Italy's most-visited city.

"We won't talk about number cutoffs. We're talking about incentives and disincentives," Simone Venturini said during a news conference in Venice.

Frictions between visitors and residents

The reservation-and-fee approach had been discussed a few years ago, but was put on hold during the pandemic. COVID-19 travel restrictions saw tourism in Venice nearly vanish — and let Venetians have their city practically to themselves, for the first time in decades.

Indeed tourism has rebounded, even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. With so many Americans taking to the skies again, the phenomenon has been dubbed "revenge travel."

Mass tourism to Venice began in the mid-1960s. Visitor numbers kept climbing, while the number of Venetians living in the city steadily dwindled, as it became overwhelmed by congestion, the high cost of delivering food and other goods in the vehicle-free city of canals. Frequent flooding also damaged homes and businesses, causing headaches for local residents.

Since guests staying at hotels and pensions already pay a lodging tax, they are exempt from the new reservation system. 

With the new rule, Venice aims to "find this balance between (Venetian) resident and long-term and short-term" visitors, Venturini said, promising that the new system "will be simple for visitors" to manage. He claims Venice is the first city in the world implementing this kind of fee for day-trippers. 

The tourism official hopes that once it goes into effect, the fee-and-reservation system will "reduce frictions between day visitors and residents." During peak tourism season, tourists can outnumber residents by a 2-to-1 ratio in the city that measures just five square kilometers (two square miles) in area.

A dwindling population

Venice has a population of roughly 50,000, a small fraction of what it was a couple of generations ago.

Other small Italian towns have seen their resident populations dwindle and have practically offered to give away houses in order to draw visitors to the areas and stimulate their local economies. Sambuca and Gangi in Sicily, with populations of less than 10,000 residents each, are selling houses at bargain basement prices of less than 1 euro.

Children younger than six years old, people with disabilities and those who own second homes in Venice are exempt from paying the day-tripper fee. Second-home owners must prove they pay real estate taxes to avoid the fee. 

Cruise ship passengers contribute to Venice's congestion issue, particularly in and around St. Mark's Square. They will have to pay the fee too.

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