Updated: Dec 20, 2020
Modern day Venice’s biggest money maker is the tourist industry. This beautiful
Italian city, is flooded by over 60,000 tourists on average everyday. Businesses make big money selling the idea of Venice to every tourist that passes by. Areas like Rialto and San Marco are some of the busiest places I have ever seen and most of the shops, bars and restaurants filled to the brim and making big money. This can only be a good thing right? Money flowing around a city from tourism is obviously giving the people who live their more jobs, more money and more opportunities. But, Venice seems to be at the point where they have too many tourists.
In destinations like Venice, local residents are struggling to hold onto the small amounts of none tourist areas they have left. Businessmen from outside of Venice have invaded the city and seem determined to turn Venice into a theme park, showcasing Venice simply as just a tourist attraction. House prices have been raised to match the money a landlord can make from accommodating a visitor on AirBnB, in the main areas of the city all food prices are tourist prices and it feels like you are at war with the crowd trying to pick your way through. All these factors have led to the permanent residents of Venice only numbering around 55,000, and the decrease in numbers doesn’t look set to change soon.
In retaliation to the driving out of residents, there has been an outcry to have limitations on the tourist industry. Banners are beginning to crop up around the city, stating in English ‘tourists go away, you are destroying this area,’ and ‘no to cruise ships,’ due to the damage they cause to houses because of the amount of water they displace on their approach to the city. There have also been calls to put up gates at the point of entry to Venice, making tourists pay a fee or toll to enter the city, even though I think this will go further to making it seem like a theme park.
The residents have all the right to be outraged with the effect mass tourism is having on their city, I would be too. But what can we do? Venice is so amazing, in my mind it would be impossible not to visit at least once in a lifetime, I will definitely be going back. But, I also want to preserve the best parts of Venice, its Venetian traditions, and will feel bad about going and partaking in the tourist industry which is crushing those traditions. It is a dilemma.
Enter Mary from Venice Free Walking Tours. Venice Free Walking Tours are a company, like Sandeman Tours, who use residents of the city, to give tours. They aim to take you off the beaten track and show you the places that are important to them as residents. It is great getting an insider's view on Venice to find out about what Venetians traditionally eat and about their local customs, which seem to involving a lot of midday drinking. At the end of her tour, Mary gave an amazing speech on the idea of sustainable tourism. She did hint at the problems tourists pose for Venice throughout her tour but showed a genuine solutions that would seem to work for everyone.
The idea of sustainable tourism is based on giving the residents of the city the money directly by going to their businesses rather than the businesses owned by non-residents. By doing this you are ensuring that the local populous are making enough money to stay in the city and keep their traditions running. This means the residents are happy because they get to stay in their home and it should make tourists happy too as we are able to have a more authentic experience.
This idea sounds simple, and it is, as long as you can tell the difference between a locals business and a non-residents business. This can sometimes be difficult but luckily Mary gave us five tips to determine whether a business is local or touristy:
If there are pictures on the menu, it probably means it is not a local restaurant, as the locals know what the foods look like, so don’t need the pictures.
If there are waiters asking you to come inside, it probably means it is not a local restaurant, as a good restaurant known by locals doesn’t need a waiter to ask people to come in.
If the staff don’t speak amazing English it is a good thing. It means they are a local business. So, either learn Italian or do what I did and mime your way through, or in a restaurant just point at something and hopefully it will taste good.
You can tell whether a shop is traditional or not usually on the price. Tourist shops that sell ‘traditional Venetian’ items like, ‘Venetian masks,’ and ‘Munro glass,’ will have much cheaper prices than the locals shops as traditionally these items are made by hand. You may pay a little more but at least you are getting the real thing and giving a local craftsmen the money they deserve.
Tourist businesses will try and sell the idea of Italy not just Venice, so if you see food like, Bolognese from Bologna and Carbonara from Rome, avoid it but if you see restaurants full of seafood, black spaghetti and Cicchetti, chances are you are somewhere local, and delicious.
So, if you are going away this summer and want to be a respectful traveller who is looking to help the city you go to as well as visit it, think about the sustainable travel. Help out the locals and they will treat you better than any non-residential businessman ever could. Or you can get your frozen pizza and French fries for €15, your choice.