The tourist hotspot of Venice risks joining UNESCO’s “endangered” list as mass tourism continues to overwhelm the ancient Italian city.
“We are trying to avoid this,” Michele Zuin, Venice’s top budget official, told The Associated Press. “But it is not as if we are slaves of UNESCO.”
UNESCO issued a warning over the summer that Venice has not done enough to protect the cultural sites as post-lockdown tourism soars across Europe. Social media termed the phenomenon “revenge travel,” i.e., people making up for the lack of freedom they endured during both local and national restrictions during the height of the pandemic.
Tourism has therefore soared, reaching, or even at times exceeding, pre-pandemic levels. The first half of 2022 saw an almost 250% increase in passenger volumes from 2021 when travel restrictions first eased, and 2023 has shown no slowdown, Euronews reported.
Venice had already struggled with its significant tourism before the post-lockdown surge: Around 50,000 people live in the historic city center, with the city receiving millions of tourists every year, especially during the Carnival in February.
The city joined the World Heritage list in 1987, but failure to maintain the quality of the historical sites could see it moved to the “endangered” list and eventually lose its World Heritage status. UNESCO previously threatened to downgrade Venice in 2021, but the city banned cruise ships from traveling through it, which appeared to appease the World Heritage Committee, AFAR reported.
UNESCO officials have emphasized that a downgrade is not meant to be punitive but to alert the world community that more needs to be done to address issues plaguing a World Heritage site.
Official city data now indicates that the number of tourist beds in the city outnumbers the number of residents.
The city will try to battle the surge by enforcing a 5 euro ($5.40) entrance fee for all “day-trippers” on 30 high-traffic days yet to be determined, and it will go into effect in spring 2024, The Telegraph reported.
Some critics worry the move will lead to a “Disneyfication” of the city, creating the sense of a “cultural theme park,” as the fee is not enough to deter most people, but failure to present proof of entry when questioned could result in heavy fees.
The recommendation to downgrade Venice cites not only management of mass tourism but also the impact of climate change. It notes, for example, that the underwater barriers to protect Venice are not yet fully operational.
UNESCO will also consider listing five other sites as “endangered,” including the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv; the historic center of Lviv, in western Ukraine; the ancient city of Nessebar in Bulgaria; the Diyarbakir Fortress in Turkey; and the Kamchatka Volcanoes in Russia’s Far East.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.