A sensitive topic for many years, Venice has finally made the decision to ban all cruise ships from its historic centre. The pandemic has been seen as an opportunity to redefine the way Venice will manage the future flows of visitors with cruise ships now docking outside the Lagoon.

Before the Covid crisis, Venice was among the most desired destinations in Europe. Although the official total arrivals of tourists came at over 10 million for the “Serenissima”, the city clocked-up around 20 million visitors a year, when counting all day-trippers. This of course included cruise guests, just coming for a day. According to data, over 1.6 million visitors came from the cruise ships.

The feeling of Venitians for tourism, including large cruise liners, turned increasingly hostile in the last decade as the city succumbed to overtourism. At the end of September 2016, a protest denounced mass tourism in the town, including the cruise industry. Locals in particular were pointing their fingers at the “Grandi Navi” (“The Big Ships”). With cruise ships growing bigger and heavier, they were seen as a thorn in the Venitians’ sides. Cruise ships can now reach a height of 70m and were casting shadows over the frail buildings of the city, on average less than 20m high.

Until last year, cruise ships docked at the Marittima port and navigated through the Giudecca Canal and Saint Mark’s basin. Though responsible for a fraction of day trippers, they contributed to the overcrowding of Venice’s small historical centre as they disembarked thousands of visitors at the same time. Campaigns against cruise ships in Venice denounced that the ships’ massive structures were eroding the seabed and shaking canal structures.

No more large vessels starting April 1st, 2021

A cruise ship entering Venice waters in 2015

From an economic point of view, hosting cruise ships also appeared to generate limited revenues for Venice’s treasury. According to a study dating back to 2013 by Ca’ Foscari University, the revenues from the cruise industry to Venice were estimated at around €290 million annually, including €5.6 million of taxes paid to the Port Authority. The study also evaluated spending by a cruise day-tripper at 19 euros.

Previous initiatives to stop cruise ship traffic have also failed. In 2013, the government banned ships weighing more than 96,000 tonnes from the Giudecca canal. However, the legislation was later overruled. Another attempt in 2017 to restrict boats failed to materialise.

However, pressure mounted following an cruise ship accident in 2019 which injured five people.

On April 1st, Italy’s culture minister declared a full ban on large vessels in the lagoon, including cruise ships. The decision came in response to a request from UNESCO. Venice has been on the world heritage list since 1987. Already in 2014, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee had urged Italy to ban large ships and oil tankers from entering the Venice Lagoon. Two years ago, it even threatened to put the city into its endangered sites list.

Large ships will now have to dock at the city’s industrial port until a permanent solution is found. The Italian government is mulling the possibilities for vessels using the existing canals (the industrial canal to Port Marghera and the Canale Vittorio Emanuele III) to bypass the historic centre. The government will now hold a consultation for an alternative cruise terminal on the city’s outskirts. It will then be possible to arrive in Venice by cruise liner, but no longer in the vicinity of the San Marco bell tower.

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