The number of beds available to tourists in Venice has surpassed the number of residents living on the city’s main island, it has been revealed.
The Floating City has long been at risk of rising waters and faces an existential threat from the impacts of climate change in the coming century.
But a more immediate and growing concern among Venice’s 49,000 residents is the impact that tourism is having on their ability to live there.
On average, more than 52,000 tourists visit Venice each day, but there can be up to 110,000 visitors to the Italian city during peak travel season.
Now another milestone has been crossed: the number of tourist beds have surpassed the number of Venetians living on the main island, according to groups calling for authorities to do more to crack down on the city’s housing shortage.
The number of beds available to tourists in Venice has surpassed the number of residents living on the city’s main island, it has been revealed. Pictured: Tourists walk down a narrow alleyway in the Italian city in August
The group says there are now 49,693 tourist beds across hotels and rented homes (such as those used as Airbnbs) in the city, compared with 49,304 inhabitants.
This rise has coincided with a drop in the number of people living in the city, which has fallen by more than 120,000 since the easily 1950s.
A number of growing issues have been blamed for this, but the surge of tourism is chief among them – with visitors crowding the city’s narrow streets, bridges and squares every day.
Last week, officials announced they would introduce a €5 day-tripper charge from 2024, in a bid to tackle this, but some say it won’t address the issue of housing.
According to Venessia.com, a group campaigning to preserve Venice’s heritage, the number of residents in city dipped below 50,000 for the first time last summer.
The group has been keeping track of the figure since 2008 on an electronic ticker in the window of Morelli chemists, according to The Times.
‘We feel like foreigners in our own home, because when you walk along the streets we are in the minority,’ Matteo Secchi, who leads the group, told the publication.
‘Every now and then you see a fellow Venetian and you salute them from afar, but other than that you are surrounded by tourists.’
Another group called Ocio, which focuses on the issue of housing in Venice, placed its own electronic ticker in the window of the Marco Polo book shop in April.
This displayed the growing number of tourist beds.
The Floating City has long been at risk of rising waters and faces an existential threat from the impacts of climate change in the coming century, but a more immediate and growing concern among Venice’s 49,000 residents is the impact that tourism is having on their lives
On average, more than 52,000 tourists visit Venice each day, but there can be up to 110,000 visitors to the famous Italian city during peak travel season
On its website, the residents group said ‘we never imagined that within a few months the number on the ticker would exceed that of the residents’ ticker’.
In July, UNESCO experts recommended that Venice and its lagoon be added to its list of World Heritage in Danger. The recommendation will be discussed at a meeting this month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The UN agency’s experts accused Italy of not doing enough to protect the city from the impact of climate change and mass tourism.
UNESCO said corrective measures proposed by the Italian state are ‘currently insufficient and not detailed enough’.
It added that Italy ‘has not been communicating in a sustained and substantive manner since its last committee session in 2021, when UNESCO had already threatened to blacklist Venice.
The agency said it hoped that ‘such inscription will result in greater dedication and mobilisation’ of local and national stakeholders to address long-standing issues.
Ocio said it wanted to highlight the effect that the ‘constant opening of hotels’ and the ‘lack of regulation’ of short-term rentals is having on the city, and how this has ‘progressively transformed the historic city into a tourist spot’.
It was announced last week that Venice will become the first city in the world to charge day-trippers an entry fee in a determined bid to curb mass tourism.
From 2024, the city will introduce the €5 fee, though hotel and Airbnb stayers will not be affected by the move, Simone Venturini – the city’s tourist chief – said in the announcement.
The fee will be trialled for 30 days next year to start, focusing mainly on spring bank holidays and summer weekends when tourism numbers are at their peak.
The scheme aims to find ‘a new balance between the rights of those who live, study or work in Venice and those who visit the city,’ Mr Venturini said.
The new policy comes in response to growing backlash against the influx of day-trip holidaymakers and large cruise ships crowding the city.
In July, UNESCO experts recommended that Venice and its lagoon be added to its list of World Heritage in Danger. The recommendation will be discussed at a meeting this month
It was announced last week that Venice will become the first city in the world to charge day-trippers an entry fee in a determined bid to curb mass tourism
But critics say the fee misses the point, ignoring the more fundamental issue of short-stay Airbnb rentals keeping rents high and deterring permanent residents.
Mr Secchi said the new fee would effectively turn the city into ‘Disneyland’. ‘Making visitors pay to get in turns Venice into a museum or a theme park rather than a city where people live, go to the supermarket and drop their kids off at school,’ he said.
Plans to introduce fees on day tourists were originally raised in 2019 but postponed due to the pandemic.
Last year, Venice finally made plans to charge tourists €10 to enter the city all year round but ultimately scrapped the policy, with Venturini citing ‘resistance’.
A spokesperson for Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said late last year that the plans had been delayed as the city council had not yet fully approved a new admissions process.
Technical and procedural issues were expected to set the scheme back six months.
Now, residents expect the exact dates of the new plan and how it will be run from 2024 to be announced next week, following final council approval.
Venturini said the scheme will make only enough money to cover administrative costs, and that only visitors over the age of 14 will be made to pay it.
The Italian government last year paved the way for tourism reforms by allowing Venice to impose separate limits on rentals.
The city’s mayor said that policy would aim to limit Airbnb lets, stopping homeowners from leaving the city and renting out their home for long periods.
Barcelona has faced similar problems to Venice.
In 2021, it set precedent by becoming the first European city to ban short-term private room rentals under 31 days.
Rome and Milan, two more of Italy’s most touristic cities, have also since sought the ability to restrict short-term room lets as rents rise and salaries flatline.
Venetians also have concerns that short-term visitors spend less than tourists who rent rooms or book out hotels for several days.
The main island was visited by 19 million people in 2019.
A view of the Grand Canal and Basilica Santa Maria della Salute during sunset in Venice
That averages some 52,000 per day, and figures can be climb to twice that in peak seasons. But more than three-quarters of those amassing at the famous Piazza San Marco do so for just a day.
Guests who stay the night already pay a city tax of one to five euros per night and will be exempt from the new system.
But even last year, critics voiced concerns an entry fee system would do little to meaningfully change tourism to the city.
Local newspaper Corriere della Sera wrote of the announcement last year: ‘Venice is becoming more and more like Disneyland.’