The Agony of Riches

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Protests broke out in Venice this week against the local government’s new initiative to charge visitors entering the venerable Italian city – the first city in the world to do so – with demonstrators saying the fee risks turning the destination into “an amusement park,” CNN reported.

On Thursday, Venice began a pilot program aimed at curbing the large number of people taking day trips to visit its World Heritage Sites and famous canals.

The new “contributo di accesso” (access contribution) will require tourists to pay a fee of five euros ($5.40) when they visit the city between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Access is free outside that period and tourists staying overnight do not have to pay it – although they will have to register to get an exemption from the fee.

Visitors will be checked at spot controls at seven access points around the city, including at the main train station. Officials will also conduct random checks beyond entry points and individuals found to have violated the rules will face fines of up to $320.

Venice has long suffered from over-tourism, which has also made housing difficult for its residents. Simone Venturini, the city’s top tourism official, told Sky News that the authorities must “find a new balance between the tourists and residents.”

But ever since it was first proposed, the entry fee has divided public opinion; Hotels and restaurants voiced support for the fee because it could entice visitors to spend the night instead of just visiting for the day.

But many locals, advocates and tourists criticized the plan and expressed skepticism that it would help curb over-tourism. Around 300 people demonstrated near the city’s entrance, with a few clashing with police.

Some lamented that the government’s plan did not provide any “concrete policies for urban development, rent containment and ease of finding housing.”

The pilot project will run until mid-July and officials will then assess the initiative before they decide how to continue.

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