The Entry Ticket and the Role of Local Society in the Management of Tourism in Venice

ALBERTO MADRICARDO
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A Strategy of Diversion

The first numerical data regarding the introduction of the entry ticket to Venice and its effects on the number of tourists demonstrate that the measure implemented by the municipal administration lacks any influence on them at all. This was to be expected. Previous experiences of this practice in other places, for example in one which I know directly, Lago di Braies, which is indicated by global social media as one of the 10 places to visit in the world and where in summer the entry ticket to the valley for each car is as high as 20 euros, have even produced the opposite results: the presence of tourists has increased, now not only at peak times, but throughout the year.

The municipal administration of Venice shows off the money collected, even if – declares councilor Michele Zuin – “the number of paying people is not the point of the measure in question, given that the ‘access fee’ is designed to be a system of control and management of flows”, and Mayor Brugnaro speaks of

having aimed to give a cultural signal to the people who come to Venice, the idea of defending the city.

Of course, in Venice the control over the flow of people has become more systematic and widespread, but also cumbersome and invasive in the lives of citizens, raising strong doubts about the constitutionality of the control mechanism that has been put in place.

There has been no deterrent effect: on the contrary, the number of tourists in Venice has increased since the introduction of the entry fee. The data mercilessly confirm this.

At the same time, with a sort of (apparent) schizophrenia, this administration is preparing the conditions for a greater presence of cruise ships, designing new access routes from the mainland to the historic city and islands of the lagoon without taking into account the devastating effects on the delicate balance of the lagoon. These are clearly destined not to lighten but to aggravate the pressure of overtourism on a territory that should instead be subject to the same criteria that apply to the defense of the natural environment.

The territory is also a “living being” that reproduces itself thanks to the maintenance and enrichment of its internal balance, its economic, social and cultural “biodiversity”. It is very clear that monoculture, whether biological or economic, is typical of situations of colonial dependence: it unbalances, de-qualifies, and weakens the social fabric of the territory in which it is practiced, making it passive, subordinate and less resilient to systemic shocks (such as we saw with Covid), which are not only always possible, but indeed inevitable in a world as strictly interconnected and interdependent as today’s.

The issue at hand is to remedy an excess that has thrown the life of the Venetian territory out of balance and is suffocating the city. Common sense would require that, to begin to “grasp the problem”, a maximum limit for annual and daily tourist presences should first be indicated. The task of establishing the threshold for when what is in itself a benefit (tourism) becomes excessive and therefore becomes an ill pertains to the responsibility of politics (with the necessary support of technicians) and should be a precondition for the definition of any rebalancing strategy.

However, there is no limit set on tourist presences in the municipal administration of Venice’s project, only a possible increase in the cost of the ticket on overcrowded days. Yet we can only seriously proceed to establish intervention measures and the methods with which to implement them after the sustainable limit of the tourist presence for the city environment is clearly established (not only for the historic city but for the entire municipal territory).

©Andrea Merola

The failure to set a limit makes Brugnaro’s promise to “defend the city” an empty one. When, and under what conditions, does he think the city will be defended? There is no answer.

Is this a failure of the municipal administration’s strategy? No, not if we look at all of its practical decisions, beyond the declarations. These appear to be dictated by a coherent and articulated strategy, in which the “access fee” has an important function: in addition to that of extracting data about people’s lives (in harmony with the strategy of “surveillance capitalism”), the ticket serves as a decoy, a diversion.

In the void of culture and government practice in which this administration keeps the territory, certain destabilizing, overbearing, predatory, and mostly not even local interests govern directly. The sense is that things have degenerated to the point of distorting politics, which according to its original vocation should be aimed at harmonizing interests, while instead now it acts as a veil and support for the overwhelming predominance of a few.

Yet in the international and national framework there is no lack of real political decision-making. To give just two examples: the city of Amsterdam is implementing a dissuasion campaign, a sort of reverse advertising (“don’t come here“) aimed at tourists. It has prohibited the opening of new B&Bs (as Barcelona has done in its historic center for several years), the construction of new hotels, and it has reduced the number tourist flights and the arrival of cruise ships. But it is also encouraging alternative business sectors to tourism, with the clear intention of re-establishing a balance that favors economic and social biodiversity in its territory. In Italy, on the other hand, the autonomous province of Bolzano has set a maximum limit of beds for tourist accommodation throughout its territory and has undertaken to enforce it.

Unfortunately, none of this is happening in Venice: the municipality has long had the legal tools to place a limit on tourist rentals but will not do so. On the other hand, it invents unsuccessful diversions, which instead serve very well as weapons of mass distraction.

©Andrea Merola

Local society, the Archimedean lever of the city

In this situation of void (desired and pursued), local society in Venice (this term meaning the varied galaxy of associations, groups, committees, etc., which is particularly lively – thank goodness – in our area), can play a primary role.

As the recent, important meeting on June 15 at the Pescheria di Rialto also confirmed, the denunciation of the false nature of the solution adopted by the municipality (albeit experimentally, but under what conditions can we say that the experiment was successful?) and opposition to the suffocation of the city due to “overtourism” can be a catalyst for local society.

But opposing is not enough. Complaints and opposition are destined to lose their effectiveness if they are not accompanied by the indication of a credible alternative perspective. Although the task of indicating alternatives would traditionally fall to politics, today it appears self-referential and resultingly weak.

Therefore, local society itself should take a proactive, even though not exclusive, role. However, despite its vitality, the lack of organization that still characterizes the social sphere keeps it in a suspended state that makes it impossible for it to overcome the fateful threshold of being a critical opposition.

To take on the role of promotion that the situation requires of it, local society must mature, “force” its lack of organization beyond its natural condition as a perennial “nascent state”, without however giving it up, because it is a precious and essential manifestation of the human and civil vitality of our territory. It must give itself its own reflexivity, make itself something more than what it is: “social subjectivity” being “he” – society – in the “impersonal“.

Talking about local society as a subject is a paradox, an oxymoron: the subjects, strictly speaking, are only political or private groups, or individuals. Society as such is by definition impersonal and can become a “subject” only in a very particular sense: by making itself “more social“, that is, less dispersed, more cohesive. Put differently, by becoming a system. In its systemic impersonality it can acquire the weight, the critical mass of attraction that allows it to act as a base and pivot for a vast political and cultural group that really wants to solve the city’s problems, not just pretend to do so.

©Cat Bauer in Venice @Cat Bauer

For this reason, local society must place itself at the center of attention. Mobilization against things and the necessary “practice of objectives” are not enough: it must acquire a systemic mentality and practice, work internally to make itself simultaneously more open, more cohesive and more attractive, and therefore more influential on the city’s orientations.

It must have its own memory, a collective ability to learn, and consequently, to process. It must be clear to everyone that:

1) more cohesion requires/involves more reflexivity;

2) more reflexivity (beyond the necessary critical moment) generates more proactive capacity;

3) more capacity to propose alternatives equals more strength to implement them.

The (systemic) cohesion of local society is therefore the Archimedean lever to lift the city and the area from the current state of depression and impotence in which it finds itself today.

This is achieved – overcoming episodic efforts – through the creation of permanent coordination structures between associations, groups, committees, etc.; the improvement of horizontal tools (networks) of internal information and circulation of ideas and experiences that flourish in the territory; the coordination and sharing of initiatives, the promotion of mutual cooperation between associations and groups to carry out shared projects. Basically, what is (in)different today must become increasingly complementary.

A dynamic society, less diffuse, more systemic and aware, should be able to dialogue with experts, to store knowledge and experiences, to process them and socialize them through the constant practice of participatory democracy. Only from here, from this carefully thought-out process, organized and implemented without improvisation, can an alternative be born that is capable of giving a healthy boost to politics and to the whole city.

We know from the experience of past mistakes: it is not an easy path. Everything is very delicate, and at any moment everything can crumble in our hands. However, we are not starting from scratch, as work in this sense has already been done over the years. First and foremost, it’s about enhancing and optimizing what is present. Among other things, a cultural, but also practical, alliance can be established with conscious tourism that is friendly to the city, which exists, and is in principle interested, if given the means and opportunities, in cooperating in its preservation.

Saving the city and the territory from the extractive/destructive use that is being made of it means setting a complex objective. And complex problems require complex solutions. The simple solutions that are indicated today are false panaceas – and real alibis.

But a reflective social group, which has acquired a systemic culture and mentality, can lay the foundations of the alternative. It is a question of discussing and establishing the exact stages of the necessary – let’s say – “resocialization of society”.

Cover image: November 14, 2010, complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony, and the (then) international model-pornstar, the local Vittoria Risi as godmother, Venessia.com celebrated the birth of VeniceLand, an imaginary water city full of exciting attractions, to be discovered by paying an entrance ticket. (©Andrea Merola)

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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The Entry Ticket and the Role of Local Society in the Management of Tourism in Venice ultima modifica: 2024-06-19T16:47:40+02:00 da ALBERTO MADRICARDO
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