Venice bans large cruise ships to save World Heritage title amid mixed reviews
Tourists are seen on a bridge in Venice, Italy, February 23, 2020 (Photo: Xinhua)
The photo taken on May 21, 2017 shows the cruise ship Majestic Princess in the port of Civitavecchia in Rome, Italy. (Photo: Xinhua)
The photo taken on February 23, 2020 shows a view in Venice, Italy. (Photo: Xinhua)
Italy’s decision earlier this week to ban oversized cruise ships from sailing in Venice is sure to restore the balance between the canal town’s environmental and safety needs and its status as one of the main tourist destinations in Italy. But some key observers are already complaining that the new rules don’t go far enough.
The presence of large multi-story cruise ships in and around Venice has been a source of frustration for locals for over a decade now. But the issue was put on the back burner during the coronavirus pandemic: The city was cruise ship-free between February 2020 and last month, when the 2,500-passenger MSC Orchestra entered the Venice lagoon amid protests from inhabitants.
This week, in what Culture Minister Dario Franceschini called a “historic” move, Italy’s cabinet of ministers approved the ban on ships weighing over 25,000 tonnes or over 180 meters (590 feet) from enter the lagoon basin near St. Mark’s in Venice. Square, the narrow Giudecca canal and its surroundings from August 1st.
By comparison, the MSC Orchestra weighs over 90,000 tons and is 295 meters (965 feet) long. The largest cruise ships that docked in Venice before the pandemic have sometimes exceeded 200,000 tonnes, according to reports.
The decree made headlines in Italy and garnered praise from environmentalists and culture advocates, especially after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned that Venice’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site could be compromised by The Boats.
But it has received mixed reviews from the city’s besieged business community, which relies heavily on tourism. After nearly a year and a half of travel restrictions, the city’s restaurants, shops and tour operators were forecasting a strong tourist season this year. The cruise ship ban will cut it off.
According to Gianfranco Lorenzo, research director at the Florence Tourist Studies Center, the ban is likely to halve the number of tourists arriving by long-haul cruise ship, from 1.3 million to 1.5 million on average per year before the pandemic. But he told Xinhua that overall, income from tourism is likely to be only slightly impacted.
â€œWithout the characteristic view of St. Mark’s Square and the rest of Venice, coming to Venice on a cruise will surely seem less appealing to some tourists,â€ said Lorenzo. â€œBut the city has already said it will focus on higher level tourism, and if it does, the huge cruise ships would be less relevant anyway. Over time, the impact of l ‘ban will decrease. “
The ships have proven controversial because of their negative effects on the local ecosystem and air quality, as well as what Andreina Zitelli, professor and activist member of the Venice Environmental Association, called the impacts “Unknown” on the old infrastructure of bridges and buildings with underwater foundations.
But Zitelli feared the new ban wouldn’t go far enough. She noted that the large ships that once crossed the Giudecca Canal will be redirected after August 1 for 22 kilometers (13.8 miles) to the mainland port of Marghera via a much less scenic route, invisible from central Venice. Still, she said, ships will continue to do damage even on the new route and therefore should eventually be banned altogether.
â€œWe won’t see the ships, but they will still do damage,â€ Zitelli said. “We must do what is necessary to protect our fragile city.”
Despite the ban, Venice’s status at UNESCO remains on the agenda for the ongoing meeting of the World Heritage Committee, which opened in Fuzhou, China on Friday.