New regulation could limit hotel growth in Venice

Venice is set to become the latest city to announce a moratorium on hotel development, preventing conversions and extensions on the main island.

Following on the heels of similar regulations in Barcelona and Amsterdam, Venice is set to become the latest city to announce a moratorium on hotel development, preventing conversions and extensions on the main island.

News of the restrictions came as UNESCO considers whether to add the city to its "at risk" list, as the rise of global tourism puts pressure on "must visit" locations. 

The new plans by Venice City Council will mean that developers looking to add rooms will be assessed by the municipality on a case-by-case basis. The plans must now be approved. The sharing economy was not addressed, but it is likely to attract separate regulation.

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Recent years have seen a number of hotels open in Venice, including a Kempinski on its own private island last year and a JW Marriott, also on its own private island, the year before. Rosewood is also reportedly targeting the city, which currently has 25,400 rooms and attracts 30 million visitors every year. Many of these are day trippers from cruise ships—the town itself has only 54,000 inhabitants.

The authorities in Venice have made a number of moves this year to try and limit visitors, including a counting system at key sites such as the Rialto bridge and Piazza San Marco. While there is no specific cap on visitor numbers, the figures will be shared in real time through the city's website and social media in an effort to avoid overcrowding. Fines will also be given to those who swim in the Grand Canal or picnic on monuments. 

Luca Zaia, governor of Veneto, which includes Venice, told the local press that he would like to see limits set on the number of tourists who can enter Venice, with visitors having to book access in advance and a possible daily charge. “Regulation of Venice's tourism flows, decorum and security are not exactly the responsibility of the region, but I want to tell everyone that the regional administration is willing to cooperate,” Zaia said. 

“It's no secret that I have been talking about planned numbers since 2010. Venice is a city-museum and I don't see why it cannot be subject to planning of arrivals and visits, something that new technologies make easier. If one day we had the same problem at Pompeii or Versailles, I don't think they would hesitate to set a daily limit. Or should we leave the doors open anyway?”
The battle between tourism—and the income it generates—and preserving a destination has been exemplified by the drive by UNESCO and local campaigning groups such as We Are Here Venice, to limit cruise ships in the Lagoon. 

“Despite the urgent need to get large cruise ships out of the Lagoon, government ministers, the Mayor of Venice, the president of the Port Authority and the powerful cruise lobby persist in proposing unsustainable plans like further dredging of channels as alternative routes for cruise ships within the Lagoon,” We Are Here Venice said. “Moving large amounts of contaminated sediments and causing further erosion along with other changes to lagoon circulation would further endanger the health of the lagoon system that protects Venice. Instead, new plans are needed to address current imbalances in a lagoon that is already suffering in terms of vital signs and ecological processes.”

The cruise industry, which has restricted itself voluntarily to a limit of ships up to 96,000 gross tons docking in the Venice Lagoon, is calling for clarity on an alternative channel to guarantee the passage of large ships away from St. Mark’s, warning that the new owners of the port in Athens will draw visitors away. 

Matters may be taken out of the city’s hands. Two years ago, UNESCO threatened to place the Venice on its “at risk” list if issues of overtourism, including limiting cruise ships, were not addressed. The organization’s World Heritage Committee is due to vote on the matter in July, at which point Venice could see more pressure applied, but also more funds made available to ease the burden.

With global tourism rising, locations on travelers’ "must-see" lists must look at how to manage numbers for the sake of those who live there now and in the future. 

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.