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« Bread & Butter Berlin | Main | TOPOLO': a borderland between reality and imagination »

Venice’s real problem is organisation and management

Venice’s real problem is organisation and management

venice.jpg

From Art Newspaper Editorial & Commentary
Venice is threatened by crumbling infrastructure and rising sea levels, and also by the inexorable growth in the number of visitors. But with effective management, one problem could solve the other. The gates that let the tourists in could pay for the gates that keep the waters out.

If left unmanaged, the sea of tourists may be a lot more threatening than the Adriatic Sea. Currently, around 15m people visit Venice each year, while the city has a resident population of about 60,000. Around the world literacy and cultural awareness are increasing. Incomes in India, China and Eastern Europe are now increasing very rapidly; there are 2.5 billion people in India and China alone who within 50 years might have incomes comparable to ours.
That means that the number of people who want to see Venice and will be able to afford to see Venice might very plausibly expand by a factor of three or more over the next few decades. There is little we can do to stop that happening and I don’t believe we want to stop it happening. If we regard Venice as one of the crown jewels of Western European civilisation—and we should—we want as many tourists as possible to go to there. The issue is how to accommodate, indeed to promote, such cultural tourism without letting visitors destroy what it is that people go to visit. Managing the flow of tourists into Venice involves segregating in time and in space the people who want only to be photographed in front of the campanile of St Mark’s from people whose aspiration is to wander the streets of the city as Ruskin did.
Managing the flow of tourists effectively would give day trippers a proper opportunity, which they do not have at the moment, to learn about the history, the culture, the context of what it is they see, with well-designed exhibits, and with qualified guides. Here is a sketch of the kind of plan which managed tourism might involve. In the peak season—mid-June to mid-September—admission of tourists to Venice will only be as part of a guided tour. The most popular package will be the one-day Venice experience. Guests would arrive by train in the modernised station from which they would cross the Grand Canal from the ticket office to the new visitor centre, which would replace the car park there. In the visitor centre you would get audiovisual presentations of the culture and history of the city. There would be libraries and lecture theatres, a shopping mall and restaurants of all kinds and price .
In that period of June through September a wide range of other tours focused on themes and areas, all accompanied by briefings in the visitor centre, would be offered to people who are making their subsequent visits to the city, and, of course, they would be free of the crowds of guests who are doing the walk back from St Mark’s Square to the Rialto. Outside this peak season, you would be able to buy individual admissions to the city at €50 [$63]. There will also be special Ruskin weeks in which there would not be any guided tours, and the number of visitors would be strictly limited. Tickets for these weeks would be quite expensive for the general public, probably normally as part of a package with hotel accommodation, but a limited number of less expensive or even free Ruskin week tickets would go to scholars and educational institutions, and be allocated by ballot.
We already have many successful examples in the world of managed tourism. Yosemite is a place of astounding natural beauty even though it’s on the doorstep of the densely populated coastal strip of California where 30m people live. In Yosemite, the National Park Service (NPS) ensures that people who simply want to be photographed in front of one the massive waterfalls can be rapidly bused in and out, while people who want to spend a week hiking in the park have an opportunity to do that also.
The result is that the NPS allows large numbers of people to visit Yosemite, while preserving the attractions that make them want to come in the first place. Yosemite is successful because Yosemite is managed as a park. I can already hear: “We don’t want to turn Venice into a park”; but the blunt truth is that Venice is already a park. It was once a great business centre; it was once a great political force; it was once a pioneer of new cultural ideas rather than a showcase of old ones, but in these senses Venice died centuries ago and it is only the flow of visitors in the last century that has brought Venice back to life.
Today, as a simple matter of arithmetic fact, most of the people who are in the city at any time are tourists and most of the people who work in Venice have come in for the day to serve the tourists. People do not go to Venice to have their hair cut or to buy their groceries. They go as tourists and the economics of the city are similar to the economics of Yosemite and Disneyland, not the economics of a city such as Slough.
If the mobile barrier that will provide flood protection for the city is going to cost €4.6 billion [$5.8 billion], a longer term solution will cost a lot more. But let us be clear that these are not large numbers in the context of the perhaps three billion people who are likely to visit Venice as tourists in the course of the next century. Today 12m people a year pay €50 a head to visit Eurodisney. It is quite clear when you see it in these terms that if the Disney Corporation owned Venice, Venice would no longer be in peril.
We do not want Disney in Venice, but what we do want to do is to learn some relevant and useful lessons. As so often in economic matters, the lack of money is the manifestation of the problem rather than the problem itself. The problems of Venice are not problems of technology or finance; they are problems of politics, of organisation and of management.
The writer (John Kay) is an economist and columnist for the Financial Times. This is an abridged version of a speech he made at the “Venice in Peril” debate held on 12 June 2006, on the side of the motion: “Enough money has been spent on saving Venice”

Originally from
ReBlogged by silvia on Jul 14, 2006 at 11:32 AM Posted by silvia on Jul 14, 2006 at 11:32 AM

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