The Brugnaro administration has presented to the City Council a long-awaited resolution, or “a regulation for the institution of the contributo d’accesso”. The rule is clearly illegal in some aspects, and difficult if not impossible to enforce.
By Giuseppe Saccà
20 September 2022
The Brugnaro administration has presented to the City Council a long awaited resolution, or “a regulation for the institution of the contributo d’accesso (entry fee)”, a resolution made possible by a national law. However, the measure presented is a confused, cumbersome and messy rule and the Administration, as always, does not have the maturity or respect enough to accept criticisms, even constructive, which are pouring in from every quarter – from politics, from economic categories and from citizens.
Meanwhile, it is necessary to carry out a “truth operation”.
Though it is presented as a measure aimed at the “territorial governance of tourism”, the rule has nothing to do with the management of tourist flows.
The right-wing administration captained by Mayor Brugnaro, using tools such as self-certification, various communications, and reservations that would have to guarantee the payment of a fee, is creating a complex, pervasive and disproportionate surveillance mechanism which has absolutely nothing to do with the management of the flows of tourists entering and even less their movements within the city. This plan will only succeed in making Venice the first city where payment is required for entry without that payment being connected to some service for the guest.
The rule is difficult, if not impossible to enforce. As it is designed it is a burdensome measure for those who try to comply with it, while it leaves tremendous spaces for circumvention and evasion. It’s enough to point out that there were not enough letters in the English alphabet to list all of the envisioned exceptions and exclusions to payment of the fee. Not to mention the privacy aspects for those who comply with the law, a subject that the majority has deliberately refused to address in commission despite the many requests by the opposition.
Another point is the legal risks that lurk in many of the articles. An example: the exemption for Veneto residents can not be justified as anything but a political choice, and risks making the regulation ineffective: as everyone who has the patience to study the flows of tourists knows, a large part of the excursionists come precisely from the Veneto Region. Another example are the fee reductions called for by Art. 7 (or rather for those who pay a tourist tax in Veneto) which are discriminatory and probably illegal: why should someone who pays a tourist tax in another region not be able to have the same discount? Finally, article 15 provides for the possibility of a physical barrier at the entrance to the city for the sole purpose of checking and paying the fee. This is not envisioned in the national law, and is furthermore a power that is being assigned to the Administration without even a vote in the City Council.
In the end, the most important fact does not emerge from among the numbers, chapters and letters: what is considered to be the acceptable threshold of excursionists and how will they be counted? The Administration’s response is not only that they have yet to decide, but that have not yet even thought about the parameters for defining it.
So what to do then?
The goal of controlling the flows of tourists first requires the determination of a numerical threshold, and this cannot be delegated to the discretion of the Administration. The first step to take concerns the role of the Smart Control Room. The regulation of the flows involves a transparent scientific analysis of the arrivals in the city and of the supportable thresholds of the same. At present the functioning of the Smart Control Room is completely opaque. What models does it use? How are they updated? How are they shared with and endorsed by the scientific community? No answers have been given to any of these questions in commission despite the insistence with which we have asked them. Together with Sara Arco we addressed this issue in more detail in the article published here, The Surrender of Venice to a Predatory Tourism Monoculture.
And what is the optimal threshold for excursionist tourists? There are various studies on this subject that seek to arrive at a number by trying to maximize the benefits of tourism by linking them to socio-economic constraints. There are many applicable parameters (residents, homeowners, beds in hotels and outside hotels, without forgetting the phenomenon of short leases for tourists, spaces in the parking lots, the carrying capacity of public transportation, the maximum number of people that can be accommodated in key areas of the city like Piazza San Marco, commuters for work and study, etc.). All this obviously cannot be delegated to the Administration without debate, as required by current law.
Furthermore, if we want to apply a tax so that anyone who visits the city even for a few hours contributes to its maintenance, a principle that is itself correct, it is necessary to link it to the vectors of access. At present we only have the bus ZTL, however, we should introduce a water ZTL, a car ZTL, and an agreement with the railway vectors (a few exemptions connected to the economic and social life of the city). But all this would still not be enough. This tax should rediscover the function of a service charter that has been completely neglected by the current administration. Here too there is no lack of studies and proposals. There is a definite need to broaden the offering of services/discounts, not only to the civic museums and local public transportation but to a series of services in which agreements with tour operators, OTA and other economic categories would play a fundamental role. All of these subjects were extremely cool to the proposed measure in commission, and it particularly emerged that they had not been consulted in this crucial phase, and that discussion had been postponed until after the approval of the measure. A procedure that is the opposite of what should be followed to make Venice a high-quality tourist experience.
Lastly, the problem of local public transportation obviously remains completely unresolved. What became of the terminals that should and could allow a more orderly management of the flow of people? Is a reorganization of the lines being considered? Everyone is also silent regarding this aspect, demonstrating the Administration’s inability to address the key issues for this city in structural terms with a clear program. They rely on disconnected measures which cannot resolve the problem at its root, but rather only risks aggravating it.
To sum up, we are light years away from a measure that can only imagine opening a new season in the governance of tourism in Venice. We will only have a new tax that will make life even more complicated for Venetian citizens, some economic categories, and for those who have every right to visit Venice.
The author is the group leader of the Democratic Party in the City Council of Venice