Imagine spending a day in Venice, Italy. You are walking near the shore, in front of Doge’s Palace, enjoying the warm Italian sun. Suddenly, though, the sun is blocked by an enormous cruise ship that towers over the city as it slowly sails through the Giudecca Canal. If this image concerns you, you are not alone, as many residents of Venice are growing increasingly irritated by and concerned about the near-constant flow of huge cruise ships that sail into the ancient Italian city.
The anger of the Venetians perhaps reached its most concrete expression last month when residents of the city organized a three-day protest against the intrusion of huge cruise ships. Protesters went so far as to fill the canal with small boats, forming a blockade of sorts. On board the small vessels, protesters waved signs that said “No Big Ships.”
Those who are angered by the presence of the ships point to several factors. First, and perhaps of most concern, is the fact that the ships are having a physical effect on the city. This can be merely inconvenient – as when the ships block Wi-Fi signals – but it can also cause damage because some ships’ vibrations can rattle windows and crack the walls of old buildings. Residents also complain of more abstract concerns, like that the huge ships ruin the city’s atmosphere. Venice’s population is only 55,000, and when several large ships arrive in one day, the number of people in the city can increase by tens of thousands.
Of course, Venice is a major tourist destination, and those who stand to make money from tourists do not voice much concern about the large ships docking in their city. Each vessel brings with it a huge new pool of potential customers. Moreover, Venice is, as a matter of historical fact and because of its geographical position, a maritime city. It would therefore be slightly ironic to ban any passenger ships from Venice, given the importance such ships have played in the city’s history.
Even so, the sheer volume of cruise ships could present problems, regardless of whether one benefits from them or not. Nearly 700 ships carrying almost two million people arrive to Venice each year, and this might simply be too much for the small, old city to bear. And although such a large number of tourists inevitably boosts the city’s economy, it is not entirely clear who is benefiting. Passengers sleep on board, so they can’t be helping local hotels very much, and they tend to eat on board the ship too, which means they aren’t often visiting restaurants or shopping at food markets.
Essentially, Venice has to strike a balance in order to protect everybody’s interests to an extent. It would obviously be extreme to dramatically cut off a market that supports so many Venetians’ livelihood, but the integrity of the city must be protected. If Venice deteriorates or looses it charm because it is overrun by tourists in search of a beautiful city, it will cease to be a beautiful city that tourists seek out. You may have solved the tourist problem, but at far too high a price.