As reported earlier, numerous European cities have implemented restrictions concerning sea cruise ships, including Venice, where a law prohibits cruise ships weighing more than 25,000 tons from entering the heart of the city, specifically the St. Mark’s Basin, and the Giudecca Canal. Therefore, the recent decision by the authorities to allow larger cruise ships to dock in Venice from 2027 is quite surprising.
A new route is being designated to enable the presence of these maritime giants in Venice once again.
The Vittorio Emmanuele Canal, awaiting dredging, will serve as the new route, allowing cruise ships to reach the Stazione Marittima, the Venice cruise terminal. According to the plans, cruise ships utilizing this new route to dock in Venice can have a maximum gross tonnage of 60,000 and a length of up to 250 meters.
Currently, the city is only accessible to cruise ships via the Giudecca Canal. The existing restrictions stipulate that ships traversing this canal must have a maximum gross tonnage of 25,000, a maximum length of 180 meters, and a maximum height of 35 meters.
Venice narrowly avoided being listed on UNESCO’s endangered World Heritage list.
The timing of the plans for cruise ships is particularly bold, considering that Venice narrowly avoided being listed on UNESCO’s endangered World Heritage list just a few weeks ago. The city council ultimately decided on the long-postponed entrance fee for the lagoon city just before the UNESCO session discussing this matter. However, it remains unknown who will support the implementation of this measure alongside the introduction of the entrance fee.
Incidentally, in the case of Venice, if UNESCO had taken a firm stance, it would have sent a clear message to those responsible for other (endangered) World Heritage sites.
There is ongoing pressure on Venice from UNESCO.
UNESCO has been threatening for years to put the Venetian World Heritage site on the red list. The organization does this when a World Heritage site is at risk, and those responsible fail to adequately preserve the irreplaceable cultural assets. The next step after this would be the complete withdrawal of the World Heritage status, as happened in 2019 with the Elbe Valley in Dresden due to the construction of a new bridge.
At its meeting in Riyadh in mid-September 2023, the relevant committee of UNESCO decided not to change Venice’s World Heritage status. However, this positive decision was immediately overshadowed by the fact that just a few days after the UNESCO committee meeting, Venice’s future plans regarding cruise ships were revealed. Critics were quick to point out that the integrity of the lagoon’s delicate ecology is at stake if, as the plans suggest, the ship route leading to the industrial port on land is to be dredged deeper than before.
Is There a Real Intention to Curb Mass Tourism in Venice?
As early as 2016, it became clear that UNESCO would designate Venice as endangered. In response, the city’s leadership planned to ban large cruise ships to reassure the organization. However, the plan did not materialize as a court decision at the time overturned the ban.
It’s important to note that Venice does not have independent decision-making authority as it is part of an administrative unit that includes other mainland settlements, such as Mestre with a total population of 177,000. Mestre significantly benefits financially from Venice’s attraction as a tourist magnet and is not interested in restricting mass tourism.
Furthermore, most decisions regarding shipping matters are made in Rome, far from Venice, and there is currently no Venetian representative in the ruling party’s city council. Meanwhile, the city continues to struggle, illustrated by the fact that the number of permanent residents fell below 50,000.
Since there are alternative solutions, restricting cruise ships doesn’t keep tourists away from Venice.
The current regulations regarding cruise ships create an absurd situation. Large ships no longer dock in Venice, leading to a high number of buses transporting passengers to the historic city center, significantly increasing traffic on the roads.
Furthermore, numerous buses arrive in Venice from other ports such as Trieste or Ravenna, resulting in a continuous influx of tourists. In Venice, for the 2023 season, they expect a total of 270 cruise ships, which translates to approximately 600,000 passengers. Without effective regulation, by 2027, this could increase to 385 ships and about one million passengers annually.