Venice revelers enjoy last carnival before fee for day-trippers

DAMIANO BASCHIERA – UNSPLASH

VENICE — Hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Venice carnival are enjoying what could be the last year of free access for day-trippers to the historic lagoon city, before a much-debated fee comes into effect to try to curb numbers.

The carnival, which traces its origins back to the Middle Ages, is known for the distinctive traditional masks worn by participants and a host of cultural events in one of Italy’s most visited cities.

This year’s edition features more than 50 shows between Jan. 27 and Feb. 13. In 2023, the carnival brought in 2 million overnight stays and €3 billion ($3.25 billion) of turnover, according to data from Italian artisan association CNA.

Venice, with its picturesque canals and Renaissance sites, has struggled with the effects of mass tourism for years and has introduced a trial scheme that will take effect from April 25 to try to limit the growing number of day-trippers.

“This is the first time I’ve been here in January and I couldn’t believe the crowds, so if they have to start paying then I think that’s fair enough,” said Lin Keer from Britain.

Simone Venturini, the city council’s tourism chief, said the 29 experimental days chosen for the payment scheme this year would normally be expected to see very high tourist volumes.

“This measure will have a dual effect, first communicative, because it will give the world the idea it is not advisable to plan a visit on those days. At the same time, it will give the idea of better organization of tourist flows,” he said.

Four thousand visitors have already booked their stay through the official app for the 29 days, he added.

There will be no barriers or turnstiles, but officials will carry out spot checks at entrance points to the islands which comprise the city. Tourists who do not pay the fee of €5 will be fined between €50 and €500.

While locals are exempted from the charge, some worry that the new rules may complicate things.

“It can be a problem for all those who live just outside Venice and need to come here, maybe to see their parents,” said Filippo, a resident who declined to give his surname.

“Those who live nearby have to book. They don’t pay but it’s a bit messy,” he added. — Reuters