Visiting Venice? Make a reservation and be ready to pay.

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Visiting Venice? Make a reservation and be ready to pay.
A motorboat on the Grand Canal, seen from the Rialto Bridge, in Venice, Italy, May 4, 2022. Laetitia Vancon/The New York Times.

by Elisabetta Povoledo

ROME.- Traveling to Venice? Get ready to pay for the privilege of visiting the city, one of the most beautiful on Earth. Oh, and be sure to reserve your spot.

Beginning in January, visitors must make a reservation through a new digital system and many will have to pay a daily fee — from 3 to 10 euros depending on how crowded Venice is at the time — as part of a plan to better control the masses of tourists that can overwhelm the fragile city.

The system will allow city officials to know ahead of time how many visitors they can expect on any particular day, and can then deploy staff and services accordingly. Those making early reservations will be charged at lower rates.

The reservation system and entry fee is part of a “revolution” when it comes to visiting Venice and its islands, Simone Venturini, the city councilor in charge of tourism and economic development, told reporters Friday. He said it aims to balance “the needs of residents, the needs of tourists who sleep in the city and those of the day-trippers, whose rhythms are different.”

Before the pandemic curbed tourism, hordes of day visitors and cruise-ship passengers had transformed Venice into a prime example of “overtourism,” its narrow streets so crowded that on some days, police instituted one-way flows. Annual estimates for the numbers of tourists fluctuate wildly, with some as high as 30 million and others at a more modest 12 million.

In a city with a population of just over 50,000, those numbers were overwhelming at times.

Just about everyone visiting the city will have to register their presence, but not everyone will have to pay a fee, including children younger than 6, guests of Venetian residents and visiting relatives of people held in city jails. The city’s residents, people who work in Venice, students enrolled in city schools and property owners (as long as they’ve paid their taxes) are among those who won’t have to register or pay at all.

But even those who are exempt will have to show proof that they have a right to be in the city. Officials said the verification could come by way of a QR code that reveals whether someone deserves an exemption.

Tourists sleeping in the city won’t pay the daily fee directly because a fee is already tacked onto their hotel stay.

People will be stopped on the streets to make sure that they’ve paid up or have a right to an exemption. Ten to 15 “controllers” will be deployed daily to enforce the rules, said Michele Zuin, the city councilor responsible for the budget and taxes

“Naturally, their attitude won’t be that of a police state — they will be cordial, polite,” Zuin said. “But there will be controls, just as there will be sanctions for those caught without having made the payment.”

Violators will face hefty fines, ranging from 50 to 300 euros, plus an entry fee of 10 euros. And if someone is found to have lied — claiming, say, they were visiting a resident in order to avoid a fee — they could face criminal penalties, Venturini said.

City officials are still fine-tuning some details, such as daily pricing and the daily cap on the number of people. They hope that higher costs during high season will encourage people to come at slower times. “But the city of Venice will remain open,” Zuin said.

The city’s costs for implementing and managing the system are expected to be considerable, so the city doesn’t foresee that the fees will do much more than recover its investment. Should anything be left over, it would be used to offset taxes and service fees for residents.

Venturini said the new reservation system complements a monitoring system that the Venice City Council introduced last year to track people via phone location data, a system some critics have likened to Big Brother.

Venturini claimed Venice would be the first city in the world to use such a complex monitoring system. Bumps in the road could be expected, he said.

“It would be foolish, ambitious, arrogant to think that everything will work perfectly, with a snap of our fingers,” he said, adding, “It won’t. It will be a course that can certainly be improved and we will work constantly.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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