âIt feels a bit like the beginning of a new era,â says Valeria Duflot, co-founder of the Venice-based think tank Overtourism Solution. “The crisis has catapulted tourism to the top of the political agenda and offers a historic opportunity to change the industry at its roots.” For Venice, this transformation will occur when the old model of extractive tourism – in which travelers focus exclusively on focus on what they can take away from a travel destination – is replaced by a regenerative model that also helps preserve local communities. With its website Venezia Autentica, Duflot is helping to drive this change forward, Museo Correr and handicraft businesses that make authentic Carnival masks. “Tourism is expected to return to its previous level in 2024,” says Duflot, “and by then we want to have created a transformation dynamic that will make the return to the old normal obsolete.”
The big COVID-19 reset also underpinned the need not only for fewer tourists, but for more Venetians. “The pandemic made it absolutely clear the total reliance on tourism for survival,” says Fabio Carrera, professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute Massachusetts, who teaches part-time in Venice and has been studying solutions to improve local living for 30 years with his WPI Venice Project Center . “The real problem isn’t tourism – there are no alternatives to tourism.” At least half of the working population is involved in travel, which gives the industry a paramount power over everything, from the types of businesses that survive (souvenir shops, none Grocery stores) to financing public transport (which goes to tourist places more regularly). Carrera argues that the development of tech and other entrepreneurial industries independent of tourism will create a more livable Venice – and a more attractive home for new residents. To this end, his incubator on the island of Giudecca across from San Marco will enter into a new partnership with MIT in the fall to support Venetian start-ups with their start-up.
Of course, Venice cannot be repaired overnight. Both Carrera and Duflot say their missions are long term. âIt will take 10, 20, maybe 30 years before we are where we want to be,â says Carrera. This became particularly evident on June 3, when the first cruise ship passed St. Mark’s Square in more than a year. In response to UNESCO advisers’ recommendation to list Venice as a site at risk, the Italian government said shortly thereafter that it would lift its ban on Jan.
On our last evening in Venice, the city was quiet, save for a few Biennale goers when John and I sat at our usual table in La Zucca, a neighborhood that attracted enough locals to be busy even without tourists. I watched an elderly couple on my left order without looking at the menu. But it was the table of four to my right that was interested in us. When we told them we were Americans, their disappointment was palpable. I knew they already missed their quiet little town.
I wanted to tell them that John and I had slowly absorbed each other in Venice for the past three weeks rather than devouring it all in one day like most tourists. We’d become regulars at restaurants owned by local residents and skipped many of the usual attractions to visit the family-run Squeri or boatyards in the lagoon. Instead, I just raised my glass.
“To Venice!” I said seriously.
“To Venice,” they echoed.
This article was published in the September / October 2021 issue of CondÃ© Nast traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.