The Covid-19 pandemic has forced companies, administrations and, above all, tourists to do something rare in modern times – leave Venice alone.
For 15 months, Venice was allowed to return to its true nature as a historical city that is so magical that it almost seems surreal. The porpoises returned to their lagoon and the timeless sound of the waves lapping in ancient waterways could be heard again instead of the noise of the crowd and trade.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced companies, administrations and, above all, tourists to do something rare in modern times – leave Venice alone. The quaint town’s closure in the face of a deadly contagion actually brought to mind historic times when the plague hit and ships were forced to remain sealed in the lagoon or quarantine for 40 days, leading to the word quarantine.
When Venice looked at its status during its most recent quarantine, it announced a ban on cruise lines in its lagoon. But in early June another of the giants arrived, dwarfing buildings and even neighborhoods in the city. Locals, conservationists and many others have long feared that the vibrations from the giant engines of the superliners will weaken the city’s foundations.
Venice is now facing a warning from Unesco issued last week that if these giant cruise ships are not really and permanently banned, the city could be placed on the “List of World Heritage in Danger,” along with places like the Bamiyan- Valley in Afghanistan and the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria.
Tourism, of course, is nothing new to Venice or any of the other legendary places in Europe, but in more elegant times there were fewer people and they traveled more slowly. “The Grand Tour” through Europe was a must for anyone who wanted to be considered highly cultured.
The advent of air travel changed that, of course, but travel still retained an air of mystery and exclusivity. It even had its own label for the lucky few: The Jet Set. It would be the rise of low-cost airlines, Airbnb, and other mass tourism innovations that would attract overwhelming crowds in some places.
Of course, everyone should have the right to visit Venice and other prestigious cities. But do we have to do it the same way? Before the pandemic, many of the visitors clogging the cobblestone streets of Venice were day trippers dragging luggage on wheels across the sidewalk. Even armed with a bottle of water and a daypack, they seemed to be rushing, determined to cram as many selfies as possible into their limited time in town.
A calmer approach is needed. Maybe another sector can inspire you, at least the name, if not the whole approach. A hospitality initiative called Slow Food is already trying to address some of the concerns about incessant transportation, mass production and commercialization. It sources food locally, not globally, to save energy and revitalize local production.
As climate change fears become scientific facts, “slow” travel could also become a way of reducing CO2 emissions. But how did that work?
When it reopened, Florence took a measure designed to slow down or disperse mass tourism. The Uffizi Gallery will display works from its prestigious collection of Renaissance masterpieces in up to 100 locations across Tuscany. The plan called Uffizi Diffusi prevents mass arrivals at the museum – which previously numbered up to 12,000 a day – while distributing the crowds and revenue over a larger area.
How to enforce a slower pace is certainly a big question, but right now consumer demand might. Even if the restrictions are lifted, many potential travelers remain reluctant. The bravest are ready, but mass tourism has been fueled by the full spectrum of travelers. Many are not yet finished themselves or are not yet clear about the rules that remain in the flow.
Perhaps the only clear view is that much remains in the dark about Europe’s tourist summer. Now marked by fits and starts, new tourism plans are announced almost daily. Last but not least, the rapidly developing situation shows that tradition-bound Europe can be more agile if necessary.
Rapidly increasing numbers of new infections in Great Britain prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel last week to propose new quarantine measures by the European Union for travelers from this country.
“We in Germany and the EU are walking on thin ice,” she said in one of her last public speeches before leaving office. “We have to stay vigilant. We have to be careful, especially with new variants, especially the Delta variant. “
Portugal’s important tourism sector breathed a sigh of relief when a country reopened, but at the end of June the capital Lisbon was again forced to take lockdown measures due to the possible spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant.
During the working week, people are now required to show a negative coronavirus test or vaccination card to leave or enter Lisbon, while restaurants, cafes and other shops in the community have to close at 3:30 p.m. on weekends.
And the hospitality industry is facing unprecedented times. Tourism companies in Europe have a hard time recruiting staff. Throwing pizzas may have been a happy job in the past, but in the age of Covid, many may not want to sign up for a job that has the potential for serious illness or worse.
According to a study by global business news service McKenzie, it will take four to seven years for Europe’s tourism-related GDP to return to 2019 levels. It is doubtful that anyone can fully predict the innovations and changes that will happen during this time, but the overarching message from the environment and public health seems clear: We must conserve resources and slow them down.
If old stones could speak, we would undoubtedly hear the gratitude when Venice finally got a break.
Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are journalists based in Milan