Venice will become the first city in the world to introduce a reservation system whereby tourists will have to pay up to 10 euros each to enter.
The controversial ticketing initiative, announced on Friday, comes after years of rancorous debate over the suffocating effects of over-tourism in the city long known as “La Serenissima”.
Officials say the reservation system is essential to combating overcrowding, but critics say it brings the World Heritage city closer to being a distorted brand of cultural Disneyland.
From January 16, tourists intending to visit will have to book online and pay an entrance fee – or an “access contribution”, as the city prefers to call it.
The value will vary according to the movement of the season – during Easter, the summer holidays, historic regattas and festivals, the fee will be 10 euros per person. During the calmer periods of the year, it will only be three euros per head.
The reservation system will only apply to day trippers on the basis that they make little economic contribution to the city.
Tourists staying overnight already have to pay a hotel fee and will be exempt from the entrance fee.
“We are well aware that we are the first city in the world to introduce this very revolutionary movement,” said Simone Venturini, the councilor responsible for tourism. “We need to balance the needs of tourists with the needs of people living in Venice.”
There will be no limit to how many tourists can enter Venice on any given day.
But the high price of tickets during busy periods aims to reduce the flow of visitors at these times.
“This is a system of incentives and disincentives to manage the flow of tourists. Venice remains open to everyone, we must emphasize that,” said Michele Zuin, a city official in charge of the budget. “This system will make Venice calmer, safer and more beautiful for visitors.”
Anyone caught trying to evade the entrance fee will face a fine of up to €300 and criminal prosecution.
The idea of making tourists pay to enter Venice has long had its detractors.
“Venice is becoming more and more like Disneyland,” said Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian newspaper, commenting on the ad.
On busy days, up to 100,000 tourists converge on Venice, which is twice the population of 50,000.
Some Venetians believe the system should go a step further and impose a maximum number of visitors who can enter the lagoon city.
Jane da Mosto, the British leader of a pressure group called We Are Here Venice, thinks the number of tourists should be fixed at around 50,000 – the same as the number of inhabitants.
She doubts that the reservation system makes any difference to the problems of overtourism.
“Having a ticketing system is meaningless unless there is an explicit limit on the number of visitors allowed in Venice at any given time. I don’t think that would necessarily imply that Venice is becoming like Disneyland.
“When you buy tickets to a movie or a theme park, they stop selling tickets when they reach the number of people that can be safely and comfortably accommodated.
“The number of tourists must mirror the number of residents to guarantee people a more authentic experience. I’m concerned that a ticketing system could make people’s behavior worse. People may think: ‘I paid 10 euros to come here, but there are no bins, so I’m going to throw my garbage on the floor’”.
Gianfranco Bettin, councilor for the Green Party, said: “The problem is that the tide of visitors disturbs the demographic and socio-economic fabric of the city.
“We need to find a way to limit the number of day trippers and I think we need drastic measures, including a fixed number of visitors.”