Venice has been making major moves in an effort to limit tourism and protect the sensitive ecosystem around the Italian city. From limiting the number of visitors and charging an entrance fee to banning cruise ships, Venice has gone to extreme measures.
What many tourists don’t know, however, is that public officials are also watching your every move when you’re visiting.
Using 468 CCTV cameras, optical sensors, and a mobile-phone tracing system, Venetian authorities are watching movement all over the city. They can tell visitors from residents, where people are gathering, and even how many boats and gondolas are on the water and how fast they are traveling at any given time.
“This is the brain of the city. We know in real time how many people are in each part [of the city] and which countries they’re from,” Marco Bettini, co-director general of Venis, told CNN earlier this year. Venis is the tech company that built the surveillance system, which operates out of police headquarters in an old warehouse in town.
Every 15 minutes, authorities get a snapshot of what is happening in the city so they can make adjustments. Boats can be added or removed from service, additional buses can be sent out to reduce traffic in popular areas, and officials can get an accurate count of how many people are in Venice and close off entry until the numbers decrease.
They can also use the data to track patterns and determine what attractions are drawing the most interest from visitors to make adjustments ahead of time.
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro told Reuters all of the changes — from entry fees to turnstiles to the cameras — are designed to make tourism more sustainable. That is necessary, he said, with 25 million visitors annually. But he knows not everybody is on board with the changes.
“I expect protests, lawsuits, everything,” he said. “But I have a duty to make this city livable for those who inhabit it and also for those who want to visit.”
Bettini said the cameras and other changes are meant to help the city.
“There is a physical limitation on the number of people that can be in the city at the same time,” Bettini said. “We don’t want to leave anyone behind or stop people from coming to Venice. We want people to book in advance, tell us where they want to go, what they want to visit, in order to provide a better quality of service.”
Entry fees are expected to begin in the summer of 2022, a plan approved several years ago, but implementation was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The cost will range from about $3.50 to $12, depending upon the time of the year and the demand.
During an annual carnival in St. Mark’s Square in 2019, an estimated 193,000 squeezed into town. That’s a number officials don’t want to see again.
The city also banned large cruise ships from sailing through the city center. That ban, which went into effect August 1, is expected to have a major impact on protecting the fragile water system. It’s a move widely supported by environmentalists and Venice residents.