The news of what happened in Venice last week (November 13th, 2019) really hit me hard for a variety of reasons. Around this same time last year, I was in Venice trapped inside a room above the already flooded hotel lobby watching our friends at the Locanda Vivaldi (on the Grand Canal) doing everything in their power to keep the waters from coming into the hotel at a rapid rate. It was an amazing scene to watch and one I will never forget. I imagine the same scenes, though worse played out in Venice in these past days and I can only think:
Why has nothing been done since last year when things were already critical? Why are Venetians like so many other populations in Italy continuing to go on like this and not communicating – demanding help to prevent what I saw last year that has repeated itself this year from happening again – saying they will but then, at then another year passes and nothing is happening and devastation like this in Venice is happening all over again?
These are important questions for the Italian population more than any other.
Do Italians, particularly northern Italians in one of the richest and most affluent states in Italy not have a voice? Why do these things continue to happen and why are climate change and mass-tourism linked?
There are answers to these questions I have been asked and had to ask myself listed below. Yet for now, the sad story of Venice and what it has allowed itself to become played out in a very real way for me inside of the hotel last year and has been worsened this year 10 fold with many clients, friends and trusted guides not knowing what to do.
From one year to the next, after having experienced what we did last year at this same time, many of us would have thought given what happened last year there would have been an action plan for this year, but there was not. There was just more bad news from Venice which for Venice and the Italian government begs the question, why aren’t they learning from the lessons of the past?
Lesson: When you Know Better Do Better and Take Action
After what happened last year, I told our staff here in Italy that we should really think long and hard whether to continue to include Venice as a destination that we can offer and after my experience last year I did want to take it off our list of places in Italy that we should continue to offer, though it was’t just my personal experience in Venice last year that begged the question whether we should continue to offer Venice as a destination in Italy that is one worthwhile from an ecologically sustainable destination to offer.
At McGill University in Montreal, QC when I was doing my undergraduate degree I studied environmental sciences in addition to my major in English Literature. My intention at the time was to become an Environmental Lawyer. This was, until in the summer of 2003 I moved to Italy for a summer opening and fell madly in love with the natural beauty of Italy and began working in Calabria with local governments who wanted to attract more tourists to the area.
My work soon took me all creating a website and body of work about southern Italy which at that time was non-existent in the English language at least. There was no google at the time and only a few websites where you could find anything on most places in the south of the country.
Now in Florence for example, every other building it seems is a hotel and in fact there are hundreds of hotels in this metropolitan city home to only 380,000 residents.
In less than 20 years, with the rise of booking engines, low-cost air lines, low-cost cruise options, social media channels and much else, there has been a huge and rapid shift in Italy and society in many places has has changed dramatically.
Take for example in Rome, you can no longer sit on the Spanish steps and watch the world go by and now in Florence eating in public is now banned because of the mess it caused.
In many areas like the Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, and the major art capitals like Venice, Florence and Rome, it is often difficult now to enjoy a comfortable vacation and look what just happened in Venice, with record flooding and lots of destruction that will cost the city of Venice millions of Euro to clean up.
What most people don’t know however is that the Italian government has blocked a system from being built that could protect the city of Venice, to allow for the continued arrivals of cruiseships. From next year, cruise ships will have to go further north of Venice and a new engineering strategy to protect the city will be put in place, but given the recent flooding in the city, it has left many wondering if it’s too little too late?
Same thing with Air B&B rentals in the major art capitals of Italy, where locals are leaving the historical centres of the cities to allow for vacation rentals, driving the local community out of these cities and driving the cost of living up so high that many people cannot afford to live in these are areas at all
Big-bus, hop-on, hop-off tours catering to low-budget tourists, the cruise ship buses and cruise ships themselves (considered some of the biggest polluters in our oceans), all may make for a more affordable holiday, but in many instances our holiday choices are costing us the planet and in Italy, it’s costing the local culture.
Mass tourism is a major concern for climate change in general, not only because of pollution caused as a result of touristic activities, but because communities where mass tourism is a big factor are getting more and more displaced and losing their connection to the environment.
While it is easy to point out how climate change and mass-tourism are directly linked, it is perhaps more important to stay optimistic and explore some great alternative options.
- In Italy, avoid the big bus cruise ship tours and make sure if you are taking a cruise to know about their Environmental Policy
- There are a variety of sustainable accommodation options in Italy that strictly adhere to environmental policies and there are many people who do care greatly about the environment here. There are also numerous farms which are totally organic and often produce great wines, which are an incredibly healthy choice.
- Know the cultural and social issues regarding Air BB rentals
- Use trains between some destinations and consider driving companies with hybrid vehicles
- Walk and use Walking Guides in the major centres or regions to get the best experience of these regions.
- Consider exploring areas in Italy that are not on the tourist circuit and not constantly published on Instragram at all. The Amalfi Coast is beautiful, but Italy is the longest peninsula in the world and there are so many extraordinary places to experience.
Share your ideas with us and be part of the conversation. We are wanting to hear from you! Write today at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jesse Andrews, Owner and Founder