At the end of April 2017 I travelled to Venice to finally lay my eyes on the beautiful Venetian canals that were the subject of so many of my favourite works of art. I arrived on a train from Bled, in the north of Slovenia, eager for my first location in Italy.
The first thing I noticed was that it was a little crowded around the train station, but this is Europe, for an outback Australian it always seems a little crowded. I found my hostel and then began venturing along every canal I could find. I was mesmerised by the scenery and the rustic look of the famous city on water. But as I walked closer to St Marco’s square and out to the ferry stops, the Venice I had dreamed about disappeared. From there it was hellish. The quaint bridges were now bottle necks for the enormous crowds, I could eye massive cruise ships parked in the distance and a sea of selfie sticks all around. As I watched people line up to ride in a gondola a buy gelato I couldn’t help but notice that it appeared to be a theme park for adults.
From there I began to see Venice a little differently. I noticed all the dilapidated buildings and realised that almost every shop was dedicated entirely to tourism. I looked around at every person that walked pass me; holding a map, holding a camera, wearing a souvenir t-shirt, not speaking Italian. Where were the locals?
When I left Venice, I was seated next to an old Italian man, an ex-venetian local. He told me that the population of Venice had been dropping radically as locals left to the mainland to escape the crowds. The population of Venice remaining is only fifty thousand people, to put that into perspective, Venice sees more than fifty thousand tourists coming in a day. You read that correctly, a DAY. When I asked about all the crumbling architecture the man said the no one wants to invest any money into Venice because no one wants to actually live there, everyone comes temporarily. The man believed that in less than a decade there would be no such thing as a venetian local, no one wants to live in a Disneyland. He also mentioned that the whole Island was sinking to an extent which is just a whole other issue.
This really made me think about future travels and how I was affecting the places I was visiting, I had just decided to go to Venice without even thinking about such things, I was just like every other tourist there wondering around without a care. I’m now looking at the entire tourism industry a little differently. We all want to travel but we don’t always want everyone else to be able to; we want the local experience but we ourselves are tourists – it’s a bit of a catch 22, there’s no easy solution. It’s all got me thinking about the effect tourists have on all the other countries I’m travelling to. We can’t just tell people not to travel, for many places, my hometown included, the industry is vital to the economy and is also a great way for people to get educated about other parts of the world. But the negative effects still need to be considered. I think one of the main things we can do is make an effort to do a bit of research on the places that we wish to visit and make an effort to learn what some of the local issues are when and before we get there. I’ve also begun to look into the most eco friendly and least disruptive ways of travelling around in each country so that I can limit the impact I’m having and be sure that the only footprints I’m leaving are positive ones.