Report on the debate ‘Death in Venice: is tourism killing or saving the city?’

Death in Venice: is tourism killing or saving the city?

This controversial topic was debated by a panel on Tuesday 11 October 2001 in the De Marchi Room of CIMBA’s undergraduate campus in Paderno del Grappa. The debate was sponsored by the Institute of Ideas in cooperation with Iowa University/CIMBA (Consortium Institute of Management and Business Analysis). Entrepreneur Alan Miller, who is a representative of the Institute of Ideas Organising Committee, travelled from New York to introduce the debate. A high profile panel of five speakers and a chairperson was selected from Venice, London and the Venice region according to their work related to Venice and tourism. Peter Smith, the director of tourism at St. Mary’s University College London, chaired the debate. Each speaker gave a five minute introduction before opportunities for questions and comments from the audience of 75 people.

Vicenzo Casali, an architect in Venice and vice-president of the Venetian social forum ‘40xVenezia’, began by explaining three photographs he displayed illustrating some of the problems tourism has created for Venetians. He criticised the huge advertising hoardings on St Mark’s square covering restoration work and encouraging people to visit an outlet store. Another picture showed how it is difficult for Venetians to walk fast with so many tourists in the city. Finally, Casali displayed a photograph of seven cruise ships in the centre of Venice on the same day.

Nathalie Salas, a marketing consultant and hotel developer from the Veneto region, suggested that tourism could be better spread out away from Venice’s central islands. Tourists could be encouraged to visit wildlife and farm animals on outer islands and offered educational media to engage with Venice’s attractions beyond the city centre.

Jane Da Mosto, the scientific advisor to The Venice in Peril Fund, explained that Venice and its lagoon have been shaped by human intervention. She suggested that the lagoon and the city were a unitary and symbiotic system during the Venetian Republic until 1797. But this has now been lost, partly due to tourism, and the lagoon is regarded as an inconvenience or just something to be crossed by damaging cruise ships, tankers and cargo vessels. Jane argued for a reconsideration of Venice’s economic models and new leadership to change cultural priorities.

Alessandro Tedesco was born in Venice and lived there for twenty-five years. He is now a business consultant in the hotel and tourism sector in Venice and elsewhere. Alessandro described his work developing sustainable hotels on islands outside the centre of Venice and encouraging different kinds of visitors to the city through his involvement in bringing the America’s Cup event to the city.

Lastly, I suggested that tourism is more of an opportunity than a threat. Yet tourism is often experienced as a problem in Venice due to the long term lack of infrastructure development. To improve the city for tourists, residents, students and others, I outlined a ten-point plan to modernise various aspects of the city. This plan is set out in more detail in my forthcoming book Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality, which will be published in the USA by UPA in 2012. The introductions were followed by lively questions and comments from the public and undergraduate and MBA students. Although the speakers responded to many of the questions, some were left unanswered. Peter Smith concluded that the discussion had made good progress, but should be regarded as the start of debating these issues publicly. We look forward to further debates like this.
Dominic Standish, CIMBA/Iowa University lecturer.

A picture of the audience before the debate started:

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