You Tube film of Venice and Tourism debate

The film of the debate ‘Death in Venice: is tourism killing or saving the city?’ can now be viewed on You Tube:

This controversial topic was debated by a panel on Tuesday 11 October 2011 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.

One Response to “You Tube film of Venice and Tourism debate”
  1. Francis Standish says:

    Is it not inevitable that Venice itself has now become a commodity, along with its many wares as a historical trading entity? It seems to me that at least three causal forces, like tidal waves moving into the lagoon, influence the City’s present and future. One long-established pattern of influence is its continuous capacity for international trade. Another powerful force is the sheer commodification these days of any ‘assets’ in our capitalist economy which then become marketed for consumption. (We even sell ourselves as ‘human resources’, hopefully not always for ‘thirty pieces of silver’.) Perhaps Shakespeare’s wily Merchant of Venice with his ‘pound of flesh’ exchange is still a powerful metaphor for us. Consumption itself was once a known disease, in Venice too; perhaps it still is, in a different form, even a subversive epidemic within our present-day shopping culture.
    A third development, perhaps begun with the ‘grand tour’ of the 19th century, is increased tourism itself, so much a focus for the debate. There has been a significant trend over the past 50 years for towns and cities to promote, i.e. market, themselves as places of interest to stimulate their local economies. Disposable income, often carrying the deceptive mask of credit, together with the ease and speed of plentiful travel, have enabled tourists to ‘do’ places, often with a quick visit from a cruise ship keeping their customers entertained between meals where they consume as much as they can in these floating hotels which carry them around with every convenience from place to place.

    Another question raised by the debate was whether Venetians have brought the current state of mass tourism, or tours by the masses, upon themselves. Perhaps this is fair comment, given one also allows for these three forces above; indeed these influences may have been embraced by Venetians in pursuit of money (not necessarily wealth, the root meaning of which is ‘well-being’; clearly, so many tourists do not sit well, or walk easily, with many Venetians.) Possibly then, as we are told in society we get the leaders we deserve, Venetians suffer, or escape from, the plague of tourists they deserve in developing and exploiting a culture of consumption, although with little consuming or appreciation of aesthetic culture. Indeed, what is the level of promotion and consuming trade-off for all concerned: Venice for entertainment, education, or edification?

    So what to do with this Venetian state of affairs? Enjoy the dynamism of a complex open social system and ‘make hay while the sun shines’? Or determine systemic change? Apparently, according to debate speakers from Venice, most Venetians don’t like change. Are tourists to be ‘managed’ like those who stay overnight levied with a token tax even though they probably contribute more to the economy of the City than the teeming day-tourists?
    An overarching question remains: Is there the will for real improvement, requiring a shift of values, or is it the frog in the hot water syndrome? We can remind ourselves: ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ (I assume there’s a similar aphorism in Italian, as in other European languages.) Do Venetians really want a different culture, rather than their all-consuming tourism? It will certainly demand a special form of leadership to change, as indicated by the debate. Not the outdated leadership model of a Doge or a Mussolini, although the latter was admired by many in the national populace and is reputed to have at least made the trains run on time. But then, what kind of leadership? This is not an easy call. And is this leadership for only Venetians to decide? Meanwhile, if Venetians can’t rise above the current state, they may have to just go with the flow or continue suffering that sinking feeling . . .

    Francis Standish

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