Norwegian Gem - passengers shuttled into Venice by motor boat

Cruise passengers shuttled into Venice by motor boat

By Region News North-east Italy Travel & Tourism

Port authority authorises Norwegian Cruise liner to dock at the Lido and shuttle passengers into Venice by motor boat. It is reportedly part of an experiment following the city’s banning of large ships.

Last year, following pressure from UNESCO, the Italian government banned ships weighing more than 25,000 tonnes from entering the centre of Venice.

In a reported experiment, the city’s port authorities allowed the Norwegian Gem to dock at Venice Lido. Then passengers headed into Venice by motor boat for the day.

How this will work when Venice introduces ticketing for day trippers, is anybody’s guess. The fee targets day-trippers, who will have to go online to book the day on which they plan to visit Venice, paying between €3 and €10 a person. The amount depends on how busy the city is on their chosen day.

There is a danger that cruise liners snaffle up large quantities of tickets at the lower price point, leaving other tourists having to pay more when the visitor numbers exceed a certain limit.

READ: Venice sets date for ticketing and entry fees

How was this allowed?

Norwegian Gem is a vessel of just under 300 metres long and owned by Norwegian Cruise. Theoretically, Norwegian Gem was only transiting through Venice when it dropped passengers off for the day. The motor boats were provided by the city’s port authority.

Around 1,500 passengers disembarked at St Mark’s Square before they were collected again in the evening.

Venice’s governors had no influence over the matter. However, Simone Venturini, the city’s tourism councillor, has warned against “hit and run” tourism. Venturini hoped the Norwegian Gem tactic wouldn’t set a precedent. “It’s not the type of tourism we want for the city,” he told the local press.

Years of activism to achieve large ship ban

It took years of protests, with environmentalists pitted against the tourism lobby, for the ban to come into effect. However, it was the pressure from UNESCO, who warned they would revise Venice’s status on the Heritage List, that finally made the government see sense.

READ: Italy bans cruise ships from centre of Venice

The environmentalists saw the damage being wreaked on the lagoon’s fragile ecosystem, and architecture, from the large ships. On the other hand, there were those concerned as to the economic impact of any tourism restrictions.

As tourism was largely suspended during 18 months of Covid pandemic, Venetians could once again enjoy their city free of the hoards of tourists. A balance has been struck, with the Venice government introducing ticketing and charging from 2023 for day trippers and large ships still banned from the Giudecca canal and entering Venice’s historic centre.

Most cruise companies have since rerouted to ports in Trieste or Ravenna. From there passengers who want to see Venice can make a bus journey of about two hours. This is approximately twice the time it takes for cruise passengers to get from Civitavecchia to the centre of Rome.

A handful of cruise companies are making use of Marghera, a nearby industrial area. It has been temporarily repurposed for cruise ships.

Cruise Industry “in limbo”

Francesco Galietti, director of the Italy unit for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), said the ban had left the industry “in limbo”.

“Venice used to be a home port, which meant people would come one or two days in advance and spend time in Venice [before starting a cruise], book a hotel and eat in the local restaurants. That was the old world,” he added.

“Everything is in a state of flux and we are trying to understand what the new normal looks like.”

Around 80% of tourists in Venice come just for the day. In the last full year before the pandemic (2019), 19-million day trippers visited Venice. The issue is, for all the congestion and discomfort such numbers cause, they provide only a fraction of the revenue compared to those who stay for at least one night.

It would seem the balance would be to re-create the home port scenario referred to by Galietti. Then tourists would stay in the city the night before, and possibly on their return also. This would bring in revenue that tourists offloaded for the day do not.

Perhaps the authorities need to cut through some of the notorious Italian red tape and start constructing a home port on the outskirts of the city.

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