28 Sep 2017

Is Airbnb turning Venice into a Disneyland lagoon?

The rise of mass tourism, mostly brought on by the low-cost holiday boom (read: Airbnb), is changing the face of many Italian cities. City centers laden with priceless art and historical monuments risk being reduced to tourist exhibitions.

Ingrid Colanicchia
Ingrid Colanicchia MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
Is Airbnb turning Venice into a Disneyland lagoon? - NewsMavens
Venice. Eugenio Hansen/Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Venice A. D. 2030: the Venetian dialect is no longer heard on the canals. There are no more neighborhood shops, only souvenirs stalls. Hordes of tourist crowd the alleyways. Reduced to a Disneyland lagoon, Venezia no longer has inhabitants, only visitors -- a city that is no longer a city.

The scenario I've described is not science fiction. Population data in the Venice region indicates a gradual emptying. In the last 50 years, the historic center of Venice lost more than half of its inhabitants. In 1966, there were 121,000. At the end of 2014, residents amounted to just over 56,000. If the trend continues, by 2030 there will be no more Venetians, only tourists. The number of visitors increases every year: in 2015 there were 2,776,668 arrivals (physical number of non-residents who arrived and spent at least one night) and 6,814,317 stays (total number of overnight stays).

This reality brings about two factors that obviously change the face of the city, making life even more complicated.  Services, provided in keeping with the number of residents rather than tourists, are scarce. Meanwhile, hotels, rented homes and so on keep eating up more and more space.

There are many elements that contribute to this state of affairs, in Venice, other cities in Italy and beyond. According to a recent study from the laboratory of socio-geographical research of the University of Siena, Airbnb -- the online portal that combines demand and low-cost tourism -- is partially responsible for turning cities into theme parks. In Florence, to limit ourselves to a single example, nearly 20% of the houses inside the medieval heart of the city are being rented on the tourist platform.

At this point, I can only look up to other popular urban destinations with different survival strategies -- cities more focused on the greater good. Like Barcelona, where the mayor, Ada Colau, is determined not to let her city go down the same road as Venice. To this end, Colau and her administration have, among other things, collaborated with citizens to create a special urban planning strategy for the accommodation of tourists in order to decongest the city center.

This outstanding example should inspire other cities to act. Before it's too late.

Details from the story:

  • Airbnb was founded in 2008. Today it has more than 3 million properties in more than 65,000 cities distributed in 191 countries.
  • According to data published by Airbnb Italia, Airbnb has been adopted on a massive scale worldwide and also in Italy: in 2015 the country had the third largest number of Airbnb listings in the world, with 83,000 hosts and 3.6 million visits per year.
  • The proportion of the housing stock devoted to short-term rentals in historical centers is increasing and, in some places, has reached levels unseen in the world: 18% in Florence, 25% in Matera, 8% in the vast historic center of Rome.
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