- Venice is grappling with an influx of up to 80,000 tourists per day.
- The pre-pandemic levels of overcrowding are reportedly causing tension between locals and tourists.
- To control the crowds, armed guards hired by the city patrol the canals during peak visiting hours.
Armed guards hired by the Italian city of Venice are patrolling key waterbus stops to keep growing tourist crowds under control, according to CNN.
The city’s new monitoring system, Smart Control Room, reports up to 80,000 tourists flocking to the floating city on a daily basis as of this week, the publication added.
Local publication Il Gazzettino further reports that Venetian locals are now outnumbered by visitors by over 50%.
In an interview with CNN, Danilo Scattolin, a legal representative for boat workers who are members of the Sindacato Generale di Base (SGB) trade union in Venice, blamed long wait times in queues for causing frustration, particularly among locals attempting to travel on the waterbus services.
“Some workers have been physically attacked. There is spitting, insulting, even punching,” he told the publication. “The idea that in 2021 you need armed guards is truly something. It’s not a nice image of the city, either — that we need armed guards to protect our staff.”
The guards are not obligated to carry a weapon but many with a license to carry are opting to, CNN reports.
It added that during peak hours, lines are reaching “hundreds-strong” at several waterbus stops, including those for the islands of Lido and Murano. The publication’s analysis comparing timetables of waterbus services last winter and in previous summers found that there was “little difference” between the seasonal transport services on offer even though visitor numbers were at “rock bottom” in the colder months.
Outnumbered and overburdened, staff working tourism vessels on the canals struggle to control massive overcrowding of tourists flooding back into the city, CNN reports.
According to Italian law, Venice is now a designated “white zone,” meaning that public transport vehicles are allowed to take up to 80% capacity, an increase from 50% in June when it was still in the “yellow zone.”
Thea Hawlin, a worker in Murano, told CNN that overcrowding in the city is nothing new.
“It’s definitely not a COVID problem — it’s been like this for a long time,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s like a stampede — the equivalent of the rush hour,” she added. “Several boats can go by and you won’t get a space.”
Boats are packing tourists and locals in like “sardines” without social distancing measures put in place, according to a local interviewed by CNN.
Italy’s National Tourism Board states masks are no longer required to be worn in outdoor public spaces. But some are starting to worry about the danger a lack of social distancing poses.
“The queues outside are impossible to police,” Hawlin told CNN. “Masses of people in line is unacceptable any time, but these queues are dangerous in a pandemic.”
The most recent World Health Organization data shows Italy had 43,683 confirmed COVID-19 cases on August 16.
“Venice always had a decent service. Now tourists queue for hours waiting for a boat that arrives late. They won’t have a good memory of Venice,” she added.
Representatives for Italy’s National Tourism Board and SGB’s Venice trade union did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.