The coronavirus pandemic has placed a heavy burden on Venice’s vast tourism industry. But as it emerges from lockdown, the city is attempting to ease another load from the shoulders of its gondoliers.
A new restriction will see the maximum capacity on the city’s famous gondolas reduced from six passengers to five.
And it’s not social distancing that prompted the change – it’s the ballooning average weight of tourists flocking to the destination.
“Over the last 10 years or so, tourists weigh more – and rather than having them step on a scale before they get on, we are limiting the number,” Andrea Balbi, the president of Venice’s Gondola Association, confirmed to CNN while explaining the rule.
The change applies to Venice’s quintessential slim boats that slither along the small canals. The maximum occupancy in the larger “da parada” gondolas, which serve mostly as taxis across the Grand Canal, has also been reduced, from 14 to 12.
Balbi said heavier loads often mean the gondolas take on water, making it harder for gondoliers to navigate canal traffic.
Raoul Roveratto, president of the association of substitute gondoliers – a group representing less experienced gondoliers – didn’t mince his words in a statement to La Repubblica newspaper. “From some countries, it’s like bombs loading on and when (the boat) is fully loaded, the hull sinks and water enters,” he said.
“Going forward with over half a ton of meat on board is dangerous,” Roveratto said.
Venice currently licenses 433 gondoliers and 180 substitutes, but it has recently cut the number of gondolas in service because of the pandemic and the steep decline in tourists.
Italy’s coronavirus lockdown was so dramatic that the city’s canal water became visibly clearer, due to the massive reduction in traffic.
But the country is tentatively returning to normality and Venice is moving toward welcoming back tourists. Earlier this month the European Union agreed to a set of recommendations that will allow travelers from outside the bloc to visit again.
Gondoliers in Venice must pass a rigorous exam to obtain a license, or use one passed from father to son.
They are not the first group of travel industry workers to make changes based on the weight of their customers.
In 2018, Greece banned hefty tourists from riding donkeys on the popular island of Santorini, after activists complained that the animals were suffering spinal injuries.