Venice Bans Large Cruise Ships. Here's Why That's a Controversial Move

The decision is more controversial than you might think

Cruise ship in Venice
Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

In 2019, UNESCO warned that Venice could be irrevocably damaged if the local government refused to ban large cruise ships from the centrally located San Marco basin, the San Marco canal, and the Giudecca canal. The organization eventually threatened to add the coastal city to its blacklist of endangered World Heritage Sites. Fortunately for Venice's UNESCO status, the government has finally taken action.

After years of protests by environmental and cultural conservation groups, Venice will officially ban large cruise ships—those longer than 590 feet and heavier than 25,000 tons—beginning Aug. 1. But the move is a largely controversial one.

Venice is one of the most touristed cities in Italy, with some 1.5 million passengers arriving by some 400 cruise ships each year (before the pandemic, that is). One of the arguments for the ban is that these large ships could potentially damage the city's fragile ecosystem of canals. Another is that the ships contribute greatly to overtourism—Venice's pedestrian streets along the canals are often utterly mobbed by tourists.

On the opposite side of the aisle, local businesses are protesting the decision to ban the ships, saying they will suffer without the big crowds.

Ultimately, both proponents and opponents of the large cruise ship ban have flaws in their arguments.

Venice will still be open to cruise ships in general, but they will have to dock outside the city at less picturesque ports. The scenario is not unlike Rome's—cruise ships that add the Eternal City to their itineraries actually dock nearly 40 miles away in Civitavecchia. Cruise ships provide shuttles from the port to the Italian capital.

The issue right now is that there are no ports near Venice that are a good fit for large cruise ships. However, the Italian government has authorized the construction of temporary docks in nearby Marghera, a cargo port some 13 miles outside Venice, and a permanent dock elsewhere along the coast.

As such, Venice will still attract hoards of cruise ship tourists, which means that overtourism will likely still be a major problem. On the flip side, there will still be plenty of business to shops and restaurants. Plus, the legislation that includes the ban also provides government aid for affected businesses.

The only direct benefit of the large cruise ship ban is that Venice's ecosystem will get a much-needed break from the ships, which is a pretty strong reason to support the ban overall.