TIME

THE TOURISM TRAP

AS VACATIONERS THREATEN TO TURN EUROPE INTO A THEME PARK, THE CONTINENT IS PUSHING BACK
About 55,000 tourists visit Venice every day

IN GIOVANNI BONAZZON’S PAINTINGS, Venice is a vision of serenity. Bridges arch gracefully over rippling canals, sunlight bounces off flower-filled balconies, and not a single human mars the tranquility.

Bonazzon’s daily vista is not as tranquil, however. An artist who paints and sells watercolors from an easel set up near San Marco Square, he has a ringside seat to the selfie-posing, ice-cream-licking hordes who roil their way daily toward the Doge’s Palace, and he readily agrees that tourism is killing his hometown.

Yet when he heard that Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro had, in the run-up to a busy weekend at the beginning of May, installed checkpoints intended to block arriving visitors from especially crowded thoroughfares (while allowing locals through), Bonazzon was dismayed. “Yes, they should control the tourists,” he says. “But they shouldn’t close Venice. We’re a city, not a theme park.”

That’s a refrain echoing in a growing number of European cities. The neo-classical gems that once made up the grand tour have been stops on package tours since the 19th century. But it’s only over the past decade or so that the number of travelers to these and other must-see destinations risks subsuming the places. Around 87 million tourists visited France in 2017, breaking records; 58.3 million went to Italy; and even the tiny Netherlands received 17.9 million visitors.

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