At Spotted by Locals we do our best to help reduce the problem of overtourism. We stopped expanding to “touristy” cities. And in cities that attract many tourists, we try to show people other neighborhoods and places where you can meet locals.
A city that is especially suffering from overtourism is of course Venice. Local Venetian people struggle in their daily life as the city is flooded with travelers, who are often not respectful enough towards residents. I experienced this myself while living in Venice.
To help fight this problem, a group of friends from Venice started a Facebook called “Venezia non è Disneyland” (Venice is not Disneyland). The goal of the page was to report inappropriate behaviors they would see around the city. I had a talk with one of the people behind this page (who asked us not to share their name) to understand more about this project.
Q: How was the idea born?
A: In the beginning, it was kind of a joke between friends. It started because we would see the wildest things happening around Venice! Like tourists taking a bath in the canal or eating and sleeping anywhere. It is not just about tourists though! Many locals are also behaving inappropriately, like leaving old electrical appliances in the streets. So we decided that we need to talk about this on social media to show just how far that would go.
Eventually, more and more people started following us and supporting our work. Now, we have more than 90.000 followers on Facebook and 10.000 subscribers to our Telegram channel. We totally did not expect this! We all contributed to the page to the best of our knowledge but actually, this is not our main job, so we are really thankful for all the support.
Q: How did people react to your work?
A: We had a lot of support, locals really appreciated our work, they felt like eventually their voices were heard. For the first time, somebody showed the world how careless behaviors from tourists have a huge impact on locals’ life. Locals gave us a lot of positive feedback and thanked us for sharing their experiences on social media.
Actually, travelers showed a lot of support as well, we have followers from pretty much all countries in the world. We’re very happy about it because it means our message is heard. Hopefully, people will travel more consciously. We really love that tourists love our city, we believe Venice is so beautiful it has to be visited, we just ask for more awareness and respect.
Q: What are the kind of behaviors that are damaging for Venice?
A: There are many, there are so many people visiting the city that there is always something going on. A very common one is taking a bath in the canals! You might think it’s an innocent activity especially on a hot summer day, but we should really avoid this. To begin with, the water is unsafe and dirty, so it’s not ideal for sanitary reasons especially if you’re going to a restaurant or hotel afterward! And also, canals are used for transportations, so taking a bath can be very dangerous for you and others. It’s really like chilling in the middle of the street – you wouldn’t do that in any other city.
Also, people often eat on the go because restaurants are expensive, which is fine, but be considerate about where you eat. It’s common to see people eating on the steps outside of a church, inside the university study halls, on steps of the bridges, etc. All of this makes it even harder for locals to coexists with tourists. Venice has plenty of public parks that are much nicer for a break – let’s visit them!
There are many other things too, like taking pictures of people studying or working, or entering private spaces without checking before if it’s allowed. Also, walking around in a bathing suit, making too much noise. A big problem, especially during carnival, is the number of places on ferries. Often locals are late for work in that period because there were too many tourists on a ferry and they had to wait for the next one… so always let people who work and study enter first please if you’re on a holiday.
Q: What’s the impact your work has had on people’s awareness?
A: We actually managed to really have an impact. Since we started the page, locals would report inappropriate behaviors they would spot around Venice, and we would share their stories on social media. In the beginning, we would receive plenty of messages reporting this kind of thing. However, it has been nice to see that things have changed. As we reached out to more and more people, we started seeing less and less inappropriate behaviors. This was an important sign for us, it means that our project has worked.
Obviously, there’s still a lot to do, but we loved seeing more awareness among locals and travelers alike. I think the key is that our message is quite simple, we just ask you to be conscious about your actions. Always think, would you do this in your city, at your place? If no, don’t do it in Venice!
Q: What do you think we should do to fight overtourism?
A: We really love that many people want to see Venice and we think it’s such a beautiful city that everybody should see it. But we really think travelers should get off-the-beaten-path a lot more in Venice. There’s a lot to discover, most people don’t know about all the hidden gems that lie in the islands around Venice for example. Not to talk about museums and galleries, and lesser-known buildings or monuments that sometimes have an even more interesting history than the famous ones.
Of course, if you’ve never been to Venice, don’t miss out on the main sights but try to see more of the city as well. Today, there are a lot of resources, especially on the internet, to create an alternative itinerary. So it’s really easy to learn more about the city, discover some hidden gems and by doing so, make tourism less impacting on the city and its people.