That Venice is slowly sinking can’t be denied but a more pressing issue is that the recent spate of high tide flooding is prompting many visitors to re-think their travel plans. For a city that relies heavily on the tourist dollar, this is worse than any damage caused by floodwaters. The City of Canals is both built on and surrounded by water (the clue is in the moniker!), with the Lagoon and its tides forming a hugely significant part of local life ever since the city’s inception almost 1,600 years ago. As Trisha Perolari – the founder and owner of luxury water transport service Venice Quality Transfers – explains, Venice is not underwater and visitors are very welcome!
One fateful morning in mid-November 2019, the world’s media awoke to the news of an unprecedented high tide in Venice, and the damage that many places across the city had been subjected to as a result. It was heart-breaking to see such scenes of devastation, as the citizens of La Serenissima struggled to assess the extent of all the damage. Then, just before Christmas, Venice was subjected again to a few more exceptional high tides.
Much of what was written and broadcast at the time, however, emphasised the flooding and the damage, but failed to report the situation accurately. Story-hungry journalists, focussing only on the drama, were interested only in their click-bait tales and not in the lives of ordinary Venetians. It seemed nobody thought to think ahead about what their words would do to the city.
The truth being that in the week that followed each deluge, the city pulled together in a surreal way. The Civil Protection co-ordinated assistance and relief for the areas that were hardest hit. Electricians and technicians from the mainland came in and assisted locals with re-wiring their frazzled electrics, helping to re-start fridges, freezers and anything else that had been affected by the tides. Water taxi drivers helped refuse collectors by removing water-logged furniture, while teams of volunteers went into ground floor accommodation to help wash the salt water off damaged furniture and start on the repair work. Within a week after each of these three big tides, a visitor to Venice would never have known that anything had happened.
However, Christmas and New Year bookings in local hotels have been down by as much as 40%, with many tourists apparently thinking that the city is still flooded and, to all intents and purposes, off limits. Travel forums frequently display posts titled “Is Venice flooded?” and “Should I cancel my holiday in Venice because of the floods?”
The AVA (the Association of Venetian Hoteliers) held a press conference in Rome to try to make tourists aware that Venice is open for business as usual, but it was obviously not enough. The city relies heavily on tourism and the lack of bookings is having a knock-on effect on many sectors across the city.
It seems to be that flooding in Venice is perceived much as it is in other countries when disaster strikes – that it will take weeks for the water to subside and for “normality” to be restored. In Venice, however, the floods are caused by the “acqua alta” – the high tide – and any residual floods are tidal. Yes, Venice floods – but only for as long as the tide sweeps in its direction. Even when the acqua alta is at a maximum, it usually only lasts for around five hours or so, but never any longer than that.
For many Venetians, the acqua alta floods are part of the way of life, and they stoically deal with it and get on with their day. Every single resident knows the level at which their house or shop will become flooded, and when they know a high tide is on the way, simply raise barriers and move merchandise and possessions to a higher level that the water isn’t likely to reach. Once the tide goes out and the water levels recede, the barriers come down, the salt from the Lagoon is cleaned off, and life continues as before. Transport continues to run as normal – occasionally, there will be the odd route deviation, but it is extremely rare that it will be cancelled altogether. At Venice Quality Transfers, for instance, if an arrival or departure transfer is likely to be affected, then guests are either taken to or from the major transport hubs earlier or later – but this is a service offered in cases of fog or storms too.
I wish to emphasise that the city is not underwater, and that we would love to welcome people back again. La Serenissima is ready and waiting, serene as ever!
For more information about Venice Quality Transfers, or to book a service, visit www.venicequalitytransfers.com.
Words by Trisha Perolari