Another summer of selfie tourism in Italy

Richard Turen

After more than two years of dreams placed on hold, we are all back in the travel saddle again heading for lands with undulating hills embracing tranquil streams not far from whimsical villages where the locals line the roads welcoming back tourists from the States. It will all be magical again.

I’ve read numerous surveys about where Americans want to go, but much of it is wasted on me. For the most part, everyone wants to go back to Italy or, perhaps, to explore it for the first time. When we talk about post-Covid bucket lists, there are the eternal dream destinations, Bali, Botswana and a remaining ice floe or two in Antarctica.

But we don’t have relatives in Antarctica. No one has opened a trendy restaurant in our neighborhood featuring Antarctic cuisine. Our movies and our media are not filled with images of friends and the influencers we follow sitting stoically in Zodiacs against backgrounds of nothingness.

No. We’ll get to our long-term bucket-list destinations in good time. But for now, we must return to Italy. 

But this time it is going to be different, and our clients and followers must be told that Italy is being challenged as never before. How will it handle the crowds, the demand and the pressures created when the art of photography has given way to an amateurish passion for lousy, self-made photographs?

A photograph is no longer something we might cherish, a lasting image that stirs the travel soul and produces a minefield of memories. Instead, tourists take as many shots as possible and think the photos will be more enticing if the photographer is stuck in the middle of the layout.

Selfies have become a kind of currency; they show friends and social media distant acquaintances that you have a life of value. And while some say they once traveled a certain road, your selfies prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were just there. Imagine that.

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So here come the tourist hordes traveling light with water bottles and an iPhone. They are heading everywhere in Italy, but Portofino is near the top on many lists. So let’s be aware that legislation has been introduced to assess fines of up to $270 for selfie-takers who linger long enough to block traffic or sidewalks along the bay.

In Liguria, there are now fines of up to $2,700 for tourists who attempt to traverse the walking paths in the five villages of Cinque Terra clad in flip-flops or sandals. Appropriate hiking shoes must be worn for hikes; to understand this, you must realize that no Italian would ever ride their bicycle without a special bike-riding uniform. 

In the major centers of Venice and Florence, the Italians have about had it with “snackers.” Within the city center of Venice you can be fined for trying to snack on the street or while walking. Florence enacted similar laws. 

How many hours over how many years have I paused on the Spanish Steps in Rome to add some observations to my journal? But today, I can be fined $270 just for sitting on those steps. 

On some Italian beaches it is now illegal to build a sandcastle. The fines run up to $270 per offense, and the purpose is to remove “unnecessary” obstructions on the sand.

Will selfie tourism be stopped? In 2019 Italy received 65 million visitors, and tourism was about 13% of the country’s GDP. Today, in the historical center of Venice there are an estimated 49,365 residents and 48,596 tourist beds.

Venice may need to be more concerned about drowning in humans than in water. But as the drowning continues, you can be certain that selfies will record the event. 

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