Is Italy about to impose limits on Cinque Terre tourists with ticketing? Friends — it’s just not happening.
This past week the travel industry was in a share-storm (is that a word?) with news about a limit being imposed on the amount of visitors allowed into the Cinque Terre starting in 2016.
We’ve been getting emails and messages from our clients, as well as from concerned travelers who had their hearts (and in many cases travel plans) set on coming to visit these five little villages this spring and summer.
People are even trying to cancel hotel rooms!
Before anybody panics, here’s what’s up:
The number of visitors to the Cinque Terre will not be limited in 2016.
But what about all of the articles? Publications like The Guardian, Travel + Leisure, and Condé Nast Traveler claimed on Wednesday (February 17th, 2016) that Italian officials had announced that no more than 1.5 million visitors would be allowed into the Cinque Terre this season, down 1 million from the 2.5 million that are estimated to have passed through in 2015.
Here’s what: Nothing but a mighty misunderstanding. Or mistake. Or gaffe.
Whatever it was, the same officials have since backpedaled and retracted their “announcement,” a clarification that of course has not been picked up by the international media the way the first one was. Which is a shame because those articles are still circulating, and worried travelers are being led to believe they have to alter their plans. This article has not been passed around, but it’s what the local media is now saying.
We say scramble not. Fear not. Keep your plans the same.
Do you want to know something curious about this whole blow-up?
The only people not talking about it were the residents of the villages themselves.
No posts about it on Facebook. Not much discussion around town. If anything, they were skeptical. After all, the Via dell’Amore — arguably the Cinque Terre’s most famous attraction — has been closed for three years (going on four, since there are no plans to reopen it this season either).
If the authorities haven’t been able to get that up and running, then how on earth is the infrastructure necessary to implement what would essentially be fencing off the Cinque Terre going to happen in time for the 2016 season, which starts in a little over a month?
Knowing the kind of red tape and bureaucracy it takes to get anything done in Italy, it just seemed completely unfeasible. If anything, many dubious residents assumed the hoopla was a marketing ploy on behalf of the National Park to sell more Cinque Terre Cards, which are not currently necessary either for visiting or hiking the Cinque Terre.
Anyone with plans to visit the Cinque Terre this summer, though, was immediately concerned, and understandably so. Plane tickets have been bought, reservations made — what if they can’t get a Cinque Terre Card and are turned away? Our local friends’ loved ones were sending emails with the articles attached, worried about no longer being able to visit freely. Hotels in the villages received dozens of emails and phone calls from people looking to cancel because they didn’t want to take their chances.
Why would Italy impose limits on Cinque Terre tourists with ticketing anyway?
Well, there has been discussion for some time about managing the influx of people coming to visit the Cinque Terre every year. Since neighboring La Spezia opened a new cruise ship terminal a couple of years back, residents have been insisting that something be done. Which is wise. The main complaint is cruise ship day trippers who are bussed in in large groups and who are seen as doing little to support the local economy, but who place a great strain on an already fragile territory.
The Cinque Terre aren’t the first to consider limiting the amount of traffic they are hit with each year. Venice has been talking about it since the 80s, the Spanish Steps in Rome are currently closed to repair the damage done by an overwhelming amount of recent wear and tear, and Pompeii has put a cap on Sunday visitors, when entrance to the site is free. Perhaps most famously, Machu Picchu in Peru has recently instated daily visitor limits as well as restrictions on its trails.
So talk of a cap on visitors is not new. What was unexpected — even for residents and local officials, who had not been informed that any such decision had been reached — was the announcement on Tuesday in Italian newspaper La Repubblica. An interview with Cinque Terre National Park President Vittorio Alessandro and General Director Patrizio Scarpellini stated that a limit on visitors to the five towns would be implemented as early as this spring, and that in fact electronic pedestrian counters were already being installed on the trails and an app for alerting tourists to congestion in the various villages was in the works. The article states that access to the Cinque Terre will be granted via advance online purchase of the Cinque Terre Card, and that once the established limit has been reached, remaining hopefuls will be out of luck.
What’s more, Italian Undersecretary for the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, Ilaria Borletti, picked up the story on her blog and then took to Twitter, tweeting:
As of summer 2016 limit on visitors to the #CinqueTerre in #Liguria.
Such a high-level Italian official corroborating the news caught the attention of the international media, and the floodgates opened, with “Italy to impose limits on Cinque Terre tourists with ticketing” trumpeted all over the internet. And the share-storm started.
In the end it’s hard to say whose mistake this announcement was. The article in La Repubblica doesn’t directly quote either the President of the Park or the General Director as making any of the contentious claims, though they are quoted more generally. Did the reporter misinterpret musings on potential solutions as confirmed plans? Did the President and General Director not explain themselves properly? Or are they backpedaling now because of the backlash? Whatever the case, the President assured the public in a new article published a few days later that though they are examining ways in which to reduce the strain on these five villages by managing the flow of tourists, “there is no gate that can bar access to the Park.”
So to all of you who have made your reservations and booked your tickets, there’s no cause for alarm. You will not need to purchase a special Cinque Terre admission ticket to get in, and there’s no need to worry that you’ll be turned away upon arrival.
The Cinque Terre is an incredibly fragile part of the world, and we too would love to see some changes happen here. We hope that the people to whom this responsibility is entrusted do their jobs right. But there will be lots of notice before any measures for implementing a cap on visitors are taken. If Italy is anything (besides beautiful and magical), it is SLOW. A good thing in this case, at least for our 2016 traveling friends.
Truthfully, I’m a little bummed to see such negative things being said, because it feels cheap. It seems to imply that the Cinque Terre is overrun like rats in a sewer, which is simply not true. I’m here every year hosting tours, enjoying time with friends and family, laying on the beaches and enjoying myself! Just like everyone else.
In travel, like in life, you need to ignite your curiosity and imagination and do your homework! (Not to mention have an open mind and trust your instincts.) If you know where to go, what to focus on, the timing and the tempo, you’ll find your corner of paradise in the Cinque Terre, even in the middle of August. Translation: Don’t believe the hype.
Besides, Italy is not someplace you go to “get away from it all.” Hole up in a cabin in Canada for that. Italy has 60 million people — it’s intense and exciting, and stepping on Italian soil is about tapping into that bubbly, hedonistic energy. Life is mind-blowing… if you let your mind be blown! Remember that before you get off the plane. Accept Italy for it’s beauty and faults in one messy package.
As an Italy traveler, focusing on “too many tourists” is entirely the wrong metric.
It’s kind of like complaining that rush hour traffic is busy on the freeway because that’s what everyone else does. How about this instead: Crank the tunes, roll down the windows and count your lucky stars your car isn’t at the mechanic’s.
Italian Fix exists to help Italy travelers have a great trip, and we promise to keep you updated with the latest news. Part of our team is based right in the village of Riomaggiore, so we’re in touch firsthand with the word on the street.
Want more? See more ideas for what to do on the Cinque Terre:
You can rely on us to keep you posted on this whole “Cinque Terre limits and ticketing” business.
Hope this helps,
Images: Leela Cyd