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Venice gondola tours reduce capacity due to ‘overweight tourists’

Venice’s gondoliers have reduced capacity on their boats, blaming the increased burden of “overweight” tourists.

The limit on a gondola da nolo, which offers the classic tour of the city’s canals, has been reduced from six to five people, while on a gondola da parada, boats mainly used to cross the Grand Canal, the number has decreased from 14 to 12.

“It’s true that compared to 10 or 15 years ago, tourists weigh a bit more,” Andrea Balbi, president of Venice’s gondoliers association, told the Guardian. “Unlike in a lift, where there’s a message that says ‘only six people or a maximum weight’, we don’t have scales to weigh people, and so we reduced the number of passengers.”

Heavy loads cause water to enter the vessel, he said, adding that another reason for the move is because a gondola, for example the nolo kind, is built to carry only five people. “So the sixth person ends up sitting in a place without a cushion as the boat was only made for five.”

Speaking to La Repubblica on the topic, Raoul Roveratto, the president of the association of substitute gondoliers, didn’t mince his words: “Tourists are now overweight. From some countries, bombs load [on to the boats]. And when [the boat] is fully loaded, the hull sinks and water enters. Advancing with over half a tonne of meat on board is dangerous.”

The measure was introduced alongside another allowing the offspring of gondoliers to take over their father’s coveted licence without needing to take the theory exam that follows a lengthy study of history and foreign languages. Their main requirement will be to demonstrate that they can row the gondola and have had four years’ experience of operating their family’s vessel.

Even though anyone can apply to become a gondolier, the idea is to further protect a trade that was already impenetrable to those outside gondolier families.

The profession, which has been a pillar of the ancient city since 1094, today comprises 433 gondoliers and 180 substitute gondoliers.

“It is about continuing a tradition,” said Balbi. “Who better than a gondolier can know the trade of a gondolier? The canals, the buildings, the city’s history … the gondolier world is unique, there are only 433 of us, and finding someone from Paris, New York or any other city would not be a continuation of tradition – it would be a like a pizza maker who isn’t from Naples.”

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