Cinque Terre Residents Petition to Stop Flood of Tourists
Pastel-colored houses and tiny fishing harbors make the Cinque Terre in the region of Liguria one of Italy’s most popular destinations, but this string of picturesque villages fear they are being suffocated by mass tourism.
The opening of a new cruise ship terminal at the nearby port of La Spezia has increased the number of day trippers by around 30 percent. The tourists swarm through the villages, crowding narrow alleyways and overwhelming local services.
The new terminal has led to a dramatic rise in the number of cruise ship passengers arriving, from 470,000 in 2014 to a projected total this year of 645,000, according to port authority figures. Every time a liner docks in La Spezia it places thousands of passengers onto coaches destined for the picture-postcard villages of Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia, Riomaggiore and Monterosso.
The inhabitants of the Cinque Terre say the huge numbers of visitors threaten to ruin the very thing they have come to see. They have launched an online petition, Save the Cinque Terre from Mass Tourism, calling for the number of visitors to the World Heritage area to be managed better.
“In the past few years the Cinque Terre has boomed in popularity amongst international travelers and is suffering the consequences of unsustainable, and unrestricted, mass tourism,” the petition organizers wrote.
Visitors arrive not only by bus but also by train. The villages are served by a railway line that winds in and out of tunnels carved through the steep cliffs. At peak hours, the stations are inundated with tourists, making it hard for locals to even buy tickets.
Large tour groups are “congesting the tiny villages and their narrow streets and overwhelming public transportation and refuse collection,” the petition said. The future of the five villages, renowned for their walking trails and the precipitous vineyards that produce a sweet dessert wine called Sciacchetra, “hangs in the balance.” Unable to sustain such large numbers, the only option is to limit the number of tour groups allowed to visit the area, locals say.
“We want to stagger the arrival of tour buses so that they don’t all arrive at the same time,” said Franca Cantrigliani, the mayor of Riomaggiore. “The responsibility for that lies with the port authority of La Spezia and the cruise ship companies.”
The popularity of the Cinque Terre has increased dramatically in recent years, with articles in travel magazines and television documentaries attracting new tourist markets.
“We used to just see European and American tourists. But now we are seeing many people from Asia. There was a time when they had never heard of us,” said the mayor.
The crush of visitors in the streets and piazzas of the villages, which are squeezed into narrow valleys, has also been exacerbated by floods and rock falls forcing the closure of centuries-old paths that link the settlements on the Ligurian coast.
“Tourists used to walk along the paths from one village to another but now they are concentrated in the villages, which are far too small to accommodate so many people,” said Cantrigliani. “We’re trying to repair the paths so as to relieve the pressure a bit, but it takes time.”
The cruise industry said it was “saddened” to hear that the inhabitants of the Cinque Terre felt overwhelmed by the number of tourists.
“We wish to offer our full support to municipalities and port authorities to facilitate a better exchange of information and coordination, in order to give to tourists the warm welcome they expect,” said Francesco Galietti, the national director of the Italian chapter of the Cruise Lines International Association.
The cruise sector in Italy had created more than 100,000 jobs and generated revenue of more than 4.5 billion euro ($5 billion) last year.
“The cruise sector provides a noteworthy economic contribution to Italy, which is the country in Europe that most benefits from this industry,” he said. “The strategic importance of the cruise sector in Italy is unquestionable and should act as a driving force for tourism, culture and, in general, for Italy’s economic recovery.”