During the past few weeks, we received questions from readers planning to return to Venice in autumn / winter 2020 in case traveling was possible. In this post, we share a couple of updates and how Venice was doing during summer and early autumn.
The good news is that after an extremely challenging spring including lockdown, health-wise, summer in Italy and in the Veneto went quite well, also because strict measures were still in place. But as almost everywhere in Europe, the first weeks in October brought a rise in Covid-19 infections in the Veneto and Venice, such the 141 cases in the province of Venice registered within 24 hours on 15 October, a peak in infection numbers since February.
Covid-19 update – October 2020:
To give you another current figure: As of 15 October 2020, 1113 persons are infected with Covid-19 in the Veneto, and the number of hospital beds and patients in intensive care are monitored closely which might lead to further preventive measures. As of 15 October, six patients are being treated in intensive care.
These figures may seem “low” at first, but the Venetian region is very densely populated, and Coronavirus infections are known to grow exponentially. None of us will ever forget what happened in Bergamo last spring, a city rather close to Venice ( 227 km = 141 miles).
To prevent a similar situation, the Italian government on 7 October re-introduced stricter measures for the autumn/winter ahead, which include wearing a mask outdoors, earlier closing hours at restaurants, social distancing, and more. As virologists at the hospital in Padua have also sounded the alarm, further measures may be applied later in autumn and winter.
That’s why for anyone with the intention of visiting Venice in autumn and winter it is important to be very flexible: While currently, there are several Covid-19 clusters in the Veneto and in Venice (“un caso Venezia”), that may not be the case in four weeks from now.
On the other hand, you must also take into account that this pandemic is far from over. As I’m writing, the trend is growing Covid-19 numbers in the Veneto, like elsewhere in Europe. Newspapers in Italy also mentioned plans for a possible lockdown later in winter. While the situation may change within a few days, the higher infection figures will most probably remain with us as the colder season approaches.
How was Venice doing during summer?
During summer, Covid-19 figures in the Veneto were well below those of many other European countries. Venice received some visitors from abroad, most came from the Veneto and other parts of Italy.
Many tourists spent only a day or a couple of hours in Venice during weekends, which meant huge losses for most tourism businesses, and that’s practically everyone here in Venice, up to 94 per cent of residents.
During summer 2020, many restaurants and hotels (at least one third to one half present in Venice) were closed or open during the weekends only. You may recall the webcam images of the empty Piazza San Marco, showing that until early July, even cafes like Florian, Quadri and Lavena opened only for the weekend.
Most restaurants in my neighborhood opened doors during certain days of the week, in the evening and during the weekend, with a reduced menu. Of course, food was seasonal and fresh, but as my uncle says, it reminded one more of the past, that super-delicious family-cooked food Venetian restaurants offered in the 1960s.
Walking around Venice last summer, you could breathe an entirely different city. Only on weekends did we encounter groups of people and now and then, smaller crowds. The languages we heard spoken were prevalently Italian, French, German, and sometimes Dutch and Spanish. But as more than 60 per cent of revenues came from overseas tourists in 2019, local visitors in summer 2020 couldn’t cover the losses Venetian businesses made in their current setting.
What to expect in Venice in winter 2020
In case you’re able to return to Venice this autumn / winter, you will notice a few major changes: The city is dealing with its own economic “cluster risk”, as Venetian businesses currently depend on tourists from overseas for > 60 per cent of revenues.
So yes, Venetians are currently paying a high price, as the shop owners at the Rialto Bridge recently told a Venetian newspaper, and it shows all over the city. Towards the Rialto market, four shops selling cheap tourist souvenirs have closed, and so has a jewelery shop, while another is closed for restoration. In particular, we notice that the tourist souvenir shops have been hit, especially those selling cheap merchandise, such as “10 Euro shops”.
Venice is not an “empty or sad city”, but we’ve got accustomed to a different way of life: After ten weeks of lockdown and being alone with the city in spring, Venetians “sort of” recovered in late April, and many are making plans for a different future as I’m describing in this blog post: Yes, there’s still a strong will to rewrite the future.
The truth is also that this situation saps our strength as nobody can say how long this pandemic will last. We need a sort of hibernation strategy, as our grandmother would put it, both as individuals and businesses: A good strategy to live as well as possible during the winter months ahead while trying to stay safe and healthy, and dealing with acqua alta and potential restrictions caused by growing numbers of Covid-19 cases.
Finding a couple of tasks or solutions long overdue, that make sense and help us prepare for 2021 and 2022. And yes, here on La Venessiana, we’ve also got something in mind to help you connect with Venice and prepare your future visit – to be unveiled next time!
Venice in 2021
The one thing we can say for sure is that when you will return, this city will have changed thoroughly: Venetians will have gone through a “steep learning curve”, businesses may not be the same, and some may have closed, which could be temporarily or for good.
What you will see during your next visit will be a city in full transition, a period which might take a couple of years or rather, the decade ahead. For now, our major issue is of course the health situation, but the second of three really serious issues, in the long term, is what we call la moria delle attività. Closed shops in the city, not just in Piazza San Marco (where one in four shops closed, like Venini and Pagan), but everywhere in Venice, even in touristic areas like Calle delle Rasse just behind Riva degli Schiavoni.
It may well be that the family-owned Venetian shops will have the best chance to survive and thrive in the long term. What will happen to the closed shops remains to be seen, but is part of the transition chapter our city first embarked on last November, when a disastrous flood hit the Lagoon. We think that the future belongs to shops offering quality artisan goods, based on family business models.
Family businesses have always been the secret of success in other cities in the Veneto, and they were the backbone of the Venetian economy until 30 years ago: During the Covid-19 crisis, businesses in cities like Verona, Padua and Vicenza, fared a lot better as their activities aren’t focused on tourism only.
During that period of transition ahead, Venetians need to find out what it takes to turn into a viable city: One with diversified activities, because this time, there won’t be an alternative.
As Lina says, it seems that our collective memory of times long past is coming to help. And she thinks that when we’re out of the health crisis, it may well be that Venice will have turned into a much more authentic city.15