Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

When in Rome: are regulations needed to prevent overtourism?

Kristen Bell might not have faced fines for her misdemeanour in the Eternal City (namely, stealing coins from a Roman fountain in the film When in Rome), but tourists soon might. Rome’s City Council has clamped down on tourist activities, offering fines up to 400 euros for slight offenses.

The new measures were introduced as an attempt to preserve the quality of life for residents of the city, following a protest in October by residents’ associations who claimed that Rome has fallen into a state of decay. The Local reports that demonstrators marched under the hashtag #romadicebasta, or ‘Rome has had enough’,  to articulate their grievances regarding the city’s paltry state.

 Pub crawls and ‘alcohol tours’ have been banned

Potholes in the city killed four pedestrians across the start of October and fallen trees failed to be cleared for weeks on end. Rubbish piled up uncollected, attracting rats and wild boar to roam the streets.

The new regulations involve bans on eating and drinking in the most tourist-heavy areas of the city. ‘Eating in a slovenly manner’ has been banned on the recently restored Spanish Steps, so tourists might have to do without the pizza or gelato sold in nearby stalls.Furthermore, pub crawls and ‘alcohol tours’ have been banned to reduce reports of disorderly behaviour. The sale and consumption of alcohol in open, public spaces is now illegal from 10pm to 7am. From 2am, all sales of alcohol are prohibited. 

The Trevi Fountain, romanticised by films such as La Dolce Vita and Roman Holiday, is certainly not exempt from these regulations. Bathing in the fountain is expressly forbidden, alongside other inappropriate acts, such as dipping your feet in the water, eating and climbing on the monument.This is not without reason. A few months back, tourists engaged in a fight at the fountain when trying to take the most picturesque selfie, a video of which has gone viral.

These laws do not exclusively target visitors of Rome’s monumental sights. Another major law being passed is the banning of people dressed as centurions, or ‘gladiators’ as they refer to themselves, in historical and artistic places.

Though a similar law was passed in 2012, banning these ‘gladiators’ from loitering outside the Colosseum and harassing tourists for money, the problem has persisted. Tourists have reported being forced to take pictures with them, only to be pressured into paying money afterwards. Unscrupulous tactics, such as jumping in photos of tourists and subsequently demanding money because they are in costume, have also been used. This is certainly a form of public nuisance and an experience no tourist would want to come across. 

This tactic is not an occurrence restricted to Rome. Similar events have been known to occur near Big Ben. There, I recall being grabbed by an inept Shrek impersonator and forced to take photos, with an ill-dressed Fiona refusing to return my camera until I paid an outrageous amount. Though I managed to snatch my camera back without payment, some of these costumed men can be more aggressive. 

The appeal of beautiful heritage sites has unfortunately played a large part in their degradation. Especially during high season, swathes of tourists have made it quite difficult for authorities to monitor appropriate behaviour at heritage sites.

These sites hold much value in their history and artistry, and should be treated accordingly. Although tourism does bring in revenue, it becomes a problem when the local government loses control over use of public spaces and when it disrupts the life quality of locals.

Tourists who have paid for their holidays may also feel overly entitled in their activities

In addition, rent and house prices have soared in many areas surrounding tourist hotspots due to the prevalence of purchasing housing to rent out as Airbnbs. The hollowing out of these regions can be seen as unjustified in face of housing crises.  Tourists who have paid for their holidays may also feel overly entitled in their activities and refuse to follow rules in place. This may create tensions between locals and tourists bordering on hatred,  which no one wants.

Sustainable tourism must therefore be a goal for local governments in areas attracting large numbers of tourists. Some countries have committed to more extreme measures, such as the indefinite closure of Maya Bay in Thailand due to coral destruction from litter and sunscreen in the water. 

Whether or not the Eternal City’s new laws will be strictly imposed, rest assured that acts of misdemeanour in Rome may result in numerous unsolicited suitors pursuing you, like Bell’s character realised all too late.

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