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Page last updated at 00:49 GMT, Sunday, 1 February 2009

Venice launches tourist website

By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan

The Grand Canal, Venice (file image)
About 15m tourists visit the sights of Venice every year

Venice has gone online, in an effort to reconcile the conflicting demands of mass tourism and its uniquely delicate, and watery, urban environment.

The Italian city lives on tourism, but some fear it could die of it too. Each year 15m people traipse through its narrow streets and along its canals.

The tourists bring money but also problems - at peak season the city virtually grinds to a halt.

Venice authorities hope the new website will help to address the problem.

In the past, the city has toyed with ideas of entry quotas or an admission charge to control the number of visitors.

This has prompted fears that it could end up as little more than an up-market, and uniquely beautiful, theme park.

Sunday sees the start of a new scheme that the city council believes should remove the need for such drastic measures.

From now on, visitors can book a range of services online, everything from using the public toilets to getting married in the town hall.

Online bookers will also get a discount - one that gets bigger if they plan their visit for less busy days.

All that, the city hopes, will encourage more visits in quieter periods and help make the tourism that provides its financial lifeblood more sustainable.

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