In 2018, gondoliers have one of the most exclusive and highly sought-after jobs in Venice. Why do so many Venetians want the job?
There are a number of persuasive reasons. The job market in Venice has been tough for the last 15 years. Gondoliers also make a surprisingly hefty chunk of change (up to $150,000 a year). Approximately 400 gondolier licenses are available and active in the city at any given time.
But there's a truth behind this traditional occupation, which sounds like a dream job to many, that's a little more complex. Let's take a closer look at how limited job opportunities, high wages, and exclusive membership have combined to make gondoliers an elite group in the Venetian tourism industry.
Hold on, how is Venice's economy struggling? Its economy is based on tourism, and over the last 15 years, Venice has become the cruise ship capital of Europe. Cruise ships deliver millions of tourists to the city's steps each year. But the problem, according to locals, is that the majority of visitors make few purchases before returning to their ships at sunset.
Hotels have seen a 60% drop in business over the last quarter of a century. Unesco, a branch of the United Nations charged with protecting historical cities, has succeeded in their push to block cruise ships from docking in Venice. By the year 2021, cruise ships will be forced to comply.
Gondoliers are among the highest-paid professionals in Venice. While not all of them make $150,000 a year, even the lowest-paid gondoliers still have one of the most profitable gigs in the city. At that income level, you'd think that they'd be able to afford to live close to work.
Not the case in this historical aquatic city that has become synonymous with exclusivity and wealth. Due to the high costs associated with living in the city, a gondolier's salary is markedly middle-class. Most gondoliers commute to work from one of the more affordable nearby islands.
On the opening day of 2017-2018 NBA season, the roster listed a total of 491 players. Compare that to the 425 available gondolier licenses in Venice.
As if that's not prohibitive enough, there are strict rules that make this occupation as exclusive as it is. You have to be a native-born Venetian just to be eligible. Then comes the selection process. Candidates apply for apprenticeships that involve over 400 hours of training, including extensive navigational knowledge and foreign language skills. When a gondolier dies, the license is passed along to the widow, who then selects a successor.
It takes the right connections and a lot of luck to become a Venetian gondolier. If by some miracle you succeed, you have the privilege of making six figures a year. It's a fine wage, but not quite enough to afford to live in Venice due to the rising cost of living. This doesn't stop gondoliers from holding an exclusive job in one of western Europe's most extraordinary ancient ports.
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