Venice: brought to you by Coca-Cola

Venice has always been a huge tourist draw. This city of majestic canals, picturesque medieval architecture and serenading gondoliers has long attracted visitors from near and far for its historic beauty and aesthetic charms. In fact Venice hosted nearly 20 million visitors in 2008, an increase of more than 30%.

Yet all is not well in this visitor-friendly Italian tourism magnet – in addition to severe flooding problems this past December, the city is threatened by crumbling architecture and severe budget deficits which make restoration difficult. In order to provide funding for much-needed restoration, the city recently signed a $2.7 million dollar deal that made Coca-Cola an official city sponsor. The deal reportedly includes over 60 Coke vending machines spread across historic city, including the venerable St. Mark’s Square.

What’s the big deal, you might say? It’s just a couple vending machines. And yes, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse problems than having to sponsor a monument or a city – it will ensure Venice is around for future generations. But still, for a a unique one-of-a-kind city like Venice, renowned the world over for its beauty and charm, the dire circumstances that forced this situation are troubling. It cheapens the city’s cultural heritage and suggests that such landmarks are nothing more than objects, waiting to be bought and sold. Not to mention the vending machines add a new eyesore to a city known for beautiful preservation of its historic buildings.

Still for the cash-poor Italian government, this may be one of the only options for Venice’s continued sustainability. Expect to see more of this sort of sponsorship deal in the future…