Sustainable. Beloved. Monopoly? Three words not usually used together, but in the case of the gondoliers of Venice, they certainly fit. Although this topic is not strictly sci-fi or fantasy, Venice and its gondolas are the closest experience we have to a real-life fantasy experience, so we (I on my own blog) will let it slide.
Gondolas in Venice are controlled by one guild that limits the number of licenses to about 400. This preceding sentence should trigger alarm bells for anyone with a modicum of economic sense as it sounds exactly like the New York taxi model that has now been basically destroyed by Uber and Lyft. Plus, people actually need taxis to get places in New York. Gondolas, on the other hand, do not have rideshare competition, but have extremely high prices and are more for sightseeing than travelling so their position should still be tenuous right? Nope, the gondola guild has capitalized on the unique association between Venice and gondolas and the idea that a gondola ride is a must-do, regardless of cost. When I visited Venice with friends, I was ready to walk away when the gondolier said that the (40 minute) ride cost was 80 euros. But my friends insisted, claiming that a gondola ride was “a once in a lifetime experience” and “the most important thing to do in Venice”. And so I relented, but during the ride, I could only marvel at the fact that my friends had been the ones to persuade me, not the representative of the gondola guild. This monopoly is so successful that they don’t even have to market themselves! Other, random people who have never even used their product will do it for them! While I am sure there have been other monopolies through history that have commanded this specific kind of brand loyalty, they are certainly few and very far between. This monopoly should be able to sustain itself at least until Venice floods over as there will always be tourists who want to experience the magic of a gondola ride and are willing to do so at sky-high prices. But to close on a positive note (and if I am being completely honest), if I ever go back to Venice, I would happily take another gondola ride. 🙂