In the face of overtourism threatening the very essence of European cities, Barcelona has taken significant measures to limit cruise ships docking in the heart of its city. This comes as a part of the city’s efforts to balance tourism with the well-being of its residents and the environment.
New Docking Regulations
As per the new regulations:
- The northern port terminal of the city has been closed to cruise traffic.
- Cruise ships will now have to dock at the Moll d’Adossat pier, significantly further from the city center compared to the previously used World Trade Center pier, which is just a block away from La Rambla, Barcelona’s renowned promenade.
- Tourists disembarking will now need approximately 30 minutes to exit the port area, as opposed to the earlier few minutes’ walk up La Rambla.
- These new guidelines are expected to impact about 340 cruise dockings annually.
Embracing Green Spaces
The previously used docking area will undergo a transformation. Over 150,000 square feet of this area, including a 2,000-foot quay section, is set to become “new public spaces”. This initiative is in line with the city’s vision to repurpose and utilize urban spaces better. Lluís Salvadó, the Port of Barcelona president, confirmed that the new space will be inaugurated next fall and will be accessible to everyone.
Behind the Decision
The decision is not sudden. It follows:
- A 2018 agreement between the port authorities and Barcelona city council with the objective to move cruise activities further from populated areas to make them more sustainable.
- The pressing need to control tourism, given that Barcelona saw over nine million overnight tourists in 2022, coupled with more than 2.3 million cruise passengers.
The environmental impact of cruise ships cannot be ignored. Barcelona was identified as Europe’s most polluted cruise port, a revelation that undoubtedly influenced this decision. By 2026, the city plans to shift all cruise operations to the Adossat wharf, which will also be electrified, thus allowing ships to power from the pier directly, substantially reducing emissions.
While tourism is undeniably vital for Barcelona’s economy, the city’s leadership is also aware of the challenges it brings. The new mayor, Jaume Collboni, has proposed an increase in the docking tax for cruises, charging 6.25 euros per passenger for ships docking less than 12 hours. Moreover, there is a proposal to increase the tourist tax for Airbnb and apartment stays to seven euros per person per night. These proposed measures will be voted on in the coming week.
As reported by Spanish newspaper El Pais, Collboni emphasized that while tourism brings economic and social value, it also has drawbacks. The increased taxes are not against tourism but are meant to make the industry contribute more towards public services.
Global Trends in Cruise Ship Regulation
Barcelona isn’t alone in reevaluating the cruise ship industry’s impact:
- Palma in Spain has imposed a limit of three ships per day.
- Venice banned large cruise ships from its historic center in 2021, following potential threats from UNESCO.
- Marseille, France’s largest cruise port, and other French cities have voiced concerns over the pollution caused by cruise ships.
- Other European destinations, including Amsterdam, Santorini, and Dubrovnik, have also imposed tighter cruise ship restrictions in recent times.
Considering Residents’ Needs
Local inhabitants often bear the brunt of overtourism. From increased living costs, especially in housing, to compromised daily life due to congested streets and public spaces, residents often feel alienated in their own cities. Barcelona’s steps towards controlling overtourism can also be seen as a significant effort to prioritize the needs of its citizens.
A New Vision for Sustainable Tourism
The idea isn’t necessarily to discourage tourism but to promote a more sustainable and responsible form of it. Cities are progressively looking for a brand of tourism that is less intrusive, more aware, and better integrated with local culture and lifestyles.
The focus is shifting from quantity to quality. Tourists are encouraged to stay longer, understand the local culture, and contribute positively to the local economy beyond just the main tourist hubs. This can lead to a more enriching experience for visitors and less strain on the host cities.
The challenge of over-tourism is not unique to Barcelona, but its approach, which aligns economic, environmental, and societal objectives, offers a potential blueprint for other cities grappling with similar issues. Balancing the economic advantages of tourism with the environmental and social impacts has become a paramount concern for many popular tourist destinations.