Though the world has had a two-year hiatus from the problems posed by overtourism, they’re quickly returning in tourism hotspots. And, the pandemic allowed residents of such overburdened destinations to experience their cities without the usual throngs of tourists, ultimately fueling calls for change.
In Barcelona—one of the major travel destinations contending with overtourism issues prior to the pandemic—the regional government is now considering ways to limit the number of cruise liners docking in its highly sought-after Mediterranean harbor.
Prior to the pandemic, Spain’s second city was home to the Continent’s busiest cruise terminal and, as a result of mega-ships spewing sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides into the air, experienced the highest pollution levels of any European port in 2019.
With the recent widespread resurgence of international travel, the city’s cruise traffic has already recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with roughly 125 having docked in its harbor in the month of May alone.
While the return of tourism isn’t entirely unwelcome, the constant parade of massive cruise ships is especially resented by residents. The ships bring a flood of visitors, who create intense congestion and make a questionable contribution to the local economy, since they often stay only briefly and don’t pay for accommodations.
Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau announced last month that she would ask the Catalonian government to create new regulations to limit the number of liners allowed to dock in the city. Her objectives, according to the newspaper El Pais, are to reduce pollution and alleviate the pressures that cruise passengers exert on the city’s infrastructure, businesses and resident communities.
As her inspiration for proposing the new regulations, the mayor cited new measures instituted by the Balearic Islands’ government earlier this year, which dictate that a maximum of three cruise ships per day may dock at Palma’s cruise terminal, only one of which can be a mega-ship with more than 5,000 passengers.
The details of Colau’s proposed measures have not yet been disclosed, but, according to Bloomberg, her recent comments indicate she may be looking to cap the number of ships allowed in port at one time. The regional government’s ideas appear to run more along the lines of imposing a new tax, which might generate more income from cruise ships, but not necessarily reduce the number of passengers visiting the city.
“There are thousands of people who arrive at once,” Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau told El Pais. “Most of them stay for just a few hours and are highly concentrated in the downtown area. They generate a feeling of collapse.” In 2019, over three million cruise guests came ashore in Barcelona, 40 percent of whom spent only four hours in the city. “It is not a sustainable model for the future,” Colau opined.
“They are visitors who do not add value to the city,” Deputy Mayor Janet Sanz likewise told Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia. “We cannot go back to the 3.1 million cruise passengers,” she said. “With the pandemic, the perception of public space has changed and we cannot return to previous scenarios. The impact is too great for residents.”