Ship sail

As overtourism returns, Barcelona seeks to curb cruise ship traffic

Although the world has seen a two-year hiatus from overtourism issues, they are rapidly returning to tourism hotspots. And, the pandemic has allowed residents of these overcrowded destinations to experience their cities without the usual crowds of tourists, ultimately fueling calls for change.

In Barcelona, ​​one of the top travel destinations struggling with overtourism issues before the pandemic, the regional government is now considering ways to limit the number of cruise liners docking at its much sought-after Mediterranean port.


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Before the pandemic, Spain’s second city was home to the mainland busiest cruise terminal and, due to 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 in international travel, the city’s cruise traffic has already returned to pre-pandemic levels, with around 125 people docking at its port in May alone.

While the return of tourism is not entirely unwelcome, the constant parade of huge cruise ships is particularly felt by residents. Ships bring a flood of visitors, which create intense congestion and make a questionable contribution to the local economy, as they often stay only briefly and do not pay for accommodation.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau announced last month that she would ask the Catalan government to create new regulations to limit the number of ocean liners allowed to dock in the city. His goals, according to the newspaper El Paísare to reduce pollution and alleviate the pressures that cruise lines place on the city’s infrastructure, businesses and resident communities.

As inspiration for proposing the new regulations, the mayor cited new measures instituted by the Balearic Islands government earlier this year, which stipulate that a maximum of three cruise ships per day can dock at the cruise terminal of Palma, only one of which can be a mega-ship with more than 5,000 passengers.

Panoramic aerial view of the Agbar tower in Barcelona (inkwell/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
Panoramic aerial view of Agbar Tower in Barcelona, ​​Spain. (photo via Inkwell/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Details of Colau’s proposed measures have not yet been disclosed, but, according to Bloomberg, her recent comments indicate that she may be considering limiting the number of vessels allowed in port at one time. The regional government’s ideas seem to go more in the direction of imposing a new tax, which could generate more revenue from cruise ships, but not necessarily reduce the number of passengers visiting the city.

“There are thousands of people arriving at the same time,” Barcelona mayor Ada Colau told El Pais. “Most of them only stay for a few hours and are heavily concentrated in the city center. They generate a feeling of collapse. In 2019, more than three million cruise passengers disembarked in Barcelona, ​​40% of whom spent only four hours in the city. “It’s not a sustainable model for the future,” Colau said.

“These are visitors who do not add value to the city,” Deputy Mayor Janet Sanz also told the Catalan newspaper. La Vanguardia. “We can’t go back to 3.1 million cruise passengers,” she said. “With the pandemic, the perception of public space has changed and we cannot go back to previous scenarios. The impact is too great for residents.