The city of Barcelona has been struggling with overtourism for a while and, similarly to many other popular destinations around the world, the pandemic has shown just how needed a respite is.
One of the sources of tourists are cruise ships, which officials say bring a lot of people into the city who only spend a few hours on land, crowding the streets and not bringing a significant economic impact. “If there’s anything we learned from the pandemic, it’s that this idea of low-cost tourism, or tourism without limits, ends up being very costly for the city”, Barcelona deputy mayor and councillor responsible for ecology, urbanism and mobility Janet Sanz said.
They don’t consume anything and they don’t have an economic impact. They just wander for four or five hours and leave.Janet Sanz, Barcelona Deputy Mayor and councillor for ecology, urbanism and mobility
“You will be walking and all of a sudden there’s this mass of people who appear together in the street”, said Sanz. “They don’t consume anything and they don’t have an economic impact. They just wander for four or five hours and leave.”
The issue is not new. In 2019, in an interview with the Catalan newspaper Ara, Gala Pin, a city councillor at that time, compared tourists from cruise ships are with “a plague of locusts (…) they devour the public space and leave”.
That year, the number of visitors brought to the city by cruise ships reached a record 3.1 million, but due to the jurisdiction superiority the port authority has over incoming ships, there is not much the city can do.
In addition to the nuisance cruise tourists cause to residents, Sanz also highlighted the environmental impact of the ships, especially pointing to the water they use from the port. “It is completely incomprehensible that we’re suffering our driest year in 100 years but expecting more cruise passengers than ever”, Sanz stressed in a letter to the regional government.
We need to be a city with tourism, yes, but not just tourism.Janet Sanz, Barcelona Deputy Mayor and councillor for ecology, urbanism and mobility
“It’s the responsibility of everyone, especially those in the tourism sector, to ensure Barcelona doesn’t become a theme park”, she added. “Because the moment it does, it will no longer be of interest to tourists.”
Currently, cruise ships bring in about 25,000 day trippers, according to Sanz. She is pledging with the regional government to exert its power over the port authority and cap this number to just 200,000 a month or maximum three ships a day.
On the other hand, the Port of Barcelona argued that up to 58% of the cruise passengers either start or end their journey in the city, rather than only disembarking for a couple of hours. Moreover, citing a 2018 study, the authority highlighted that cruise ship tourists who spent at least one night ashore in 2016 spent about €230 a day, while those only staying for a few hours only spent about €57 a day.
Answering to Sanz’ sustainability concerns, the port said that 80% of the docking cruise ships did not use any water from the port, having purification plants onboard. Moreover, 20% of the ships scheduled for arrival in the following year are fuelled by liquefied natural gas, while 62% are less than 10 years old. “This means newer, more efficient and more sustainable ships”, the port said in a statement.
Regardless of the ships’ sustainability or economic impact of cruise passengers, overtourism is still an issue, with Barcelona residents taking to the streets in protest over the past few weeks. They are asking authorities to stop the “tourist violence” they are suffering, citing “tonnes of rubbish” and “excrement and urine on public streets” among the problems.