Earlier this year, Venice greenlighted an “entry fee,” beginning at $3.33, which will be used to limit the number of daytrippers to the sinking city.
Meanwhile, Barcelona has been under such duress that in 2017, the regional government enacted laws that prohibit new hotels in the city center. And Amsterdam is waging a campaign to shuttle tourists to other cities in the Netherlands to alleviate crowds — the Dutch capital even went so far as to rechristen the nearby city of Zandvoort “Amsterdam Beach.”
The world has a problem with overtourism.
At the same time, the cruise industry — which visits port cities including Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam — is booming. This year, 30 million passengers are expected to board vessels. That’s almost twice as many as the previous decade.
Cheaper flights, more affordable accommodations (thanks to increased competition such as AirBnb) and the empowering nature of smartphones and Google Maps have all contributed to the rise of global tourism broadly and tourism specifically.
And don’t discount selfie culture and Instagram, which has been the cause of travel to — and downfall of — an increasing number of tourist sites.
Industry officials maintain that cruising isn’t solely responsible for the woes of overtourism. “The whole tourism market is growing extremely rapidly,” says Martyn Griffiths, of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told CNN Travel. “But we’re still a very small part of tourism as a whole.”
In port cities such as Venice or Barcelona, ships only account for 5 percent of the tourism, Griffiths adds. Contrary to the belief that cruise ships strip cities of resources, he says, cruising actually boosts a port city’s economy. “A cruise line is paying a huge amount of money to the port and to the local authorities to dock and to be serviced in the port. On top of that, we use local people to deliver excursions.”
But while it would be disingenuous to pin overtourism on cruise ships, it would be the same to ignore their myriad negative effects. For one, the looming and bulky size of the carriers can at times prove dangerous, like earlier this summer when the MSC Opera collided with a smaller tourist ship in Venice’s lagoon near the historic center. The accident led to the city’s recent decision to redirect larger ships to the farther-afield Fusina and Lombardia terminals.
There are also concerns about sustainability. All but one of the major cruise lines got a D or F in air pollution reduction, according to the 2019 Cruise Ship Report Card evaluated by environmental network Friends of the Earth. According to Sustainable Tourism, one cruise ship generates an average of 30,000 gallons of sewage, 255,000 gallons of dirty water (which includes cleaning products), 7,000 gallons of oily bilge water and emissions equivalent to 12,000 cars — daily.
Cruise ships are also among the biggest offenders when it comes to basic visitor etiquette: They can carry thousands of passengers who spill into port cities for a short periods of time, crowding historic sites during prepaid or included excursions, perturbing both residents and guests who stay for longer stretches and spend more money locally.
Travelers, however, can take steps to curb their effects on port cities without having to give up their beloved floating palaces. “For example, if your ship overnights in Dubrovnik, go into town at sunset, a magical time, when most day trippers have left,” Sue Bryant, cruise editor at the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper tells CNN Travel. She also suggests spending a day at the beach and walking around city centers after dark, when crowds have subsided. Cruisers can also make an effort to spend more money in the cities they visit.
Another option: Choose smaller ships or take river cruises, which have become popular in recent years for their varied itineraries and ability to navigate safely through narrower waterways and dock in the hearts of cities, where ocean carriers are prohibited. Local food and entertainment are often brought onboard, which infuses money into the economy. Smaller ships and fewer passengers mean leaving less of a trace.
One leading river cruise company, Uniworld, with routes on the Nile in Egypt, the Douro in Portugal and the Mekong in Vietnam, has been working with TreadRight and the Travel Foundation to monitor and reduce their environmental footprint, with other companies following suit. Steps include banning single-use plastics, partnering with local communities to help their access to clean water, and preserving marine life.
Smaller cruises, of course, mean giving up bigger ships’ crazy onboard amenities, such as onboard skydiving simulators and roller coasters. Is it worth it?
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