Greece Considers Imposing Cruise Ship Restrictions

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The travel industry is very important to Greece, with tourism accounting for around a quarter of the country’s economy. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. 

In the post-pandemic travel rush, Greece has become increasingly popular – and desirable destinations like Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes, are struggling to keep up with the demand. 

Throughout 2023, Greece welcomed a total of 5,230 cruise ships carrying over 7 million passengers to the island. This is a dramatic 9.41% increase in cruise ship arrivals and a 51.26% surge in passenger numbers from 2022.

Cruise Ships Visiting Santorini, Greece
Cruise Ships Visiting Santorini, Greece (Photo Credit: Andocs)

The staggering number of cruise passengers is causing overcrowding on the islands, maritime traffic jams that can be a deterrent to cruisers and other tourists, and hindering the quality of life for the locals – with a particularly severe impact on Santorini. 

“Santorini is the most sensitive, Mykonos will be the second. Though many Greek islands are straining under the weight of their popularity, these are the ones ‘that are clearly suffering,’” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Bloomberg

In 2023, Santorini experienced 800 cruise ship calls, bringing about 1.3 million cruisers to the Mediterranean hot spot – a 17% increase in cruise tourism numbers from 2022 that is upending the lives of the 15,000 permanent residents who live on the island. 

“There are people spending a lot of money to be on Santorini and they don’t want the island to be swamped,” Mitsotakis added. “Plus the island can’t afford it, even in terms of security.”

Meanwhile, Mykonos hosted 749 ship calls in 2023, which is an increase of 23% in just one year. 

While no cruise limitations have been put in place as of yet, Mitsotakis said it’s something he expects to happen in 2025. The new rules will likely include limiting the total number of island berths that are available to cruise ships and/or a bidding process to call on the islands. 

Several European Ports Limit Cruise Tourism

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic ended, cruising has been on the rise. The number of cruise passengers exceeded 31 million in 2023, with 2 million more people cruising last year than they did in 2019. 

With that number only expected to grow, other European destinations (and some in the US)  have already taken measures to limit the number of cruise tourism to prevent overcrowding and to mitigate the negative environmental impact that can come with welcoming a large number of vessels – and particularly older vessels that may not be as sustainable as newer builds. 

Read Also: Juneau Agrees on Cruise Ship Passenger Limits

Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ announcement is following in the footsteps of destinations like Venice, Italy, Majorca, Spain, and Barcelona, Spain.

Cruise Ships Docked in Barcelona, Spain
Cruise Ships Docked in Barcelona, Spain (Photo Credit: Iglwch)

In 2021, Venice implemented a new tourist fee to mitigate crowds on the Italian city’s busiest days – a rule that took effect earlier this year on April 25, 2024. The fee applies to visitors regardless of if they come by land, plane, train, or sea. 

In May of 2024, Majorca moved forward with new proposals to renew restrictions that would prevent mega-cruise ships from docking in Palma, the capital city of the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands.

If approved, the restrictions would continue to cap the number of cruise ships that can visit the port to three per day, with only one allowed to carry over 5,000 passengers – a measure that has been in place since 2022. 

However, the new proposal also seeks to add additional taxes for cruise passengers – including a fee to arrive in port and a separate fee to enter Palma. 

In October of 2023, Barcelona implemented its own partial cruise ship ban to prevent ships from docking at the Spanish city’s northern docks or the World Trade Center. The purpose of this change was to keep cruise ships further from the city center in order to lessen exhaust gasses in Barcelona’s most populated areas. 

Just a couple of weeks ago on May 24, 2024, Barcelona Mayor Jaume Collboni announced that the coastal city would be taking additional actions to limit the number of cruise passengers visiting per day to address remaining overcrowding concerns.

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