Barcelona’s burgeoning cruise industry: benefit or blight?

New report highlights positive effect of job creation and spending But City Hall is concerned about the environmental impact of so many visitors

Clara Blanchar
Cruise ship passengers getting off in the port of Barcelona.
Cruise ship passengers getting off in the port of Barcelona.ALBERT GARCIA

As Barcelona’s new city authorities, critical of the impact of mass visitors, debate the future of the city’s tourism model, a new report sheds light on the economic impact of cruise ships.

The report, released on Tuesday by the Port of Barcelona and the University of Barcelona, says that 1.8 million cruise ship passengers visit the city each year, and that the city is the fourth largest home port, meaning a port of origin or destination rather than a port of call.

Port authorities want to make Barcelona a home port for more cruise lines, which would further increase revenue

Cruise ships docking in Barcelona generate direct and indirect spending of almost €800 million a year, pumping some €413 million into the Catalan economy, paying €152 million in taxes, and creating the equivalent of around 7,000 full-time jobs, says the report.

Jordi Suriñach, an economist at Barcelona University who contributed to the report, says it is the first of its kind, noting that the €442 million in direct spending includes what cruise lines, passengers and crews pay out; the €353 million in indirect spending represents suppliers (for example, what a hotel where cruise passengers are staying spends to cater to them).

Sixte Cambra, the president of Barcelona Port, says the study was commissioned last winter, and should not be seen as “a response to the change of government in the city.” This comment references  concerns expressed by Ada Colau, a social activist who was elected mayor last May, about the environmental impact of cruise ships and passengers—which the report barely mentions.

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“The report shows that the cruise sector generates investment and jobs and is an activity that creates growth and stability, which are the basis for economic development,” said Cambra, adding that the challenge for port authorities now is to make Barcelona a home port for more cruise lines, which would further increase revenue.

Cambra is due to meet with Colau to discuss the impact of the port on the city. He also notes that a separate study into the environmental impact of cruise tourism on Barcelona has been commissioned.

Sources at Barcelona City Hall say that the presence of cruise ships is one of the issues that needs to be addressed as part of the ongoing debate within the Municipal Tourism Council: “Cruise ships tend to have positive effects on the city, but we have to look at those aspects that are not analyzed, such as how much money it really brings the city, the pollution caused by so many docked ships, workers’ rights, and how visitors use public spaces and its impact on our neighborhoods.”

The world's largest cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, arriving in Barcelona.
The world's largest cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, arriving in Barcelona.Gianluca Battista

The study illustrates how Barcelona’s cruise industry took off in 2000, reaching a ceiling in 2011. Figures are taken from 2014 and show 1.9 million cruise passengers in the city, which was the origin or final destination for 700,000 people, while the remaining 1.1 million only stayed an average 4.3 hours there as part of a stopover. Average spending by this latter type of passenger was €53, compared to the €202 spent by cruise passengers who stayed at hotels.

But the report provides no information about the environmental impact of the cruise sector other than some basic data: it generates 1.2 percent of the nitrogen oxide in the city’s air, along with 0.2 percent of atmospheric particulate matter. A year ago, environmentalists and neighborhood associations highlighted what they see as the negative impact of cruise ships, calling the mayor at the time, Xavier Trias, “irresponsible” for failing to address the issue.

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