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“It gives us time to see a couple of things and get back to the ship”

“It gives us time to see a couple of things and get back to the ship”

She would have loved it, but Cheryl Halliday won’t have time to visit Barcelona. This 48-year-old Scot has just set foot on solid ground in the Catalan capital and she is a bit overwhelmed. It’s a few minutes past eight in the morning and she, along with a large suitcase, looks for a taxi at the port’s cruise terminal. “I need someone to take me to the airport to go back to my house,” she explained.

Ada Colau sends letters to the Government, the Ministry of Transport and the Port to address the limitation of cruises

Ada Colau sends letters to the Government, the Ministry of Transport and the Port to address the limitation of cruises

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Halliday was one of the 21,000 people who embarked or disembarked from a cruise ship in the port of Barcelona on Sunday. She had just spent a week with three friends on the Wonder of The Seas, the largest ship in the world with a capacity for almost 7,000 tourists. She now had to face the hard time of taking a plane and returning to her routine.

“I would have stayed a whole year living in there,” he assured. “We had everything we wanted without leaving the ship.”

While the city hasn’t yet woken up, early morning activity at the cruise terminal is frenetic. Lines with hundreds of taxis come to pick up the new arrivals. Dozens of buses appear at the same time to pick up more visitors and drop them off somewhere in the city. Several drivers wait holding signs with the names of their clients.

The number of suitcases carried by each tourist makes it possible to distinguish all types of cruise passengers. Bryan and his wife have come down from the Nieuw Statendam (2,600 passengers, 329 meters long) with a small backpack. The plan is to walk along La Rambla, go up Paseo de Gracia, eat something and return to the cruise at 3 pm. “It gives us time to see a couple of things and get back to the ship,” admits this American couple.

There are those who go down heavily loaded, putting an end to the trip and with the intention of spending one or two nights in Barcelona. Others, like Halliday, are simply looking for a way to get to the airport and return home. “I hope to be able to visit Barcelona in the future”, she lamented as she hurriedly said goodbye.

The scene is repeated practically identical to the beginning of the afternoon. Thousands of tourists show up with their suitcase ready to start their cruise. Many have arrived that same morning by plane or have come by car from other parts of the country. Some have simply gotten off the ship to take a tour of Barcelona and return to their cabin.

Between January and April 2022 alone, it is estimated that 220,000 cruise passengers passed through Barcelona. They are almost half of those that were in the same period of 2019, despite the fact that the ships of this type that have docked in the city -with their corresponding emissions- are almost the same: 265 in that period of 2019 compared to 252 this year.

From the Port of Barcelona they admit that cruise ships arrive emptier than before the pandemic and they do not dare to make forecasts for this year, but they point out that the sector is recovering quickly and they hope to return to the figures of 2019, when they went through the city 3.1 million cruise passengers, a record figure in the entire Mediterranean.

The idea of ​​business returning to its peak, however, does not generate the same enthusiasm throughout the city.

Division at City Hall

The massive return of these visitors has once again opened a gap – the umpteenth – between Comuns and PSC, the two parties of the Barcelona City Council. With less than a year to go until the next municipal elections, the confrontation between the two parties over issues such as the return of tourism is evident and no one is trying to hide it.

The mayor of Barcelona, ​​Ada Colau, requested by letter the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès; the Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez; and the president of the Port of Barcelona, ​​Damià Calvet, to create a table in which the limitation of this type of vessel is addressed, as Palma de Mallorca has done, where only three are allowed a day and only one of them can have the capacity to more than 5,000 passengers.

“I was not surprised by the mayor’s letter,” says Xavier Marcé (PSC), Barcelona Councilor for Tourism, in a telephone conversation. “It is a more political than real debate and obeys the predefined criteria that each one has about tourism.”

The controversy is served. On one side are those who highlight the pollution generated by cruise ships, the inconvenience and the little return of some of these tourists, who sometimes spend just a few hours in the city. Then there are those who conceive of cruise passengers as the goose that lays the golden eggs and are committed to preserving them and providing them with facilities.

Marcé, the Councilor for Tourism, does not see any indicator that suggests that the number of cruise ships is excessive. He explains that, at most, he would see fit to limit “for a specific day” the number of ships of this type docked in the port. “The externalities of tourism must be reduced but we do not hide a welcome speech to the economy of the visitor”, he argues.

“The problem is not the visitors, but the cruise ships themselves,” says Daniel Pardo, from the Assemblea de Barris per un Decreixement Turístic (ABDT), an entity that brings together different neighborhood associations in favor of reducing visitors and that is preparing mobilizations for the summer . “They represent the most concentrated and intensive version of tourism,” he stresses.

It is not difficult to identify cruise passengers in the city center, which is a few meters from the port terminal. They are usually large and homogeneous groups, sometimes even with some identifier of the cruise itself. “In Ciutat Vella we notice a lot the correlation between the moored boats and the type of visitors that are on the street”, adds Pardo.

The two types of cruisers

There are two types of cruise passengers arriving in Barcelona. There is the transit, that is, the one who is passing through and leaves the ship for a few hours to walk around the city and returns to his cabin before setting sail. And then there is the base, which is the one that ends or begins its cruise in the Catalan capital.

“Our policy is in favor of the basic cruise passenger”, insists Marcé. “He has a very limited impact on the overcrowding of the city because he arrives, sleeps in the city and leaves.” Marcé compares these visitors with those who come to the airport and points out that base cruises do not keep their engines running, as transit cruises do, in order to offer their services to tourists who choose to stay the whole day without leaving the ship. .

According to the president of the Port of Barcelona, ​​Damià Calvet (Junts), assured on Sunday, each cruise passenger spends about 230 euros a day in the city compared to 70 euros for the rest of the tourists. It’s not exactly like that.

The number comes from a 2016 study by the University of Barcelona, commissioned by the Cruise Lines International Association. The study, however, admits that these 230 euros of spending only correspond to those who spend several nights in a hotel in the city. According to the same document, this can only be applied to 27% of cruise passengers.

The same report indicates that almost half of the cruise passengers visit the city without sleeping in it, either because they return to their ship or because the same day they get off the cruise they go home. These visitors spend an average of 57 euros during the day in Barcelona.

According to May forecasts for the Port of Barcelona, Of 123 cruise ships that will have passed through the city, only 27 of them (22%) are transit. The rest are basic. On Sunday there were many “base” cruise passengers who had just arrived in Barcelona and were leaving the same day or had landed in the morning to get on the cruise in the afternoon. It is hard to imagine how a tourist who arrives on a cruise ship and jumps straight into a taxi to go to the airport can spend 230 euros in the city.

The environmental cost

According to a study published in September 2021 by researchers from the Universitat de Girona, the University of Exeter (United Kingdom) and the Zagreb Tourism Institute (Croatia), a large cruise ship can emit as much CO2 as 12,000 cars. On Sunday there were five ships of this type in the Catalan capital, the equivalent of 60,000 vehicles.

The report also points out that they emit ultrafine particles that are harmful to health and adds that the generation of waste is rampant: a 7,000-person cruise ship like the Wonder of The Seas can generate about three tons of waste daily.

“We must act on port emissions without fail,” says Xavier Querol, a CSIC researcher and an expert in atmospheric pollution. This geologist points out that, among other emissions, cruise ships stranded in the port generate pollution that ends up in the city when the sea breeze enters. “The money they bring in should be spent on reducing emissions,” he adds.

Querol also proposes the establishment of exclusion zones in the Mediterranean where these highly polluting ships cannot transit. “It is necessary and would be beneficial for everyone’s health,” he says.

The City Council and the Port of Barcelona reached an agreement in 2018 to move the new cruise terminals away from the city, although with room to continue expanding the port’s capacity. It is also expected that by 2030 these vessels can be plugged into the port’s electrical network to be able to turn off their engines and thus avoid keeping them on throughout the day to be able to offer all their services on board.

And until 2030 what needs to be done? “We are in the process so that by that year pollution is practically zero,” says Marcé, Councilor for Tourism. “But what we cannot do is make cruise ships disappear overnight.”

The Government, for its part, has not implemented the tax that was intended to record the activity of polluting ships in ports, which is included in the Climate Change Law but has not yet been deployed.

Querol, the CSIC researcher, remembers a post-war phrase that was repeated ad nauseam during his childhood. fam or smoke [hambre o humo]they told him, in reference to the fact that if smoke came out of the factory chimneys it meant that there would be food for everyone.

“I am concerned that we are still today with concepts from the 1930s,” says this renowned researcher. “How can it be that a relevant contribution to the city’s GDP justifies affecting the health of citizens?”

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