Overtourism Forces Greece to Curb Cruise Ship Arrivals

Overtourism is forcing Greece to take significant measures to curb the number of cruise ship arrivals in the busy ports of Piraeus, Mykonos, and Santorini. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it is imperative to take measures to cap the number of cruise ships arriving daily in Greece’s most popular travel destinations.

Greece, renowned for its idyllic islands and ancient history, is concerned over the influx of cruise ships that often create chaos and overcrowding, making it difficult for visitors to enjoy themselves and disrupting locals’ everyday lives.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Bloomberg that he is considering restrictions on cruise ships either through the use of a “cutter” on the total number of berths on popular destinations or by introducing a tendering process for time slots.

Greece is not the first Mediterranean country to be forced to take action against the effects of massive tourist arrivals in certain destinations. In 2021, Italy banned large cruise ships from entering the canal leading to Venice’s historic center. This was decided because of damage from overtourism. Moreover, day-trippers are now charged a toll to enter the center during peak periods.

Overtourism has become a pressing issue for many popular destinations worldwide, and Greece is no exception. Iconic sites like Santorini, Mykonos, and Athens have experienced a surge in visitors, leading to overcrowded streets, environmental degradation, and strained infrastructure. The surge is largely attributed to the booming cruise industry, which brings millions of tourists to Greece’s shores annually.

In 2023, Greece welcomed approximately seven million cruise passengers, a significant increase from previous years. This influx, while beneficial for the economy, has raised concerns about the sustainability of such tourism levels. Local communities and ecosystems are bearing the brunt of this tourism explosion, leading to an urgent need for regulatory measures.

Regarding the two most popular Greek islands, Santorini and Mykonos, in 2023, the island saw the arrival of 800 cruise ships and 1,298,968 passengers. In 2022, the number of cruise ships was 686 carrying 826,602 passengers. This year, it is estimated that 815 cruise ships will dock on Santorini with 1,300,403 passengers.

In 2023, Mykonos received 749 cruise ships with 1,192,822 passengers, compared to 608 cruise ships and 685,918 passengers in 2022. In other words, in Mykonos there was a 23 percent increase in the number of cruise ships and 74 percent in the number of passengers.

The Greek government is to implement several strategies to manage and mitigate the effects of overtourism. One of the primary measures is the regulation of cruise ship arrivals. The government is also considering implementing a cap on the number of cruise ships and passengers allowed to dock at popular destinations each day.

For instance, in Santorini, local authorities in collaboration with cruise companies, have already imposed a daily limit of 8,000 cruise passengers. This is so as to prevent overcrowding and preserve the island’s charm. The policy aims to distribute visitor numbers more evenly throughout the year rather than having peaks during the summer months.

Furthermore, there are fears of water shortages. This is because, in June 2024, Greece suffered the hottest June since 1890 while July is traditionally the hottest month of the year in the country. As a result, a substantial strain in the infrastructure is expected. The additional challenges resulting from overtourism could have an increasingly negative overall impact for locals and visitors alike.

Beyond managing numbers, Greece is focusing on the environmental and cultural impacts of overtourism. The sheer volume of tourists has potential to cause significant wear and tear on ancient monuments and natural landscapes. To combat this, Greece is enhancing its conservation efforts. Increased funding for the maintenance and restoration of historical sites is being allocated to ensure these treasures are preserved for future generations.

Environmental sustainability is also a key focus. Cruise ships contribute to pollution, both in the air and sea. To address this, Greece is investing in cleaner port infrastructure and promoting the use of eco-friendly technologies among cruise operators. This includes stricter regulations on emissions and waste disposal to minimize the environmental footprint of massive vessels.

Furthermore, an influx of tourists limited to particular time periods may lead to congestion at archaeological sites, monuments, and landmarks. This limits the extent of visitors’ experience.

While these measures are essential, they must be balanced with the economic benefits that tourism brings to Greece. The cruise industry is a significant contributor to the Greek economy, providing jobs and income for many local communities. Therefore, Greece’s approach is not about drastically reducing tourism but managing it in a way that is sustainable and beneficial for residents and visitors alike.

The government is encouraging the development of alternative tourism sectors to diversify income sources. Promoting off-season travel, investing in lesser-known destinations, and developing sustainable tourism practices are part of this broader strategy. In doing so, Greece aims to reduce the pressure on popular hotspots while still capitalizing on tourism potential.

Cruise companies are not unaware of congestion problems in certain ports. They are already implementing a “cutter” in Santorini and Mykonos in cooperation with local ports and municipal authorities.

What the cruise companies are worried about is the scenario of a “tourist tax per head.” Such a tax, however, does not concern cruise ships alone but also visitors to any particular destination. Revenue from such a tax will be remunerative, meaning it will be used for the improvement of tourism infrastructure.

Addressing overtourism is not just a national issue but requires international cooperation. Greece is working with cruise companies and other Mediterranean countries to develop regional strategies for sustainable tourism. Collaborative efforts include shared regulations and standards for cruise operations, which can help mitigate negative impacts of mass tourism.

The future of Greece’s tourism industry lies in its ability to adapt and innovate. By implementing these measures, Greece aims to create a more sustainable and resilient tourism sector. This not only ensures the protection of its cultural and natural heritage but also enhances the quality of the visitor experience.

Philip Chrysopoulos

Εστάλη στην ΟΔΥΣΣΕΙΑ, 30/6/2024 #ODUSSEIA #ODYSSEIA, Greek Reporter