Barcelona is cracking down on cruise ships and airport expansion

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, has vowed to crack down on the number of cruise ships that can dock in the fabled Mediterranean city, as well as put the brakes on airport expansion. She said earlier this week: “we don’t have infinite capacity.” She has also promised to improve air quality in a city where pollution levels regularly flout World Health Organisation regulations.  

Cruise ships lined up in Barcelona.
Barcelona harbour. Image by danilovi/Getty Images

“In Barcelona we want to act on all fronts,” promised Colau. Next Wednesday Barcelona will declare a climate emergency in the city, and will introduce plans to increase low-emission zones and ban the most polluting vehicles entering the city centre. Colau also aims to reduce plastic use, improve recycling, lower speed limits and increase car-free zones, especially near schools.

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La Rambla, Barcelona. Image by Eva-Katalin/Getty Images

Barcelona is Europe’s most popular cruise destination, with more than 2.5 million visitors disembarking from ships there in 2018, and also suffers from the most pollution caused by cruise ships. Critics argue cruise passengers contribute little to tourism, spending an average of only €57 each during their short visits and contributing to the city’s overcrowding issues at hotspots like La Sagrada Família, La Rambla and Mercat de la Boqueria. A reduction in cruise ship tourism would help tackle Barcelona’s long-documented overtourism problem

Last year in a survey of Barcelona’s residents, tourism was cited as the city’s second biggest problem behind access to affordable housing, which has itself been worsened by the huge increase in tourist apartments. Barcelona was one of ten European cities that recently asked for the EU's assistance on Airbnb and similar platforms.

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Barcelona's coastline. Image by Siqui Sanchez/Getty Images

Unfortunately for Colau, she has no authority over the port or the airport: the port is governed centrally while the airport is run by a public-private company in which the government has a stake. The airport handled 50 million passengers last year, and plans have already been approved for an €18 million expansion to cope with growing demand.

However, as Colau runs Barcelona in coalition with Spain’s Socialist Party (who are expected to form a new central government after an inconclusive general election earlier this year), she may be hoping to have some influence in Madrid further down the line.