Limited support for cruise tourism in Flanders

Support for large cruise ships among residents of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp remains ​ low and revenues are minimal, a study by Tourism Flanders shows. Flemish minister for Environment and Tourism Zuhal Demir argues that the sector needs to be redesigned.

The desire for fewer cruise tourists "increases significantly" in all cities where cruise ships dock regularly. As in previous studies, a large proportion of respondents say they want fewer cruise tourists. Despite this limited support, investments in cruise tourism have happened in recent years in Zeebrugge and Antwerp.

A 2017 survey found that 20 per cent of city dwellers would prefer to see fewer cruise ships docking. By 2021, the proportion of residents opposed to cruise tourism had risen to around 50 per cent. "That's a huge increase in a short time," says researcher Marjan Nauwelaert. "In Bruges, it is now 57 per cent."

Ecological impact

Because cruise ships are seen as the cause of overcrowding in the city centres, the general perception is negative, even if the share of cruise tourists is relatively small. Residents in the historical cities of Ghent, Antwerp and Bruges tend to tolerate "ordinary" tourists more.

Half of all respondents say cruises have a negative impact on an ecological level. Ships emit not only CO2 but also sulphur dioxide, nitrogen and particulate matter. The survey recommends taking additional measures. "The pandemic caused the number of cruises to plummet, but the figures are rising again at lightning speed," Nauwelaert said. "And if we look at European reports and port figures, the cruise industry shows no signs of shrinking."

'Restore the balance'

Flanders and Brussels attract more than half a million cruise passengers a year, bringing in about 25 million euros in revenues - only a fraction of the total value of the tourism sector. Demir therefore wants to use the study to start a dialogue with the cities concerned about cruise tourism.

"Cruise tourism does not generate the biggest revenue, but it does generate a lot of pollution," Demir's cabinet said on Wednesday. "The balance with residents' support is not always there. Therefore, I want to redesign cruise tourism and restore the balance."




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