Global demand for tourism grows, with Europe remaining the most visited region in the world. As a matter of fact, the European Union had 538 million international tourist arrivals in 2017, accounting for 40% of global international tourist arrivals.


The prime driver of cruise business is the destination. However, the development of the cruise port business in a port is only partially in the hands of the port authority. The changing attractiveness or new branding of a tourist destination can make a port into a must as cruise destination. In addition, shifting geopolitical situations or any event or circumstance that makes a tourist destination less popular will affect the cruise port.

Currently, the cruise industry contributes greatly to the European economy. In 2017, €4.23 billion was spent by cruise passengers and crews in Europe. Passenger expenditures include spending for shore excursions, pre- and post-cruise hotel stays, air travel and other merchandise at ports-of-embarkation and ports-of-call. Crew spending was concentrated in expenditures for retail goods and food and beverages.

Increasingly, European ports are showing their environmental track record and transparency. Through its environmental report , ESPO presents each year the main environmental benchmarks of the sector. In addition, over 100 European ports are part of the EcoPorts network, the main environmental initiative of European port sector. More than 70% of these ports are certified with an internationally recognised environmental standard (ISO 140001, PERS and EMAS).

In addition, the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) has also started working on the development of a harmonised format for collecting data on emissions of cruise ships during port calls. At the same time, the EU Monitoring, Reporting and Verification system (MRV) started publishing aggregate data on CO2 emissions per ship name on annual basis6 , including cruise ships’ emissions at berth for all EU ports.

More specifically, ESPO notes that European ports are combining different roles and responsibilities. In each of these roles, port managing bodies aspire to combine commercial interests with wider societal responsibilities. As mission driven and mostly public entities, port managing bodies invest in sustainable port development and in guaranteeing that any port activity remains sustainable in the long run.

Moreover, they urge cruise lines to increase efforts to further reduce the environmental footprint of cruise activity. As a matter of fact:

European ports welcome in that respect the commitment of the global cruise industry to reduce the rate of carbon emissions across the industry fleet by 40 percent by 2030. In particular, ports welcome the recent efforts and investments made by some cruise lines to change towards more environmentally friendly sources of energy and encourage the sector as such to continue on this path

Moreover, ports understand that the demand for clean air is a priority for European citizens. Namely, air quality will become a key determinant of public acceptance of port activity in the years to come. Cruise port activity, as any other port activity, must be looked at from this perspective. Keeping the emissions in ports and in the vicinity of housing areas to a safe and acceptable level must in that sense be seen as a first priority.

What is more, the energy transition of the shipping sector, including the cruise lines, will be the first and most important way to ensure the sustainable development of the cruise business in Europe. In fact, European ports ask for an immediate implementation of the IMO target for shipping. The first priority is to apply the measures to reduce emissions and to establish pathways to be pursued in terms of future fuels. Cleaner fuels for cruise shipping must deliver both in terms of air quality and decarbonization. For this reaso, ESPO asks European policy makers to discuss the implementation of an EU Emission Control Area (SECA and NECA), in close cooperation with all relevant stakeholders.

Furthermore, deployment and use of onshore power supply must be encouraged where possible. However, it must be acknowledged that the corresponding investments both at port and port-grid connection can be costly and often without direct return on investment for the investing port authority. Additionally, the use of OPS by the shipping sector is often hampered by barriers, both in terms of taxation and standards. OPS can also only deliver in terms of environmental performance, if the energy supplied is green. To mitigate these issues, funding must be available and use of OPS should be tax exempted, thus preventing the disadvantage compared to electricity generated on board which enjoys a tax exemption.

Regarding other measures to ensure a sustainable development of ports, ESPO also suggests that they:

  • Must continue to facilitate a close dialogue with the port citizens and local community. Any development of the cruise business should be discussed in an open dialogue with the surrounding community. Cruise ports cannot develop further without the licence to operate of their local community. Issues as tourist saturation/over tourism must be discussed and addressed in close dialogue with the local community in view of finding the right balance between the need to show and share Europe’s heritage and the need to preserve a sustainable and liveable environment for the citizens living in or near these touristic hotspots;
  • Must better explain the added value of the cruise business/industry/sector for the port and the city, and share the knowledge of the sector with the surrounding community and wider public (through the media and new forms of communication). Ports must be fully transparent towards the local community about the economic added value, but also about the environmental and/or societal impact of the sector as well as the way it is going to address those challenges. Ports must show, wherever possible and relevant, more transparency on the externalities generated by cruise activity. They should at the same time promote good practices in place and inform the local community with facts and figures about the real share and impact of cruise tourists compared to the total amount of tourists in a given destination, which contributes to a better understanding of the problem;
  • Realise that they do not function in isolation: a constant dialogue between the cruise ports along one journey and the tourist destinations along that voyage on how to limit externalities is essential. A commonly agreed approach for ports on one journey is essential. A one-fits-all approach on concrete measures for all cruise ports in Europe seems less effective, given the diversity of the sector;
  • Believe sustainability should be at the core of the partnership between cruise lines and cruise ports. Improving the operational understanding and optimising schedules and itineraries can help avoiding congestion and peak hour traffic and improving the passenger experience at the same time. 12. Engage themselves to further exchange, promote and build on the good practices developed in the ESPO Code for Good Practices for Cruise and Ferry Ports.

For more information in ESPO's statement: