A new challenge seems to be emerging in the world of tourism. The cruises, which once symbolized luxury and relaxation, are now a source of concern for several cities in Flanders and Brussels. The Flemish Minister of Tourism, Zuhal Demir, recently put this problem on the agenda with a confrontational statement tweet: 'We must dare to redesign cruise tourism.' The minister noted that the balance between the environment and acceptance by the local population seems far to be lost.
In a study presented in De Morgen, VISITFLANDERS investigated the impact of cruise tourism in Flanders and Brussels. While this form of tourism may not be the largest source of income, it appears to be a major contributor to pollution. Demir, together with Tourism Flanders, intends to enter into dialogue with the affected cities to address this issue.
Bruges, one of the cities most affected by cruise tourism, sees the need for this discussion. Mieke Hoste, the Alderman for Tourism, is calling for better control of mass tourism. She notes that before Covid-19 there was no restriction on the number of cruise ships. But since 2019 it has been decided that only two sea cruise ships are allowed to dock in Zeebrugge at the same time. However, this measure seems insufficient now that tourism is recovering. Hoste warns of the consequences if twice 8.000 tourists come to the city center at the same time for just a few hours.
It is clear that a deeper rethinking of cruise tourism is needed in Flanders and Brussels. This complex problem requires a balanced solution that takes into account both the economic interests of tourism and the concern for the environment and the well-being of the local population.
Interestingly, Antwerp sees no problem, unlike Ghent and Bruges. Two years ago, Koen Kennis, alderman for Tourism and party member of Demir, unveiled another new cruise terminal near Het Steen, in the historic center of the city. Kennis defends that decision by stating: “We are a maritime city, and we appreciate that atmosphere on the quayside. I have never seen anyone sad at the sight of such a boat, on the contrary. The people of Antwerp are satisfied with cruise tourism in their city.”
Brussels is not yet concerned about increasing tourism. Alderman Delphine Houba (PS) says: “Brussels and Bruges cannot be compared. There is no mass tourism in Brussels. The number of visitors from abroad is increasing, but the city still has enough capacity to welcome tourists.”
The subject is also on the agenda of D66 in Amsterdam. “It is high time to ban cruise ships from the city, and thus put an end to the floating apartment buildings in our city. The daily air pollution from one cruise ship in port is equivalent to 31.000 trucks driving around the ring.” Party chairman and council member D66 Amsterdam, Ilana Rooderkerk and D66 councilor Rob Hofland shout in De Telegraaf up at to say goodbye from the cruise ship terminal.