With 40,000 cruise ship tourists set to descend on Edinburgh in August, we need to talk about their pros and cons – Stephen Jardine

So-called ‘hit and run tourism’ is one reason why Venice has moved to cut cruise ship visits

On a windswept morning, a group of intrepid explorers stepped ashore to be greeted by strange indigenous music. This could have been the south seas two centuries ago but it was actually in Edinburgh earlier this week. The passengers were some of the 900 aboard the ship Viking Venus, berthed in the Forth. As they stepped ashore at Newhaven Harbour to the sound of the pipes, they joined the increasing number of cruise-liner holidaymakers stopping off to visit Scotland’s capital.

Yesterday the Silver Shadow delivered 500 passengers to Edinburgh, today the Viking Mars arrives with 930 and tomorrow over 700 will come on the Seven Seas Voyager. During August, a total of 25 ships will bring nearly 40,000 visitors here. They are coming because Edinburgh is one of the greatest cities in the world but also because some other places don’t want them.

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In the latest move to clamp down on mass tourism, Amsterdam this week banned ships from the city centre cruise terminal. Local politicians said the boats were not in line with the city’s sustainable ambitions. One compared passengers descending on the city to a “plague of locusts”.

Alongside tourists, cruise ships bring big environmental challenges. As a form of transport, they are one of the worst when it comes to climate impact with some burning 250 tonnes of fuel a day, producing a carbon footprint greater than 12,000 cars. On top of that, there’s the air and water pollution and the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

The cruise ship operators will point to the economic benefits they bring to a city. Let’s examine that. Since passengers sleep and mostly eat on the boat, they impact resources and infrastructure but actually contribute relatively little to the economy compared to overnight visitors.

This so-called ‘hit and run tourism’ is one of the reasons Venice has also moved to cut cruise ship visits. “It’s not the type of tourism we want for the city,” said one local councillor.

So who does benefit? Apart from a few tour companies who’ve sewn up the contracts to collect visitors from Newhaven and a smattering of gift shops and the all-powerful Forth Ports, the answer is not many people at all.

That doesn’t mean we should turn off the tap. Other cities would be more than happy to take the visitor influx Edinburgh receives from cruise ship tourism. But nor does it mean that it can continue to grow unchecked. Scotland’s capital is already a tourism hotspot. The arrival of the huge cruise ships is a relatively new phenomenon dating back to the recent dredging of Newhaven Harbour to accommodate tender boats dropping off passengers.

Post-pandemic, all visitors to Edinburgh have been welcome as tourism gets back on its feet. But moving forward we need to decide what role we want cruise ships to play. A ban like the one in Amsterdam is a drastic step. Far better to have an open conversation and consultation about their environmental impact and the demands they place on resources and infrastructure set against their limited economic benefit.

That might mean a cap on the number or the size of the ships but the alternative, to leave this to market forces and a few vested interests, can only be bad for the city and its citizens.



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