Bar Harbor Residents Tell Town Council to Limit Cruise Ships
Bar Harbor, Maine is moving to become the latest popular tourist destination to impose further restrictions on cruise ship visits. The move comes after town residents voiced their concerns over the overcrowding and congestion created by cruise ships during the 2019 season.
The issue of the cruise ships’ impact on the small town has been an ongoing concern as the number of port calls, the size of cruise ships, and the number of passengers arriving each year continued to grow. The local Bangor Daily News reports that there were roughly 170 cruise ship visits in 2019 bringing 270,000 passengers (with no mention of the number of crew) to the small town with a population of just 5,600 people in 2020. The estimates for the 2020 cruise season were for upwards of 200 cruise ship calls with possibly 300,000 passengers before the pandemic caused the cruise industry to suspend operations and Bar Harbor closed its port.
In a meeting Tuesday evening, July 20, the Town Council of Bar Harbor reviewed the results of a resident survey that explored quality of life issues and the impact of the cruise ships. The Town Council decided last fall to retain an independent research company to survey the town residents.
The report on the results of the survey highlighted the perceptions of the 2019 cruise season. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said there were too many days with cruise ships in port in 2019. Two-thirds of the residents also said the average number of cruise ship passengers was “too many” in 2019.
“I think this gives us our marching orders,” the Bangor newspaper reports that Councilor Matthew Hochman said speaking at the meeting after reviewing the survey results. More than half of the residents responding to the survey said that cruise ships are negatively impacting the quality of life in the area.
The research company said in its report that it was targeted 400 to 500 responses to have a statistically accurate sample. However, a quarter of the town residents responded, demonstrating strong feelings toward the cruise ships. A total of 1,378 surveys made up the final data set.
Just over half of all the respondents said they perceive cruise ship tourism as more negative than positive for Bar Harbor. Fully 55 percent of the respondents said that cruise ship tourism detracts, overall, from the image and attraction of Bar Harbor. Participants rated the overall impact of cruise ship tourism on the overall quality of life for Bar Harbor residents lower than that for land-based tourism.
The survey results also identified the top suggestions for managing cruise ship tourism in the future, starting with reducing the number of ships permitted to visit the port each season. Currently, Bar Harbor has no official limits on the number of cruise ships but restricts the number of passengers to between 3,500 and 5,500 depending on the time of year. Residents also recommended reducing the size of the ships in port, and the number of ships per day. To address congestion in the town, they also recommended moving the disembarkation point for the cruise ships’ tenders to a new location. Only 10 percent of residents called for a total ban on cruise ships.
The Town Council decided to host a workshop in August to develop definitive recommendations for the limits on cruise ships and plans to put it on the November 2021 ballot. The limits will be effective for the 2022 cruise season and in the meantime, the Town Council said that any cruise ship booking 2022 visits should be advised that they are tentative subject to the new limits.