Bar Harbor to Explore Limiting Future Cruise Ship Visits

Bar Harbor explores bans on cruise ship visits for 2021
Bar Harbor, Maine (CC BY 2.0 / Smudge9000)

Published Nov 19, 2020 7:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

Bar Harbor, Maine, a popular seasonal destination for cruise ships became the latest port to raise the idea of limiting future cruise ship visits. As part of an ongoing debate, the Bar Harbor Town Council voted on November 17 to take steps to potentially limited cruise ships in 2021. The residents of Key West, Florida took a similar action approving referendums on their November ballot.

Growing from the ongoing concerns over COVID-19, the town council in an electronic meeting discussed the question of how to handle cruise ships in 2021 and beyond. The discussion centered on the current concerns regarding the virus, but also encompassed the broader financial contribution and impact to the community from the cruise ship industry.

Cruise ships regularly call at the popular tourist destination in Maine. In 2020, the town expected approximately 200 cruise ship visits ranging from some of the mega-cruise ships to smaller coastal vessels. The city had the potential to receive more than 300,000 passengers throughout the season, which traditionally starts in the spring and intensifies in the fall. Cruise passengers, it is estimated contribute more than $20 million annually to the Maine economy. 

With more than 150 cruise ships having already requested port calls for 2021, the council agreed that it would be important to make decisions to provide the cruise lines time to respond. However, the positions on the appropriate actions varied with some members arguing that business was down as much as 80 percent due to the lack of the cruise ships this year while others disagreed pointing out that land-based tourists have a much greater economic contribution than cruise passengers.

While the town council voted to defer any actions until into the new year, they also approved a motion for the town’s cruise ship committee to explore a potential cap on the annual number of cruise ships. The cruise ship task force regularly advises the town council on matters related to cruise ships ranging from fees to water quality.

It is not the first time that the Bar Harbor Town Council has moved to bar cruise ships. In April 2020, early in the pandemic, they voted to close to the port until July 1 for cruise ships. Then in July, with American Cruise Lines proposing to restart cruises with its coastal ships, the town council voted to extend the ban for the remainder of the year.

Bar Harbor’s action follows Key West, Florida, where residents in November voted on binding resolutions. They approved measures to ban cruise ships with a capacity of greater than 1,300 people from docking in Key West and to cap daily visitors from the cruise ships, crew, and passengers, at no more than 1,500. Also, the residents voted to give priority to those cruise lines with the best environmental track records.

Famously in 2003, officials in Monterey, California became one of the first US destinations to ban cruise ships due to environmental issues. In the past few years, there have been similar initiatives in Venice, Italy seeking to prohibition most or all large cruise ships from the bay. As cruise ships have grown larger and increased in number, a range of groups has emerged calling for limits or prohibitions on the industry.