Report: Greek Prime Minster Says “Time Has Come” to Restrict Cruise Ships

Cruise ships anchored off Santorini (Patano - CC BY-SA 3.0)

Published Jun 14, 2024 4:21 PM by The Maritime Executive


Greece is reported to be the latest popular tourist destination considering limits or restrictions on the number of cruise visitors to its popular destinations. In an interview with Bloomberg, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said they are thinking the restrictions could start next year causing shockwaves in the cruise industry and sending the price of cruise stocks tumbling after a Wall Street analyst also reported the pricing for cruises had soften in June.

Tourism is a major part of the Greek economy and Greek Island cruising started in the 1950s and has become one of the most popular destinations. Truist Securities writes that Greece saw cruise ship passenger arrivals jump 50 percent in 2023 mostly centered on the popular ports of Santorini and Mykonos. Cruises generally originate in Piraeus or outside Greece, stopping at the popular ports on trips ranging from a few days to a week or more. There is also a strong interisland ferry trade.

Bloomberg cites data from the Hellenic Ports Association reporting that 800 vessels called at Santorini in 2023 carrying 1.3 million visitors. They report that was up 17 percent over 2022. Many visitors to Santorini, where cruise ships must anchor and tender passengers to the volcanic island, report long waits. One of the most popular attractions requires taking a cable car up to the top of the crater with long lines to board the cable car. Santorini nearly a decade ago began to seek controls on cruise ships due to overcrowding and the ships have only gotten larger since then.

The second most popular destination is Mykonos, which is a frequent tourist destination in general. Bloomberg cites 749 cruise ship visits in 2023. They report that was up 23 percent.

Speaking to Bloomberg the Prime Minister speculated that the time has come to place restrictions on cruise ship visits to the most popular islands. He suggested it would start in 2025 and might take the form of restricting the number of berths or establishing a bidding process for cruise lines to gain slots. Bidding already takes place in other destinations such as Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska which restricts the number of cruise ships permitted to enter the park each day.

“While somewhat vague, the news from Greece is clearly not a positive,” writes analyst Patrick Scholes of Truist to their clients. However, he warns that it is “much too early to precisely financially quantify.” The team at Truist estimates that the major cruise lines have an exposure of between 5 and 14 percent to the Eastern Mediterranean. 

The price of cruise line stocks however was off as much as 7.5 percent today after the Bloomberg story. Cruise lines have argued that they can stagger their ships’ arrival times and coordinate schedules not to bunch larger ships at individual ports. The lines have in the past due to geopolitical issues at times been forced to cancel cruises in the Eastern Mediterranean and move ships to other destinations. Also contributing to today's declines in stock prices was a report from Bank of America that found "cruise prices appearing modestly softer in June," raising fears that the industry can not maintain its strong advances in prices and bookings.

Greece joins a growing list of tourist destinations struggling with overtourism and problems ranging from crowded streets to complaints that the ports are overrun with cruise passengers attracting fewer people for the hotels and guesthouses. In Europe, Venice has shifted cruise ships away from the lagoon because of an outcry over damage to the historic buildings blamed on the large ships while cities from Amsterdam to Barcelona have taken steps to move the ships out of the city center. In the U.S., Juneau, Alaska just reached a voluntary agreement with the cruise industry to regulate the number of daily passengers starting in 2026, while destinations ranging from Bar Harbor, Maine to Key West, Florida have also sought to ban large cruise ships.


Top photo by Patano CC BY-SA 3.0