by Emma Featherstone, The Telegraph, January 9, 2019
Cruise passengers are often singled out when discussing overtourism. Thousands pour off the largest ships and most stay in each port for less than a day. They can be seen as contributing little to the local economy, perhaps buying only a coffee or snack while ashore.
Now the city of Amsterdam has implemented a tourist tax that will specifically target cruise visitors. Tourist levies usually apply to overnight stays and are included in a hotel, B&B or Airbnb bill, therefore bypassing cruise visitors. But from January 1 Amsterdam has charged a tax to all in transit cruise passengers – those who arrive and leave by ship. Cruise operators pay the cost of €8 per person for visitors staying 24 hours or less, which is passed onto customers.
Those who embark or disembark their cruise in Amsterdam will not be charged.
Two cruise lines, Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) and MSC Cruises, have decided to replace or cancel stops in the city as a result of the tax. CMV pointed in particular to the late notice given, with the new tax only confirmed in November 2018.
CMV’s CEO Christian Verhounig said in a statement: “Stringent cost controls and long-term planning are key components in achieving the required CMV pricing model. The late introduction of these new and un-phased charges are therefore not budgeted and simply cannot be absorbed.”
He added: “The local politicians have failed to acknowledge or understand that the cruise industry plans their budgets two to three years ahead and have been unwilling to look into a proper implementation schedule. Fortunately, we have mobile assets and when forced by short-term political objectives, can change our programming.”
CMV has decided to cancel most of its scheduled calls to Amsterdam in summer 2019 and 2020. Thirty calls by its ship Columbus and seven by Magellan will be replaced by a stop in Rotterdam, affecting 50,000 passengers.
CMV does not expect to make similar replacements for other ports that could be planning new or additional tourist taxes.
Mr Verhounig added: “We are very pleased to have strong partnerships and productive dialogues in place around the world so that issues such as this do not occur elsewhere.”
When asked by Telegraph Travel, MSC declined to comment. But Gianluca Suprani, head of global port development and shore activities at MSC, previously told Seatrade Cruise that his company had decided to withdraw calls in Amsterdam in 2019.
He said: “We decided to pull our business in 2019 and as a result Amsterdam city stands to lose between €50-100 per passenger in respect of potential spend.”
The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA UK and Ireland) said that it and its members were disappointed that the City of Amsterdam had introduced a day tourist tax.
Andy Harmer, director of CLIA UK & Ireland said: “Transit cruise passengers represent only one per cent of the total tourist traffic in Amsterdam and last year the City of Amsterdam received over €60 million in net revenues from the Port of Amsterdam as a result of cruise calls to the city.
“In comparison the remaining 99 per cent of the tourist traffic are expected to contribute via all tourist taxes, just short of €80 million in 2019. It is self-evident that the contribution of cruise passengers is extremely disproportionate.”
Mr Harmer reiterated that the two-month planned implementation time was far too short. He said: “Tickets for cruises are typically sold one to two years in advance and some companies may not be in a position to absorb this additional cost, and as a consequence there is a real risk of call cancellations, which could result in a budget deficit of several million euros for the City of Amsterdam as a result of reduced fees collected by the Port of Amsterdam.”
Amsterdam is not the only popular cruise destination to test out day tourist taxes. Venice has recently announced a daily charge of €10 per head, which would be added to a cruise passenger's ticket price.
Meanwhile, in 2017, the Catalan government updated its tourist tax to include cruise passengers staying less than 12 hours in the port of Barcelona at a charge of €0.65 per person. This followed a tax introduced in 2012 that included a €2.25 charge for cruise passengers staying longer than 12 hours in port.
Tourist taxes are not the only means by which popular ports have dealt with overcrowding that is exacerbated by cruise passengers. In 2017, for example, Dubrovnik’s mayor Mato Franković implemented a strategy to cap the number of cruise visitors in the city at any one time. In the same year, government officials in Venice announced that cruise ships of over 55,000 tonnes would be banned from sailing past St Mark’s Square – the ban will come into effect by 2021.
According to CLIA, cruise companies have already voluntarily agreed not to send ships bigger than 96,000 tonnes to Venice, steadily reducing the number of cruise passengers visiting the city since 2014.