Spain’s cruise industry sets new records

Cruise ship tourists on the up.

Image of a cruise ship in the bay of Cartagena. Credit: Paulo Miguel Costa/

In 2023, Spanish ports welcomed a surge in cruise passengers, heralding a notable rebound in tourism.

In 2023, Spanish ports experienced a significant influx of over 12 million cruise passengers. This figure represents a 46.8 per cent increase from the previous year.

Barcelona and the Balearic Islands led the charge, with Cadiz and the Canary Islands also reporting substantial growth.

Navigating towards sustainability

The cruise industry is not just about leisure and tourism, it’s also a major economic force within Spain, with plans to become more environmentally friendly.

With an estimated impact of €9.5 billion, the sector is now steering towards a greener future. Investments exceeding €4.5 billion are earmarked for port enhancements, aiming for a smoother transition to sustainability.

However, this shift isn’t without its challenges. The industry must slash CO2 emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050 to comply with European regulations. This has prompted shipping firms to renew their fleets with eco-friendlier vessels.

Innovation at sea and shore

With 14 new ships set to launch this year, six of which will run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), the industry is embracing alternative fuels. Electrification and digital advancements are also on the agenda, enhancing both environmental and economic sustainability.

Yet, transitioning to these cleaner technologies involves complex infrastructure changes, particularly in ports. Ensuring sufficient electrical capacity for cruise ships, which require between 10 and 20 MW, presents a logistical hurdle.

Balancing growth with sustainability

As cruise tourism grows, so does the concern over its social impact. Overcrowding in destination cities has sparked criticism, highlighting the need for sustainable tourism practices.

The sector must balance its expansion with environmental and societal responsibilities to maintain its growth.

‘It is important to keep in mind that both environmental challenges and those related to ensuring sustainable tourism in cities are linked to the great challenge of this industry: maintaining cruising speed and continuing to add travellers,’ noted the report from La Informacion.

Attracting younger generations while upholding sustainability and profitability remains a pivotal goal for the cruise industry’s future.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.