Key West votes to limit cruise tourism

Key West voters have approved measures to reduce the size of cruise ships that call on the island and the number of passengers that can disembark each day. The new rules will also prioritize ships by health and environmental safety records.

Its unparalleled architecture, history, subtropical climate, ecology and close proximity to Cuba make Key West one of the most desirable destinations in the United States. In fact last year more than 390 cruise ships and nearly 1 million people visited ‘The Southernmost City’. Cruise ships account for 50% of visitors to the island, spending an average of $32 per person.

Earlier this year the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships gathered enough signatures to introduce amendments to the city charter. The amendments will reduce the size of cruise ships that call on Key West and the number of passengers that disembark each day. The Committee argued that large cruise ships pose a serious risk to the health and safety of Key West citizens, cruise ships have a negative impact on the environment and the economic benefit of cruise ships is limited. In fact while cruise ships account for half of the visitors to the island, they only account for 8% of total Key West tourist spending.

During last week’s election residents of Key West were called to vote on three proposals:

  • To limit persons disembarking from cruise ships to a total of 1,500 persons per day
  • To prohibit cruise ships with a capacity of 1,300 or more persons from disembarking
  • To give priority to cruise lines with the best environmental and health records

About 63% voted in favor of limiting the maximum number of cruise passengers per day. 61% voted to prohibit large cruise ships and about about 81% of the voters agreed cruise lines with the best environmental and health records should be given priority.

But while the referendums are binding a legal fight is already in play.

As a result cruise ships with the capacity to carry 1,300 or more persons (passengers and crew) will be prohibited and the maximum number of persons disembarking each day will be limited to 1,500. The new rules will allow for one small cruise ship of 1,300-capacity, or two very small cruise ships of 750-capacity. Cruise lines operating these type of vessels include Azamara, Hapag Lloyd Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, SeaDream, Silversea, Seadream and Windstar.

Opponents claim the new rules will cause a 95% reduction in visits by cruise ships. The Committee however states that the amendments were drafted to increase the number of visits by smaller, ultra-premium cruises.

Prior to the ‘No Sail Order’ Key West was scheduled to receive 29 port calls by 11 qualifying vessels in 2020. The Committee believes that with sufficient outreach and marketing, the vacuum left by large cruise ships will easily be filled.

Also read: CDC issues framework for a safe and responsible resumption of cruise operations

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