Bruges moves to limit cruise ship tourists and daytrippers

Tourists stroll through Bruges' historic centre.
Tourists stroll through Bruges' historic centre. Credit: Nurphoto/Nurphoto

Its winding waterways and exquisite architecture have attracted British tourists for more than a hundred years but now Bruges is taking steps to limit the number of visitors to the medieval Belgian city.

City authorities are stopping advertising and introducing curbs on cruise ships and holiday homes in a bid to keep the “Venice of the North” tolerable for local residents and preserve the Flemish city’s charm.

Bruges mayor Dirk De fauw said, “We have to control the influx more if we don't want it to become a complete Disneyland here."

8.3 million tourists poured into Bruges last year, a surge of 900,000 visitors compared to 2017. 6 million were day-trippers who stayed in Bruges for just two to three hours. many of them from cruise ships moored at the nearby port of Zeebrugge

In the last two weeks of 2018, there were 50,000 to 60,000 tourists packing out Bruges’ narrow streets or floating on its iconic canals. At peak times, visitors can outnumber Bruges residents three to one.

Bruges became one of the world’s first international tourist destinations in the last half of the 19th Century, attracting wealthy British and French holidaymakers, and set up its first tourist association in 1909. But now it seems enough is enough.

Hordes of tourists descend on Bruges.  Credit: Getty Images Europe 

City authorities plan to limit the number of cruise ships that can be moored at the port to two at any one time. The port can normally handle up to five ships, which will also be encouraged to visit on weekdays rather than weekends.

Bruges will no longer advertise in other Belgian tourist destinations such as Brussels or in hotels in a bid to curb the footfall. The city is following the example of Amsterdam which recently halted spending on publicity after becoming swamped with tourists.

“There are posters in other Flemish cities saying come to Bruges. That is really not necessary,” Mr De fauw told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper.

“You can ask yourself if we need posters at Brussels airport. Those people have probably already booked their hotel, perhaps in a different city. Do you still have to lure them to Bruges?"

 

Bruges' iconic canals have led to it being nicknamed the "Venice of the North". Credit: Education Images /Universal Images Group Editorial 

The mayor insisted that Bruges was not full. He said, “There are certainly calmer periods here and the hotels are not full all year round.

“But we have to aim for quality tourism, people who stay here for a few days, eat well, visit museums. Not the large crowds that are taken here by bus for three hours and then return to their cruise ship."

The city already has enforced a ban on new hotels and on locals in the city centre renting out their houses as holiday homes. City authorities are now looking to extend the holiday home ban to the suburbs as well.

Bruges will also ask the Flemish government for help in introducing a ban on “monotonous tourist shops” in a bid to preserve some of the city’s character and diversity on the high street.  The ban could prevent, for example, an umpteenth chocolate shop opening in the city centre.

The mayor also vowed he would rebuff repeated request to allow organised kayaking or extra large boats to tour the city’s canals.

Stef Gits from Tourism Flanders said that Bruges was not facing the same tourist nuisance conditions as Barcelona, Amsterdam or Dubrovnik in Croatia.

But he conceded that the focus should be on tourists “who want to invest time in their destination” rather than daytrippers or cruise ship tourists.