A daily cap could limit the number of cruise arrivals in Santorini

One of Europe’s most popular cruise destinations – Santorini – will see a daily cap of 8,000 passenger arrivals gradually implemented in an effort to curb natural damage to the islands caused by the sheer weight of numbers, authorities say.

In response to research conducted by the University of the Aegean, a rationing system will also work to manage the island’s efficiency to ensure guests are welcomed and served quickly. It will also aim to spread out numbers using specified parameters, capping numbers on popular days and making room for more on the quieter days.

The study into the issue found residents of Santorini are aware of the issue, particularly the uneven flow of passengers which often sees large numbers congregate at the lower dock as they move between the shore and their ship, wandering among merchants and restaurants.

Pedestrians wander the laneways of Santorini.
Pedestrian thoroughfares in Santorini are quite narrow and can get super busy during the peak season.

According to data from the Hellenic Port Association, published on ekathimerini.com, Santorini catered to 636 port calls from cruise ships in 2015, carrying 790,000 passengers in total. The figure put the island well on top as the most popular Greek cruise destination ahead of Athens. In the peak May-October season, Santorini made up 90% of the total Greek arrival figure with a daily average of 3.6 cruise ships and an average of 4,000 guests disembarking. On the busiest days, the island saw more than 10,000 guests coming ashore.

Around 40% of passengers disembarking in Santorini did so on an organised shore excursion, most of which end up at the main part of the island and often in the afternoon. This compared to a 30% average on other Greek destinations such as Mykonos or Crete.

The daily cap will be implemented and enforced gradually over the remainder of this year, authorities added, acknowledging that cruise lines plan their itineraries months and even years in advance, necessitating a need to be flexible. The island will work closely with cruise lines to spread arrivals over a longer period in order to meet the cap without causing any undue stress on local tour operators or preventing guests from coming ashore.

MSC Orchestra and Costa Mediterranea visit Santorini on the same day.
MSC Orchestra and Costa Mediterranea sit together in Santorini and are among regular visitors to the island.