Majority says cruise ships are bad for Bar Harbor, according to survey

BAR HARBOR — A survey of Bar Harbor residents and business owners found that more than half of the respondents felt that cruise ship tourism had a negative overall impact on the town. 

Fifty-five percent of the 1,378 people who responded to the survey indicated that they perceive cruise ship tourism as more negative than positive for the town, while 35 percent felt the opposite, according to a summary of the results. 

Fifty-three percent of the respondents rated the impact of cruise-ship tourism as an overall negative on the quality of life for Bar Harbor residents. Sixty-three percent of respondents felt that the 2019 cruise ship season, the last season that had a full schedule, included too many days with cruise ships, and 66 percent felt that the average number of cruise ship passengers was “too many” in 2019. 

Pan Atlantic Research, which conducted the survey, said there was broad agreement across year-round residents, seasonal residents and business owners on the top suggestions for improving the management of cruise ship tourism, the most popular of which was reducing the number of overall ships. 

The sight of cruise ships in Frenchman Bay, and the number of additional visitors they bring to the island, has been one of the hottest issues in Bar Harbor. The Town Council commissioned the survey to give it hard data to look at future management.  

Representatives from the research firm met with the council on Tuesday to go over the data. The council, after debating about the best route forward, decided to schedule a workshop on Aug. 2 on the future of cruise ships. 

“I’m hoping we as a council can make those decisions and suggestions to solve these problems and make the vast majority of this town happy,” said Chairman Jeff Dobbs. 

The waterfront is small and the town is heavily trafficked. Dobbs foresaw the town moving to shrink the presence of cruise ships in town. 

“I think cruise ship reduction is inevitable,” he said. 

The council also voted to direct the harbormaster to designate any new cruise ship reservations as tentative.  

At the workshop, councilors will bring targets for their ideal number of ships, number of passengers, maximum ship size, number of days cruise ships come to town per week and potential anchorage sites. 

Of the 1,378 survey responses, 985 (71.5 percent) identified as year-round residents who aren’t business owners, 207 (15 percent) were seasonal residents, 93 were resident business owners, 65 were non-resident business owners and 28 did not answer the question. 

Pan Atlantic was hoping to get at least 400-500 completed responses to get a good enough sample size. With the voluminous response to the survey, the company said it had a 95 percent confidence level, plus or minus two percent, in the results. 

“This is a very high response level to a survey of this nature given the size of the overall target population,” the company wrote. 

The demographics of the respondents tended toward older and affluent. The largest age group was 65 and older, clocking in at 37.6 percent of the respondents. The next largest was 55-64, with 24.4 percent of the respondents. The most populated income group was households that make $100,000 or more, coming in at 30.8 percent of respondents. Nearly 24 percent of the survey takers did not answer that portion of the survey. A plurality also said that their education had progressed as far as post-graduate work. 

Pan Atlantic was commissioned by the town in January to research the sentiment in town around sea-based tourism. The results were released on Friday afternoon. Cruise ships were absent last year with the pandemic, and only one small domestic ship has sailed into Bar Harbor this year. 

Ships are booked all the way out to 2030 with about 150 scheduled to come in 2022.  

To view the survey results, go to 

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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