A sustainable and responsible cruise industry: Is it mission impossible?

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My summer holidays are over, and I wanted to take a bit of a time to share a little bit about my recent family vacation. For the first time ever, my family and I took a cruise, which travelled around the Baltic Sea and disembarked at six countries in the region.

During the trip, I must admit that I enjoyed the convenience of the cruise ship. The floating hotel granted us the opportunity to unpack, visit various attractions and sites, and return to our beds every night only to wake up in a new destination almost daily. The cruise also allowed me to discover two new destinations, Sweden and Estonia, which I quite enjoyed. In addition, even though I had visited Denmark, Finland, Germany and Russia before, this trip gave me the opportunity to experience these countries as a tourist for the first time. My family and I particularly enjoyed Denmark, as this is where we spent most of our time.  Furthermore, we were extremely lucky with the weather, with clear skies and calm seas the entire time. We all enjoyed a lovely vacation, spending some good quality time together and discovering some wonderful new destinations.


However, the cruise experience left me conflicted. As someone who travels the world promoting the need for a sustainable and responsible travel industry, this trip left me with some questions. As these mega ships are essentially floating cities, I wondered about the enormous amount of fuel required to power them, as well as water, waste, food, and pollution management. I particularly was disturbed by the sheer amount of food available to the guests. This trip also confirmed what I have always suspected before, that approximately 90% of the customers’ expenses were spent on the cruise line and about 10% on shore. So, are the destinations, specifically the SMEs (bars, cafes, restaurants, local tour operators, etc.), really getting their fair share?

As these concerns grew, I started to look for answers. A 2016 environmental sustainability report by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) found that its members have invested more than USD1 billion in new environmental technologies and cleaner fuels over the past decade. A recent study released in 2017 by CLIA found that its members are leading the development of innovative technologies to advance environmental stewardship in the global commercial maritime sector. Even the world’s largest cruise ship operator, Carnival Corporation, annually publishes sustainability reports in an effort to be transparent in their commitment to and progress on improving its sustainability and environmental performance.

While there seems to progress from the industry in reducing their impact on the environment and increasing their positive effect on a destination, maybe then the answer lies with us. Maybe it’s our responsibility as a traveller to make the decision to consider our food consumption habits, our spending habits, and our waste usage. If we take the individual steps first, hopefully, others will follow.

While I don’t have all the answers to this dilemma, if you asked me if I would go on a cruise again I would most likely say yes. However, I would probably make a more conscious decision of choosing a smaller ship that disembarked at each destination for longer periods of time and enquire about their sustainability practices.

It’s more important than ever that we as tourism stakeholders make responsible travel choices, only then can we transform the industry.

Till next time,

Mario Hardy
Chief Executive Officer
Pacific Asia Travel Association