Does cruising need a rethink?

It’s summer. Holiday season has arrived. And this year, the hot holiday is cruising. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 21 new ships are launching in 2019, and a phenomenal 30 million people are expected to take a cruise. That’s 17.8 million more than ten years ago.

But with the high-profile news story of a cruise ship ploughing into a jetty and tourist pleasure boat in Venice earlier this summer, is it time for the cruise industry to slow down? Cruising in Venice has an already tarnished reputation, with the city struggling to cope with the thousands of day-trippers who disembark daily, and a fear for the city’s buildings being able to withstand the impact. Following the crash, Italy’s infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli tweeted, ‘Today’s accident in Venice’s port demonstrates that large ships can no longer sail on the Giudecca canal’.

In fact, Venice has already put a ban on ships over 55,000 tonnes sailing so close to the vulnerable historic island. By 2021, these giants will have to pull up at the less attractive industrial Marghera Port, from where tourists will need to be bussed into Venice. The delayed date is so that building work can be completed to create the necessary infrastructure.

Cruising and sustainable tourism

It is true that many companies are talking a good game about sustainable cruising. Adam Goldstein, global chair of CLIA and vice-chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, said earlier this year, ‘With opportunity comes responsibility, and we are working as an industry to meet those responsibilities. …The cruise sector represents 2% of the overall travel industry, we are a small part of the 1.5 billion individual trips made per year, but we need to play a leadership role in sustainable tourism.’ But is it just hot air?

As this recent news story about Carnival Corporation-owned Princess Cruise Line polluting the sea shows, some companies don’t learn from their mistakes. Back in 2016 Carnival was fined millions of dollars for illegally dumping oil-contaminated waste into the sea. This June they were back in court and, according to the New York Times, were fined an extra $20 million, for violations including discharging plastic into Bahamian waters and falsifying records. The US is the biggest cruise market on the planet, with most cruisers from the States heading for the Caribbean. US attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan said in a statement, ‘A corporation is responsible to its shareholders and board of directors to be profitable, but not by breaking the law and destroying the very environment in which it navigates for profit.’

Achievement travel in cruising

The cruise industry is certainly putting a lot of effort into creating new experiences. Experiential travel has evolved into achievement travel in recent years, and holidaymakers are looking to tick off meaningful bucket-list achievements. Cruises now take you to where you can hop off and hike to see sunrise at Machu Picchu, or complete a language course or cooking diploma while you sail, and there are even music festivals at sea for the Generation Z clientele. Virgin has also announced an all-new cruise line, focusing on a cool Millennial crowd, with modern stylish décor, a laid-back yet sophisticated atmosphere and partying rather than show tunes as entertainment.

One way to go cruising and make sure you’re not impacting the environment is to take a much smaller river cruise. This too, is a massively growing market, with travellers opting for the more personal experience of a boat with say 150 passengers, rather than the more anonymous 2000-strong cruise giants.

We’re glad that cruising and other travel companies are starting to think more seriously about their impact on the places they visit. I urge them to make sure it’s not box ticking, but actual sustainable, safe and non-polluting tourism.

Connect with James Roberts, Progressive Travel Recruitment director and owner, on LinkedIn here.