Cruising is everywhere and we’re all at it, though I’m not personally tempted to queue up for one of the 2,747 cabins on the new ‘Harmony of the Seas’. So Tourism Concern’s new members’ briefing on the cruise industry may not be a happy read but it’s certainly a timely one.
The first time Tourism Concern took a hard look at the ethical record of cruise ship companies was way back in the 1990s. It found then that things were grim not just in the bowels of the ships where the crew lived but on land too, in the destinations where passengers disembarked.
So has anything changed? Well, the internet is with us now, which means there’s a lot more information at our fingertips. In fact if you fancy a cruise, going online to choose can feel a bit like going into a sweetie shop. So many treats to suit so many different wishes and pockets! Problem is, if you want to cruise ethically, there’s not a lot in the shop to help make a decision easier. No nice easy ‘fair trade’ products and nothing much on the labels, either, to help you make the decision.
Still, when I did a blog search to see what was around, my browse threw up some surprises. The many blogs that warn you about the downsides of cruising all take the customer’s view point – no surprise there. But determined digging often exposes a well of concern sometimes not too far down among the tourist-centric tips– with mentions of crew conditions and environmental issues. There are also reports of tougher legislation, meaning new cruise ships are far more eco friendly. So that’s some progress there.
What bloggers don’t talk about are destination issues – like the impact on a port of disgorging thousands of passengers – except in terms of ‘excursions are a rip off’ on the one hand and ‘don’t expect to be alone on your ship’s private island’ on the other. Residents of Barcelona could tell them a thing or two about unwelcome cruise ship passengers, as could disappointed and desperate local entrepreneurs, in Falmouth, Jamaica Cruise Law News or any number of places where pre-booked tours pass them by – not only pass them by, but miss out on any real contact with the local culture.
I suppose the other thing that strikes me about today’s hugely varied cruise industry is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the Kerala backwaters, on the Danube or in the Caribbean, the ethical issues are the same, only different in scale. However, small in this sector is definitely more beautiful.
So based on my web crawl I’ve come up with five alternative tips for what to think about before you embark on a cruise booking:
- You get what you pay for! There’s a magic about moving gently on water between new places, and the word ‘cruise’ still has an association with the high life. But the whiff of privileged glamour is an illusion for most people buying into today’s mass market model. If you choose a cheap economy package, you’ll get a cheap economy experience – the websites cite horrors like dud balconies, noisy neighbours, added extras everywhere and thousands of people after your sun lounger.
- Every cruise creates rubbish to get rid of. Even on a small river boat there are waste and pollution challenges to solve. Some companies try hard. Others just say they do. It’s a minefield working out which is which, but try combining ‘cruise’ and ‘pollution’ or ‘eco friendly’ in a search and you’ll quickly find goodies and baddies.
- Water is precious. Whether it’s for swimming pools – like ‘people soup’ according to one website – or water from your cabin tap, it’s all had to be brought on board – and then what ? Finding out could be fascinating but not necessarily pleasant if you come across the ‘black water’ in your ship’s wake, as one blogger did.
- While you’re relaxing, someone down below is working their socks off. What your crew members do for their pay varies enormously depending on vessel size, but here’s a rule of thumb: the bigger the ship, the more employees whose labour rights and conditions will be a world away from yours – and the less likely you’ll get anywhere near to finding that out from the crew themselves.
- The places you disembark at often gain little from your presence. This is the untold story of so many cruise destinations and it’s getting worse as large cruise ship companies work out better ways of capturing clients’ excursion budgets before they set foot on dry land. You need to go to the Tourism Concern briefing paper for more stark stuff on this, and realise that if you believe in engaging with the places you visit, small will be far more beautiful.his is the untold story of so many cruise destinations and it’s getting worse as large cruise ship companies work out better ways of capturing clients’ excursion budgets before they set foot on dry land.
And a sixth tip for luck: think small and new and you’ll be on the right road to an ethical cruising experience!
Thanks to Jim Walker of Cruise Law News and Miquel Hudin for his blog contribution on Barcelona.
Tourism Concern members get Cruise Tourism – What’s below the Surface? free, along with our other reports. Join today.