More and more people are going on a cruise – whether on small ships around Scotland or the gigantic new cruise ships that dominate the Caribbean seas. But is this form of tourism ethical and sustainable? Is it acceptable ethically to take a cruise?
Below are some issues for you to consider. You can read about these in more detail by downloading Cruise Tourism – What’s below the Surface? in our Reports section.
The cruise tourism industry grew rapidly during the 1990s and even more in the first two decades of this century. The industry forecast 16 million passengers in 2011, a 6.6% increase over 2010, and expects to carry 30 million clients in 2019. In the UK the luxury cruise market seems to have remained immune to the recession and the mass market continues to grow.
Although not all cruises are the same, it is fair to say that mass market cruise ships have a poor record on worker rights, significant environmental impacts and bring few benefits to the destination communities – often leaving waste and pollution behind and culturally overwhelming smaller destinations. Cruise ships not only transport passengers from point A to B, but also include the provision of entertainment within a self-contained environment. Some cruise ships can take 6000 passengers and have at least the same number of staff – these ships are not so much floating hotels, but closer to floating towns – floating artificial edifices that offer passengers a wide range of activities such as discos, swimming pools, gambling and musical shows and spas.
Tourism Concern has been campaigning for better working conditions in the tourism industry for many years. Employment rights are included in the human rights agenda: everyone is entitled to a decent wages, fair contracts and safe working conditions. Most cruise ships operate under Flags of Convenience which means companies registering their ships in countries with poor employment protection. You can read more about this disturbing situation in our Ethical Travel issues section.
Do cruise ships benefit destinations? The cruise ship industry is the largest economic sector in the Caribbean and Central America, highlighting the potential of the industry to become an engine of economic development. However, we are concerned that cruise ships represent the ultimate all -inclusive holiday with few if any benefits flowing to the destination communities. Cruise ships often stock up before they set off and purchase little local food or supplies. Tourists spend very little in the destinations and shore excursions are organised by the cruise ships, who take most of the profit. Cruise lines are doing their best to maximise the money spent on board while minimising their time in port. According to a report by the Travel Foundation, an average spending on an island excursion is £40 and not all passengers disembark. Another factor is that all meals are included on board as well as entertainment, encouraging minimal tourist expenditure on land. In Costa Rica for example, surveys indicate that passengers’ expenditure on land ranges from US$28-36 . Moreover, most of the disembarkation points are controlled by transnational chains or local elites, who already have agreements in place with local tour suppliers, making the suppliers highly dependent on their contractual conditions.Another strategy emerging is for cruise lines to either buy or lease their own islands bays or beaches, therefore avoiding docking fees and head taxes and generating the least possible benefit to local economy. According to Professor Ross Klein,”the irony is that cruise companies, because they are foreign registered, pay virtually no corporate tax”.
The cost of running a sustainable cruise ship industry is seldom approached from the destination point of view. Ships tend to carry all supplies on board, despite the availability of food locally. Costa Rica,for example, is the major exporter of bananas and other fruits in the Caribbean, yet does not benefit from the purchasing power of the cruise ship trade. Companies argue that buying locally is too costly – prices are too high. Meanwhile the economic cost to small island nations catering to the cruise market seems not be be of relevance. Destinations live with the constant threat of being excluded from itineraries so have to keep investing or adapting themselves to the cruise ship market requirements.
The cruise industry has been ignoring its responsibility for a long time. Three of the four largest cruise lines have been convicted of abusing US environmental laws since 1998 and cruise lines have paid more than $90 million in fines over the past decade for illegal dumping. However, some companies claim that they are implementing environmental standards by using alternative ways to reduce engine emissions related to ocean-going vessel hotelling in port – although their effectiveness has not yet been proven in practice. The world’s largest cruise company Carnival was ranked in the bottom 20 ethical companies in the Observer’s Good Companies Index in 2007.
The environmental issues with cruise ships are
- Carbon emissions
- Diesel particles
- Waste and rubbish
- Damage to reefs and ecosystems
Cruise ships emit more carbon per passenger kilometre than flying, even taking into account the extra damage that emissions cause at high altitude. This may seem surprising; however cruise ships are floating hotels, so will use energy for laundry, water treatment and employ considerably more staff than an airline. According to a report made by the Climate Outreach Information Network, The Queen Mary II emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile as opposed to 0.257kg for a long haul flight. According to the Telegraph, Carnival, in its environmental report state that that its ships, on average, release 712.kg of CO2 per kilometre; based on an average of 1776 passengers this equates to each passenger being responsible for 401g of CO2 per kilometre. This is 36 times greater than the carbon footprint of a Eurostar passenger and more than three times that of someone travelling on a standard Boeing 747 or a passenger ferry. To make matters worse many passengers fly to the cruise departing point as well, increasing carbon emissions further. Ships not only emit CO2 but are also responsible for an estimated 1.2 million to 1.6 million metric tons of tiny airborne particles each year. These particles have been linked to premature deaths worldwide and according to a study from 2007 are believed to cause heart and lung failures. An article in the New Scientist claims that such pollution from ships kills at least 60,000 people each year.
In addition to airborne pollution cruise ships also produce a great deal of waste and rubbish. It is estimated that every passenger produces 3.5 kilograms of rubbish daily as opposed to 0.8 kilograms generated by people on shore. A typical cruise ship with 3000 passengers will also generate 30,000 gallons of human waste and 255,000 gallons of grey water a day. In addition there can be 15 gallons of toxic waste and 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water produced every day. Although cruise ships are required to have onboard waste treatment systems, they can lawfully release black water anywhere beyond three miles from the shore (except in certain areas of Alaska). Grey water (from washing up, laundry etc) can be discharged into the sea almost anywhere. Ships also produce vast amounts of ballast water containing diseases, pathogens and invasive species which is often discharged into fragile ecosystems. Cruise ships are also accused of damaging reefs. According to Ocean Planet, there are 109 countries with coral reefs, in 90 of which coral reefs have been damaged by anchors and sewage. Tourists also often damage reefs either directly, by breaking off corals, or indirectly by purchasing commercially harvested pieces of coral.
Cruising is a growing trend and although it brings some benefit to destinations, the reality in most cases is that ships convey large numbers of low value passengers, who have limited time for meaningful cultural exchange and leave behind large amounts of rubbish and pollution. The large cruise ships have an enormous ecological impact and notoriously poor working conditions. Additionally many destinations have become highly dependent on this form of tourism which can inhibit the development of other, more sustainable forms of tourism. If you are looking for a Better Holiday – a holiday where you experience the real community and the community gets real benefits as a result – a cruise ship holiday is probably not the right choice.
- http://www.economist.com/node/110042 http://www.economist.com/node/15501665
- The Mintel Press Release (May 2012) http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/press-releases/865/young-brits-set-sail-for-cruise-holidays-40-considering-taking-a-cruise http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=161931601
- http://www.adn.com/2012/09/27/2642632/egypt-tourism-takes-a-hit-from.html#storylink=misearch http://www.allbusiness.com/environment-natural-resources/pollution/12330444-1.html#axzz27lSmsqsS
- http://newtimes.org/issue/0307/cruise.htm http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/consumers/cruise-crime.html Klein, R. (2002)
- High seas, low pay. Working on Cruise Ships http://ebookbrowse.com/high-seas-low-pay-ross-klein-article-doc-d283442235 Pattullo, P. (1996)
- Last Resorts: The Cost of Tourism in the Caribbean. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1996. Douglas, N. And Douglas Norman (1999) Cruise Consumer Behaviour, a comparative study (chapter 17) cited in: Pizam, A. and Mansfeld, Y. (1999) (eds) Consumer behaviour in travel and tourism. Binghamton Haworth Hospitality Press.
- Seidl, A., Guiliano F. and Pratt, L. (2006) Cruise Tourism and community economic development in America and the Caribbean: The case of Costa Rica. Revista Pasos Online (Vol 4) Number 2: 213-224.
- Responsible Travel Website http://www.responsibletravel.com/copy/how-responsible-are-cruise-liners http://www.travelagentcentral.com/cruises/silverseas-operation-crossroads-campaign-targets-us-retail-agencies-36973
- United Nations World Travel organisation (UNWTO) http://www2.unwto.org The Climate Outreach Information Network http://coinet.org.uk/
- The Florida Caribbean Cruise Association http://www.f-cca.com/downloads/2011-overview-book_Cruise%20Industry%20Overview%20and%20Statistics.pdf The International Council of Clean Transportation http://www.theicct.org/marine
- The Travel Foundation http://www.thetravelfoundation.org.uk/
- The World Cruise Industry Review. Raising Retention. Available online : www.worldcruiseindustryreview.com Travel Mole http://www.travelmole.com/news_feature.php?news_id=2003197&c=setreg®ion=2
- Murray,T.J. (2005) The impacts of Cruise ship tourism on Local economies.
- Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Available online http://www.csc.noaa.gov/cz/CZ05_Proceedings/pdf%20files/MurrayT.pdf
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