Cruise Ship Sustainability

The Cruise Industry and Sustainability

The cruise has always been a well-loved form of holiday; it’s all inclusive, it’s novel and there has always been a certain romance about it. However, as a form it is not without its critics, and with good reason. Cruise ships have been responsible for devastating marine pollution; cruise companies’ employment practices have bordered on slave trade in some cases, and their concern for the local populations and economies of the locations they visit has been scant. As the UNWTO put in its report on cruise tourism in south-east Asia, the three pillars of sustainable tourism are:

  1. Environmentally friendly practices
  2. Support for protection of cultural and natural heritage; and
  3. Tangible economic and social benefits to local people in host destinations

It is clear that many of the players in the industry have routinely failed on all criteria. Friends of the Earth regularly assesses the major cruise companies, compiles a summary of the findings in tabular format, and it doesn’t make for complementary reading! 

Furthermore, in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, tourism will never be able to return to the status quo ante. We will need to treat the planet with much more respect. Holiday makers will want to know that their holiday is sustainable, and not trashing the planet. Furthermore, those who offer something different will be the ones who will make it.

FoE Cruise Blog
An artist's impression of the new development at Aberdeen Harbour, specifically for cruise ships docking in the city

It needn’t be this way, however. It seems the industry is cleaning up its act. Recycling; not using the ocean as a rubbish tip; even converting to cleaner fuel. As well as this, the potential for onshore benefits is enormous. Aberdeen Harbour, in north-east Scotland, is currently undergoing a £350 million refit in order to accommodate cruise ships. And that’s before the wealthy visitors come and spend their money. If done correctly, it’s a no brainer.


Furthermore, there will always be a certain tension between the various competing interests. Local businesses need the trade mass-tourism brings in order to survive, and a good year can be the difference between a company surviving or declaring bankruptcy: on the other hand, Australia turns away thousands of tourists from its World Record certified whitest beach in the world, who want to spend Christmas there, reflecting local concerns about a locality that can only cope with a few hundred visitors, and Venice limits cruise ships to a maximum of 25, 000 tonnes.

The whole cruise industry will have to completely rethink its entire way of operation if it is to survive. Can it do it?

It will have to. There is a wealth of academic research out there, all pointing to a sustainable future for the cruise industry, including next-generation ships with more environmentally friendly fuel. The ‘Good Tourism Blog’ publishes academic research all pointing to how to reform not just the cruise industry but the entire travel and tourism sector. If it doesn’t embrace the necessary change wholeheartedly, it deserves to go to the wall as the market becomes ever more discerning in the aftermath of the pandemic.

English (UK)