We can travel on all the seas of the world, from the North Pole to the South Pole, but at what price? Faced with strong growth, the industry is seeking to innovate to limit its impact on the environment and the port cities that host them.
Sailing in the Arctic Circle and living a unique experience at the ends of the world, this is what some ship owners propose. From Greenland to the gates of Russia, many itineraries are available, allowing to observe atypical landscapes.
However, such activities raise environmental problems. This type of transport is in fact very polluting. Between the use of heavy fuel oil, more harmful than diesel, the rejection of sewage water, food, and plastic waste, and obviously air pollution, this form of tourism has a dark side.
Despite that, the market seems to be growing more than ever. In 2019, 30 million tourists were going on a cruise, nearly 70% more than ten years ago, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
But the environmental issue remains. Natural environments, cities, ports, everything is concerned. Pollution from ships, less visible than that from cars, is already contributing to the contamination of port areas. According to the NGO Transport and the Environment made public in early June 2019, in 2017, 47 ships of the American group Carnival (the world's number one cruise company) had released about 10 times more sulfur oxide off the European coast than the 260 million cars in Europe.
At a time of sustainable development and eco-responsible tourism, cruising is therefore a subject of debate.
However, the generalized craze for this type of tourism generates numerous economic spin-offs. In addition to job creation, these trips sometimes prove to be capital for their ports of call, as the influx of tourists favors the local economy and the development of the stopover area.
So what would be the impact of a near-complete shutdown of cruises worldwide?
An almost impossible hypothesis two years ago, the interruption is now more than ever topical. Although it has fared better than the industry in general, the cruise industry has still suffered from the pandemic. Shipowners and related actors have seen, like the travel industry, their revenues greatly reduced. For example, Mauritius, where a quarter of the GDP is linked to tourism, is now experiencing its worst crisis in 40 years.
It is necessary to rethink the future of cruises, for a more environmentally friendly model, without minimizing its potential.
Some companies have opted for a more sustainable development, notably by powering their fleet with less polluting fuels (light fuel oil, liquefied natural gas, electricity, etc.). For example, PONANT, which specializes in very high-end travel, offers a hybrid electric ship powered by LNG. By combining comfort, safety and respect for the environment, PONANT (ship owner)/ cruise company) has adapted its offer to a demanding clientele that is aware of the challenges facing our planet.
In the same vein, the shipowner has partnered with National Geographic to offer its customers an expedition where leisure meets science. Passengers will be able to exchange with an expert (writer, archaeologist, anthropologist, ...) and a renowned photographer wishing to share their passion. This type of trip is therefore as much for leisure as for educational purposes.
Faced with the climatic constraint, the cruise must modernize. In addition to the degradation of the environment, pollution is becoming more and more important in the cities hosting these giants of the sea. Recently, Marseille ended its membership in the Cruise Club because of its growing impact on the city's air. Indeed, when docked, the ships continue to operate and concentrate their emissions at the reception area.
However, solutions are possible or will be soon. Companies such as PONANT or Hurtigruten have already adopted some of them and are now moving towards a form of eco-tourism.
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