Go to any dinner party a decade ago, and at least half the table would loudly vow they would never take a cruise holiday.
All that changed when cruise lines created ships with amazing food, sensational entertainment and stunning service that sailed to the most desirable destinations on earth.
Suddenly, even the nay-sayers wanted to know what cruising was all about.
These past few weeks, however, have seen events that put a question mark over the progress that has come from all that hard work.
Protests in Venice and Kiel. Moves to limit cruise ship numbers in many towns and cities from Bergen to Barcelona, because residents complain their daily lives are being disrupted.
Even locally, residents from Tasmania to Kangaroo Island are questioning the benefits of playing host to those aboard cruise ships.
And while some in the industry have their heads in the sand, believing it will all go away, the truth is it is likely to get worse unless something is done.
There are 133 ships currently under construction in yards around the world. And 73 of them will carry over 1,000 passengers. Twenty-one will take on board 5000 guests and another almost 2,000 crew. They will join the 272 ships already on the water.
Thankfully, most executives in charge of an industry going through a rapid growth phase see how easy it would be to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
High spending cruise passengers want authentic experiences on shore as well as great food and shows at sea. Without welcoming destinations, cruise ships will be reduced to floating resorts.
And while, if you’re an accountant, it makes sense to build vessels bigger so you get the economies of scale, it doesn’t necessarily make for a more pleasant experience for passengers or those on shore.
To give you some idea of the scale of the problem, the little town of Hoonah in Alaska is expecting 267,000 passengers off cruise ships this season – a record for this beautiful landscape which has nature as its key selling point. A second dock will drive those numbers up to 400,000.
Yet Hoonah has a population of just 800. And residents are forking out $1.4 million to increase the size of their footpaths so they can walk down their own streets.
Of course, the huge increase in tourism numbers is not entirely due to cruise. The rise of the middle class in China and India and cheap air fares have meant millions more want to tick off the sites on their personal bucket lists.
But, often unfairly, cruise has become the visible embodiment of overtourism.
So in a week that has seen some very public demonstrations against big ships, what is a devoted fan to do?
What you can do about it
Firstly, don’t stop cruising. It’s a wonderful way to see the world and the huge diversity of destinations mean there are many places ready to welcome you and your ship with open arms.
Secondly, choose your cruise with care. Talk to your accredited travel agent about the holiday you want, and make sure you know you’ll be welcome when you get to your destination. We hope reputable agencies will be training staff on alternatives like those in our piece on Mediterranean ports.
Thirdly, support efforts by the likes of Cruise Lines International Association Australasia, who are doing good work bringing local governments together with cruise lines to schedule arrivals and prepare the way.
Consider cruise lines who are working with communities on shore to find ways local businesses can benefit.
And push governments to create sensible sustainable plans where you can.
Venice is a case in point. The people, the cruise lines and the government agree big ships should be anchored outside the city. A Cruise Passenger poll last week showed almost 100% of passengers think so too.
So all we need now is for the Italian government to make it happen.
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