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Cross industry collaboration, focus key to tackling overtourism

Sustainability at SCG19
From left, moderator Thomas P. Illes, cruise analyst, university lecturer and journalist, with Intercruises' Arantxa Garcia, RCL Cruises' Stuart Leven and Hurtigruten's Daniel Skjeldam PHOTO: Michelle Winny
Sustainability sparked a lot of attention at Seatrade Cruise Global this year. During a dedicated session, panelists discussed the impact of growth and the need to take active responsibility for greener practices.

‘We have to focus on sustainability. The mass cruise market is here and we need to address the global impact it is already having,' said Stuart Leven, vice president EMEA & managing director, RCL Cruises.

Away with plastic

Leven considered steps the industry can look to standardise. ‘Plastic straws, let’s all get rid of them,' he remarked. ‘We need to have discussions with the supply chain to explore the price of paper versus plastic. it’s a question of collaboration.'

Perhaps the cruise industry is a victim of its own success, with rapid growth outweighing time to put in place active measures to ensure sustainability.

'We can't continue to dodge the topic'

As Daniel Skjeldam, CEO, Hurtigruten said, ‘We need to discuss sustainability more seriously as it’s not on the agenda enough ... The lack of discussion is becoming a real problem for the industry. It will hit us faster than we think. It will affect cruising and local emissions. We can’t continue to dodge the topic.'

Leven agreed, saying, ‘With the Industry getting bigger, the issues are getting bigger.’

As cruise ships continue to add capacity, overtourism must be addressed, especially following the arrival of Oasis-class ships bringing the risk of overcrowding, Arantxa Garcia, head of sustainability, Intercruises Shoreside & Port Services, said. ‘In order to address the issues of sustainable tourism today all major players need to actively work towards sustainable tourism,' she urged. 'We need to offer our services in a sustainable way to deal with overtourism.’

Staggered arrivals

Breaking down visitor groups into smaller numbers is one solution. ‘We need to spread the proportions, we need to be careful about capacity and collaborate with the ports on how many guests are taking excursions in one place at any one time to prevent gridlock in the city,' Garcia said.

Leven agreed, suggesting staggered arrivals. ‘We need to Invest in local infrastructure to make things easier, but this will only be successful if local government gets involved. We have to work in partnership to find the right solutions,’ he continued.

‘Cooperation on landing sites is needed,' Skjeldam said. 'We need to cooperate to address over-demand and over-burdening popular cities. This can be achieved by using slot times for visiting ships.’

Tour operators' role

Garcia said tour operators should be more involved by getting them to look at how they develop their itineraries. Clients are demanding more sustainable experiences, so tour operators need to manage their trips in a more sustainable way.

Tourism brings considerable economic benefit, but sustainability still needs to be a key consideration in line with financial gain. Skjeldam said: ‘Politicians look at who brings the most value but we need to be realistic about what we bring to the table and how many visitors we offload.' He suggested measures industry can take, such as electric busses to transport passengers.

Leven agreed: ‘We know what’s coming in terms of cruise supply in the next 10 years so we should be able to have conversations about electric busses and ways to use these.’

Tourism taxes

‘Local governments could look to introduce an environmental tax but we need to be proactive or taxes will hit the tourist industry with visitors having to pay more for excursions,’ Skjeldam said.

Garcia agreed that legislation is needed to address issues, adding, ‘tourism taxes will help support sustainability.’ Noting that ‘sustainability is a global phenomenon ... China is ahead of Europe by already using electric busses.’

No short-term fix

But sustainability measures take time. Skjeldam said a massive investment in local infrastructure is needed, and this will be something to tackle over time.

Leven noted investment is going on, and change is happening as the big cruise operators look to invest into local infrastructure. However, the solution is different for every destination.

Discussing examples of investment into sustainable measures, Leven pointed to last year's launch of Symphony of the Seas, world's largest cruise ship, which has a reduced environmental footprint per passenger thanks to technical advances.

Training and information

Knowledge is power when it comes to initiating sustainability efforts. ‘We need to train and inform, we need to start using social media, Instagram, everything to send messages about sustainable efforts on board to educate and improve the perception of sustainability on cruise ships,' Garcia said.

She thinks 'guests have no idea' about the sustainability efforts on board so they need to be informed.

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