The floating hotels in front of the picturesque old town of Venice ended on August 1. To protect the fragile ecosystem of the World Heritage site, Italy has banned large cruise ships in the historic part of the lagoon. This is yet another shock absorber for the already rocked cruise industry – and at the same time, it should be a wake-up call. If shipping companies are to survive, they have to change fundamentally and finally take sustainability seriously.
Currently, the image of the cruise industry is seriously tarnished. Even before the pandemic, many people in coastal areas complained about the liners, which caused towns to be overcrowded but hardly any local sales when they made it ashore. And many travelers still have the images of early 2020 in mind: Due to corona outbreaks on board, several cruise ships with thousands of passengers have been quarantined for days, others have been turned back. ports and had to anchor elsewhere.
For decades the industry has only grown, with cruises evolving from a luxury item to a mass commodity. In recent years, shipping companies have significantly expanded their fleets. While in 1995 only around 300,000 passengers from Germany vacationed on a cruise ship, in 2019 there were already 3.7 million. It’s only since the start of the pandemic that cruise lines have struggled to fill their ships.
The current crisis is good news for the climate. Whether the ships run on heavy fuel oil, marine diesel or liquefied gas: their CO2 emissions are enormous. In 2019, according to calculations by Andreas Humpe, professor at the Faculty of Tourism at the University of Applied Sciences in Munich, it was 23.6 million tonnes. In addition, there were approximately 490,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides, 230,000 tonnes of sulfur and 14,000 tonnes of particulate matter. These are projections based on figures published by the two largest cruise lines Carnival Cruises and Royal Caribbean in their sustainability reports.
Customers are increasingly aware of sustainable development
Many cruise enthusiasts now realize that the way they travel is harmful to the environment. The corona pandemic has made people think. In surveys, many indicate that they want to plan fewer but better vacations in the future and are also willing to pay more for them. It is important to seize this opportunity. As Alexander Ewig, director of marketing and sales for Aida, admits, customers are now asking what cruise lines are doing for the environment. “Today, sustainability is an issue in every sales pitch,” said Ewig.
At the moment, however, shipping companies are not trying to inspire their customers with compelling sustainability concepts. Rather, they are trying to lure people on board with low prices. But this is wrong, because it will accustom your audience to prices that are neither profitable nor sustainable in the long term.
It will be years before the first truly climate neutral cruise ship hits the market. But this ambitious goal must never be lost sight of. Suppliers should systematically invest in the development of climate-friendly drive technologies. LNG drives with liquefied natural gas as fuel, which are currently being celebrated as a climate-friendly revolution, by no means guarantee a green cruise, they are transitional technology at best. The future lies in high performance batteries, fuel cells and engines running on synthetic fuels from renewable energies. At the same time, many more modern shore power systems could already be built today to supply ships with electricity from renewable energy, at least in ports. In addition, shipping companies should strive to keep their ships’ noise emissions in port cities as low as possible and, together with cities, develop smart concepts that ensure their guests do not become a nuisance when they disembark. .
In order to be able to make these investments, the industry needs money. That is why there is no way around higher prices. These are already late. It may not be that a boat trip today is sometimes cheaper than a vacation in a bourgeois hotel on earth. Ultimately, cruising must become what it was: a luxury product.