Finding the balance for ‘sustainable’ cruise excursions

Quiet and harmonious landscapes, remote beauty spots, cultural cities and towns, traditional buildings and historic sites … all are much sought after by the world’s cruise lines, seeking unique experiences for their passengers.

But this raises a dilemma, delegates at a Cruise Gateway conference heard: how can those sites, whether fragile buildings or sensitive countryside, be protected from the damage that can be caused by too many visitors? How can a beautiful, peaceful landscape (and its residents) cope with the influx of thousands of visitors and still retain its character and special qualities, for now and for the future?

The issues were considered in depth at the conference, entitled ‘Sustainable Shore Excursions’, organised as part of the European Union project Cruise Gateway North Sea. Hosted by Cruise Destination Hardangerfjord (Norway), the programme featured speakers from both cruise lines and cruise destinations.

Hardangerfjord’s five small ports will receive 122 cruise calls this year, carrying about 175,000 cruise passengers – 70,000 more than last year, said Anved Johan Tveit, mayor of Eidfjord. In a move to protect this sensitive environment, a limit has been imposed of no more than 4,000 passengers in Eidfjord in one day.

“Our profile is harmony in association with great nature – no congestion or mass tourism,” he said. “Our nature and cultural heritage are too valuable to be spoiled by a large number of tourists every day. But, at the same time, we are proud of our attractions – so our aim is a balance between use and protection.”

If Hardangerfjord is to remain a tourism destination for the future, he added: “We have to find a way to preserve the landscape and culture, the main reasons for visiting us.”

Ingunn Sørnes, of Innovation Norway, described the country’s strategy of sustainability as a baseline for all tourism development.  A system of ‘Sustainable Destination’ certification has attracted international interest, she added. This is based on the criteria of nature, culture and environment; social values; and economic viability, all re-certified every three years.  “We may need extra criteria for cruise destinations, because of the special challenges there,” she said.

Cruise Norway managing director Wenche Nygård Eeg discussed the importance of protecting Norway as the world’s best nature-based cruise destination. Key actions included setting upper limits on passenger numbers in order to spread the traffic, and respecting heritage and authentic culture, she said. However, a ‘sustainable’ shore excursion had to be a profitable one, she emphasised.

From the cruise industry, Gela Gudlat of AIDA Cruises and Samantha Richardson of Carnival UK both gave their views on how the cruise industry was working to achieve environmental protection and balance, from ‘greener’ ships to ‘greener’ excursion ideas.

“We as a cruise operator depend on intact nature and clean seas, fresh air and clean beaches,” said Gela Gudlat.

Samantha Richardson said: “We try to avoid tours that we believe will cause damage to the natural environment and we try to be supportive of those providers that adopt a very sustainable approach.”  She explained Carnival’s programme of ‘Green World Tours’, including ‘Worthy Cause Tours’ when passengers can visit a charitable project, for example, and tours with ‘a hint of green’.

On more traditional excursions, meanwhile, timings could be adjusted to minimise impact – avoiding traffic congestion and also creating an evenly spread demand on popular visitor attractions.

Cruise Gateway North Sea, an EU Interreg IVB project, is looking at ways of encouraging and promoting much more cruise activity in the North Sea Region, while also focusing on accessibility and sustainability, including the promotion of environmental awareness and eco-friendly transport structures.